• Al Bracken

Combining strobe and natural lighting

So on July 4th, 2020, I did a test shoot in downtown Indianapolis with a friend of mine named Isaiah who is signed with Rune Models. It was a last minute idea to shoot that day because I've been thinking that I really need to get out more and EXPERIMENT like I used to! I get tired of shooting the same content in the same way over and over and over again, even though it's all new to the model or other client I'm shooting for. Even at the top of my to-do list in my Evernote app, which usually has a litany of self-assigned tasks to accomplish within a day, I have a bold,highlighted, all caps reminder that I need to focus on learning and growing. I have that on there because I realized I have a resistance to change and the fundamental stress or insecurity that can be associated with learning new things sometimes.


So in the name of progress, I did this quick experimental shoot! As a photographer, I basically paint with light. Or I think of it as lighting things properly is half the job, and the other half is editing which can take an image to the next level. When I research inspiration for photo shoots, I try to analyze an image to determine the LIGHTING used. I look for things like shadows. The direction, intensity, and size of the shadow can let you know the type of lighting used in an image! Lighting is everything I tell you, lighting is everything. I'll go into the details of that in a later blog post i'm sure. I will also zoom in really, really closely into the eyes of the model to see reflections of the light source. Sometimes I can tell and it's really obvious the type of lighting used, and other times I can't tell at all. Overall, when I can analyze an image and hypothesize HOW it was made, it empowers me to THINK through solving problems in my own sessions when I am trying to recreate something I've seen before or come up with an artistic nuance particular to the shoot I'm doing at that moment.


For my test shoot with Isaiah, I wanted to combine artificial strobe lighting and natural lighting. Strobe lighting is basically the kind of lighting that flashes...like a strobe you might see at a party. It's that lighting that gives those really quick "pops" or bursts of lighting for a fraction of a second. Sometimes I'll get to a gig and my client will ask me if I have enough lighting to shoot where they want me to thinking that I need to rely on the overhead fluorescent lighting, lamps, or natural light available there. But I just say I brought my lighting with me which 100% of the time, for me, means bringing some form of strobe lighting.


Basically, I just wanted to see what the images would look like when using natural light and artificial light. In my work, I usually use one or the other which is a characteristic of my style. Come to think of it, I don't think I really have a style. But it's intentional though because I'd prefer to be as diverse as possible. I know some photographers have a distinct style where you can tell that they did that image. I value being capable of producing all kinds of styles for all kinds of gigs but sometimes I think I should develop a true style that is reliable, consistent and easily repeatable and become known for that...and also do other styles as well.


Having done my research prior to this shoot immediately before the shoot and years before, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to like the look of the images. But I still wanted to try it for myself. I feel that when I see photographs taken outside with some kind of natural setting in the background,using strobes to light the model gives off a really fake static look. I mean, technically the image is well lit and you can see everything you need to see. But the feeling just seems artificial to me. Again though, that's a style preference. If you are a client reading this and you like that look even though you wouldn't necessarily know how it was made, you would book the photographer to get that look. But yeah, you won't get that look with me (lol).


For these next few shots in particular, I wanted to get the sky to retain it's color and contrast between the blue and the clouds. I just wanted it to look good. And I also wanted to get light on Isaiah. For experimental purposes, I used my battery operated strobe light with a 55 inch, silver- lined, diffused umbrella. Aside from the light itself, I chose these other tools because I wanted a softer lighting effect. One basic lighting rule is that the larger the light source, the softer the lighting will be. Before shooting, I had a mental plan of how I wanted the images to look even though I was pretty sure I wasn't going to accomplish it with how I used what I had.


It's really like choosing a tool out of a tool box when doing some DIY project. I chose my 55" umbrella because the light coming from the strobe reflecting off of a surface of that size, renders a certain look that I wanted. I diffused the umbrella, or covered it with a white sheet-like material made for it, to soften the light. It would have been a completely different look if I used the bare umbrella itself uncovered or if I didn't use the umbrella at all for that matter.


Isaiah and I were on Delaware and South Street downtown on the elevated parking deck behind one of the newest apartment buildings in the City Way development. I first tried shooting him standing up, but even after raising my strobe as high in the air as it would go, the light still wasn't reaching him, so I had him sit down on the edge of the deck and was still able to get some of the sky in the background even though I would have preferred to do the standing shot.


Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

ISO: 100

F-stop: f/5.6

SS: 1/400

Here you can see the sky looks how the sky actually looked that day. The sky was correctly exposed. I could have exposed it lighter or darker directly from my camera settings or in the editing phase for artistic purposes, but I just wanted it to look how it really looked. If I would have lightened the image only using the available natural lighting in order to see Isaiah, everything in the image would have been lightened which would have compromised the color and saturation of the sky...which again could be changed in the editing phase.









Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

ISO: 100

F-stop: f/5.6

SS: 1/400

In this image, I added the strobe light and tried to get it as high as possible to level where Isaiah was at the top of the parking deck. I don't know how high up he was. Maybe 20+ feet. The next time I do a post like this, I will have to be sure to record the lighting settings. The light wasn't high enough to reach him and I believe I had the highest settings to get it as bright as I could without changing the camera settings.
















Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

ISO: 100

F-stop: f/5.6

SS: 1/320

Getting closer even though at this angle you can't really see the blue in the sky.




























Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark II

ISO: 100

F-stop: f/5.6

SS: 1/200

This is where I stopped and felt "satisfied" with what I was expecting from the results. And these are definitely unedited photos of course. Overall, I don't like it lol ! I don't like it because it has a certain artificial looking quality to it. To me this image says, "hey look, this image is being lit with an artificial light source camera left." Maybe you like it, or she likes it, or he likes it, or they like it, but not me haha. As for the bottom image, if you take away the bars, and fill in the shadows on the right side a little and maybe use a bigger light source like a giant scrim or something, I could see the shot used for a campaign for some brand. Or maybe leave the light source as it is and the shadows too.

Photography is an art and is subjective. If my client liked the way these two images were shot and you could see whatever is being sold, then that's great. They are getting what they want.


I think the moral of the story is to just get out there and test and try to experiment with a good attitude. The way this looks could work for any number of assignments. Maybe if I had another light there to fill in the shadows on his right side, it would have given a different look I think would work better for what I was trying to achieve. And depending on the time of day, I could have just bounced the natural light back up towards him filling in the shadows using a reflector. But it is choices like the ones I discussed in today's writing that differentiates one photographer's work from another. It could be the same model, the same time of day, the same location, but depending on the lighting used,how it is used, the camera and lenses used, how they are used, and the editing style that can make the final image have a certain look and FEELING that makes you like it or not.


And that's the word.


-Al

39 views