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Archive for May, 2012

Shaping Light, Simply

May 2

In Equipment at 6:53am

Back in January, I did some dance photography for Kelby Online Training, and was really happy with a couple of frames. (Those classes are working their way through the editing system as we speak.)

I’ve shown this on the blog before, a modern dancer, painted with tempura paint, and perched in a bird’s nest of tulle. It was lit with just one TTL flash, camera right, just out of frame. I used a Lastolite Ezybox hot shoe soft box (say that fast a few times) with a white interior, which is a wrinkle on their long existing design of soft boxes with silver clad interiors. It produces, predictably, a softer, more rounded light than the one with the snappy, contrast producing silver box.

Over the years, I’ve offered numerous photo manufacturers some suggestions, some complaints designed as suggestions, notes from the field, and a few WTFs. Most of the time (most of the time) in response to those suggestions, I’ve gotten a polite pat on the head, or potentially a bemused, bewildered smile, followed by a nod and a note that effectively says, “Thanks for playing, we’ll get back to you.” I’m sure all shooters have experienced this when they’ve offered an idea to a magazine, or publisher, or any of the array of powers that be that we routinely appeal to. It’s a bit like dropping a rock down a well. There’s a long period of silence, followed by a distant splash, as the idea makes its way to sleeping with da fishes. (In reality, that’s an appropriate resting ground for some of my nuttier notions.)

But the Lastolite folks, who make an array of light shapers I’ve become fond of, actually took action. I suggested the white interior box some years ago, and their peerless designer, Gary Astill actually made one for me, and then came out on location with me to see the light it produced relative to existing model. His verdict was to start producing the white version. Cool. It was a fun moment, actually. Kind of like being a long time golfer on the pro tour and then getting asked to design a course. (On a much smaller scale:-)

While in Vancouver, I took a day to just mess with light shapers, all of which I had either outright suggested, or had a hand in tweaking, and hopefully, making better. (I’ll write about the others presently.)

I took the white box, (Got my name on the side of it!) and dropped a fabric egg crate into it. The egg crate allows the light to remain softly directional, but it also corrals it, seriously cutting the spill and spread of it onto the set. I needed the light to stick with the model at the front edge of the set, and not drift to the background, which I wanted to remain dark-ish.

Reason being, I was going to try lighting the background with another lighting tool called the Tri-flash. This, too, had been on the market as an effective, small bracket onto which you can affix three hot shoe flashes in a coherent, singular direction. It eliminated the need for multiple sticks, clamps, zip ties, and other jury rig stuff myself and lots of shooters had been messing with to gaggle together multiple speed lights.

But, the cold shoe receptacles were fixed. In other words, for a unit like the SB900, which has light sensor panels only on one side, it automatically made it a tough throw for the commander flash signal to reach them all, especially if you had the three flash rig radically off to the side of the camera POV.

So, I suggested a ratchet. Make the cold shoes spin around 360, and thus enable a better, more unified directionality for the receptacles. They liked the idea, and made it.

For this shot, I did have the Tri-flash way to the side of camera, using it in a somewhat unusual way. Generally I put up a Tri-flash arrangement when I think I’m going to stress just one flash too much, and I want to get faster recycle, spread out the work load among multiple units, and just increase the volume, or surface area of the light. Here, I just pointed them through a couple of cucoloris boards that were hanging around David Cooper’s studio in Vancouver. Here’s the high tech setup.

Uh, bad model, but you get the idea. One light makes one shadow. Three sources of light, all slightly off axis to one another, gives a fuzzy, multiple edge to the shadows it creates. Flying it through the cookie and spraying it on the background gave out a sun dapple kind of effect, albeit not a crisp one, more like one where the leaves are swaying a bit in the breeze. (Actually, given the way the model is dressed and made up, maybe make that moon dapple.)

I ordinarily go for one light, one shadow, so this was in the realm of an experiment, and I’d thought I’d share it. At the end of the day, the light shaper for the background is a couple pieces of cardboard with some irregular holes cut into it, and the Tri-flash based speed lights, all zoomed to the max (200mm) just sprays across them, throwing unpredictable patterns and shapes on the wall. The model does her thing, and she is illuminated solely with the egg crated soft box. Commander flash on the hot shoe, at camera.

The makeup here was done by the wondrous Tamar Ouziel, and we used long time friend David Cooper’s photo studio for the shoot. Thanks go out to them, and Syx Langemann, who helped out on the set. Also thanks to the Lastolite folks, who listened, about these and a couple others I’ll talk about, and went to bat and made them. Even more fair and square, much like a book, I actually get a royalty on these puppies, which is cool. They still haven’t sprung for my idea for the hydraulically powered 22 Speed Lite Lifter, complete with tank treads and a turret, but I’ll work on them.

More tk….