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Sometimes You Get the Shaft

Mar 17

In Lighting, On Location, Tips & Tricks at 7:15am

Nothing like a shaft of light for drama. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in places and wished I had a 12K movie light, a scissor lift and a big ass smoke machine. Shaft city! Just like in the movies!

But sometimes, it happens for you. Saw this light coming through the busted ceiling of the officer’s quarters on Corregidor, and I thought, you know, cool! Of course the ballerina available at the time was wearing dead white, so it meant I was going into close orbit around Ice Planet 255, but, I’m always up for an adventure. So she gets in there and does something appropriate, elegant and graceful. She is as soft and lovely as the light is harsh and slashing.


But where is she? One of the things you realize over time is that a successful photograph and a successful restaurant often have something in common. Location, location, location. Now I could have left well enough alone here, but hey, it’s me, remember? Never met a subject I couldn’t overlight, so we drug out a couple of SB800 strobes and simply laid them down on the ground, camera left and camera right, about 5′ in front of the lens. Didn’t put ’em on sticks, cause the main source of light in the pic is the way overhead and it doesn’t really bounce off anything until it hits the ground. It’s not even spilling very much onto the wall, hence the wall color, which is pretty terrific, is gone. So if there is any bounce in the frame, anything that might logically reflect light, it’s the rubble strewn floor. So the units go on the floor.

In terms of color and detail, our eyes can see it. And can see her, and even the folds of the dress. That’s cause the eye is an amazing instrument, making nanosecond adjustments we’re not even aware of. The camera, as sophisticated as it is, is a 5 stop instrument. It makes the very smart decision to expose for the highlights, and kisses the shadows goodbye. Bye bye wall. Bye bye color. Bye bye context.

But you can make inputs to the frame and dial in some light from the SB units right from camera. Messed with them a bit, and came up with this. In other words, with these small flashes, you can bend even strong light in your favor, just a little.


Had a class running, so only shot about 4 or 5 frames of this, and each one I was dialing in some different EV values. I believe these two units were running somewhere around plus 1 EV. The effect on the wall is pretty soft, and could have made it softer yet by, say, running the units through umbrellas and laying them down on the floor. But umbrellas weren’t immediately available, so we moved fast and hoped the uneven junk on the floor would break the light up a little. Still pretty hard, though. Look at the shadow of her trailing leg. That definitive shadow gets softer as you go higher in the frame towards her arm, and the strobe mixes with a greater and greater percentage of available light. It’s fun to mess with this stuff, I tell ya. You throw everything into the hopper; your gut, your sense of time and place, your histograms, the light, the color, the subject, and voila! You have ze magnificent and tasty stew! Or, sometimes, you get something you wouldn’t feed your cat. What was I saying earlier about pictures and restaurants?

I like dance, what can I say? I’ve said many times that dancers and photographers have a lot in common in that we are hard working, creative, and underpaid. Recently, on a trip to Milan, the venerable La Scala School of Ballet graciously allowed me to shoot their workouts and practices. What a wonderful place!

ballet school

Not only did I witness great dancers in training, the opportunity gave me a chance to practice more with the AF modes on my D3. More on that tk.

And finally…..HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Good old St. Pat’s. First time I ever came home truly hammered. I was 17, and my high school senior class always marched in the parade. (We were taught by the Irish Christian Brothers, go figure.)

After the parade dispersed, all of us disappeared into bars that weren’t checking for ID, and proceeded to get stupid. I was lucky I found Grand Central Station and the train home. Only took like, 2 beers. Complete lightweight.

Now, the day is spent more quietly. I start my class today here in Santa Fe. (Don’t think they have a parade here, but that’s just a wild guess on my part.) It’ll be a great week, as they always are here at the workshops.

My friend Mark Krajnak, the K-Man, the man in the fedora, he of the Flickr site and the New Jersey Noir style of shooting, sent me a pictorial note of how he might spend St. Pat’s. Seems he got comfortable with an Irish writer and a bottle of Jameson’s:-)


Andras Szell says:

on March 17, 2008 at 9:02 am

Dear Joe!

Would you please (please) draw the lighting situation of the picture with the ballerina?

And don’t tell you did not know that this would come… I think you just like to be asked to draw! :)

Thank you for the continuous amazing pictures!

Syl O'rena says:

on March 17, 2008 at 9:36 am

Here’s to the luck of the Irish and all of us who wanted to be Irish growing up.

Happy St. Pat’s.

Syl O’rena

Brian says:

on March 17, 2008 at 10:37 am

The first photo is nice, but that second photo made me say “Wow!” out loud and got me a few funny looks since I’m in a public place. Thanks for showing how a nice photo can become a wow photo with a little thinking and a little extra effort.

Billy Mitchell says:

on March 17, 2008 at 11:46 am

There is nothing better than being Irish and married to a red head. I’m a lucky man.

Donna Luker says:

on March 17, 2008 at 1:13 pm

“More on that tk.”

What the hell is “tk”??? I’m usually able to figure out acronyms & abbreviations, but I’m chewing on this one when I should be sleeping!!

Please & thank you 😉

ron hiner says:

on March 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm

Donna — in my corner of the world ‘tk’ mean ‘to come’ In other words, there is more stuff to be written here, and that stuff’s time has yet ‘to come’

And I can’t wait… I’ve not been as successful with the D3 focus modes as I’d like to be! I look forward to reading Joe’s take on this.

Jase Bell says:

on March 17, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Give me a Nikon over a Canon, give me a 50mm 1.8 over a 17-55 3.5 DX and give me Bushmills 16 year single malt over Jamesons anyday :)

Have a happy St Patricks Day Joe,

Jase Bell

brian says:

on March 17, 2008 at 9:34 pm

denver. nannies. life. have a great st. paddies joe.

Bill Bogle, Jr. says:

on March 17, 2008 at 10:22 pm

Joe you should have been in Rochester, NY on Saturday, at the Northern Short Course of the NPPA. At lunchtime they provided a huge St. Patrick’s Day parade for all PJs to practice their craft. I think every piece of equipment the fire department, the city highway department, and any other vehicle was there, along with Irish Dancers, and a lot of people who had some trouble finding their way from the sidewalk. I guess the cold weather is a good resaon to start drinking green beer before sun up. Of course, the highlight was the wonderful treatment by Nikon, including clean and checks, and a a chance to play with the new equipment. Nice people!


Bill Bogle, Jr.

Paul M. says:

on March 17, 2008 at 10:31 pm

Happy St. Patrick’s Day Joe, from a fellow mick who also had (Xaverian) brothers as high school teachers!

Paul M. says:

on March 17, 2008 at 10:33 pm

Um, Jase? My 17-55mm is f/2.8 and while I love my 50/1.8, I love my 17-55 even more. :)

Jack Miller says:

on March 17, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Oh the suffering of wishing I were in Santa Fe right now, soaking it up. I hope your class is enjoying their week as much as we did last year. Happy SPD, Joe.


Tom Peterson says:

on March 18, 2008 at 4:38 am

Hi Joe. Did you ever have Brother Brendan as a teacher? You’d remember if you did, because you probably played handslap with him if he caught you doing anything in his class.

Jase Bell says:

on March 21, 2008 at 10:34 am

PaulM…. the 2.8 is on my shopping list…. I was desperate to get the 50mm first.

Davy McDonald says:

on April 25, 2008 at 6:22 am

Hi Joe,
Really glad to have found your blog, terrific, entertaining and informative – wish I could say that for many of the other blogs I follow.
I subscribed to your Kelby Training classes too, they are great for helping accumulate my lighting skill info. And I am bound to buy the book too.
One thing is driving me nuts though, why have you got red and green stickers on your SB-800s?? – As in the Kelby vids.
I have numbered mine to help ID them when using CLS, is there a better way?
I thought perhaps one of those little gems of wisdom you have in your arsenal.

Thanks again.

Michael says:

on January 28, 2009 at 6:08 pm

I found this blog quite useful – thanks for the effort!

I also wondered, what theme is being used at the moment? I would like to know if it’s a free one.

Jess Serrano says:

on February 27, 2009 at 10:39 am

Hey, I recently bought a copy of i-mag magazine (Vol. 2, No. 7, Issue 20, 2009) here in the Philippines and guess what? one of the featured photographers in it– Ador Pamintuan had exactly the same picture of the ballerina in a shaft of light credited to him (the second photo). What gives? Who stole from who?

buy darkfall gold says:

on March 4, 2009 at 3:16 am

Everything is perfect the design and colors the dancing trivia.Keep on showing photographs.

Ador Pamintuan says:

on April 3, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Hi Jess,

There were many participants in Joe’s lecture that day as he was lecturer for Photoworld Asia 2007 so nobody stole from anybody. All photographers who shot Joe’s set up had just about the same photo, naturally. The model happens to be my daughter.

I shot mine with Vic Sison’s camera and that of George Cabig’s who, with me were assisting Joe at that time. I had shots before Joe laid out a white diffuser and start requesting two of us to hold and aim two SBs to it so it will bounce to the model and walls. My first shots of my daughter did not have those SBs so the details in the walls were not so light as those when the SBs were introduced.

I hope this matter is put to rest.

houston wedding photography says:

on April 7, 2009 at 12:57 am

this blogs make me feel good to have an insight of how to be a good photographer

Ubuntu Howto says:

on April 24, 2009 at 1:10 am

WOW, SIMPLY AN INCREDIBLE POST. The photographs are awesome , Specially the second one. Infact you have given us clues on how to make our photos look like these. Thanks for helpling us convert ordinary memories into special ones.

Fertility says:

on April 28, 2009 at 6:36 am

Hey< these are adorable pics. Please share this art. Really really much thanks to you on those tips that will help even amateur pics look alive.

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