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A Little Light in the Back of the Set

May 21

In Lighting at 7:35am

Last week I blogged a version of a recent portrait of my college photography professor, Fred Demarest. I enjoyed my time with Fred during my last visit to Syracuse, and was a bit nervous on the set, really trying to do well, as this was the guy who first critiqued my work as a shooter, a long time ago. So, I kept it simple.

The up front light was a Profoto 2400ws unit, fitted with a beauty dish, draped in a diffuser sock. The Profoto folks have graciously outfitted the Syracuse studios, so the students there have the benefit of top of the line gear to shoot with. 

That unit is a very efficient light source, and of course, at 2400 ws, it’s got power to burn. I had it cranking at just about min power, and still had f11 at 1/200th of a second. (Also, I wanted something around f11 to retain sharpness in the background objects.) So, it was with some trepidation that I put an SB 910, running at full power, in SU-4 (manual slave) mode, at the back of the set. I didn’t know if there would be enough juice in that little light. What I needed it to do was light the seamless, which would in turn silhouette the old style constant lights that are kicking around in the SU studio.

I set it up on the little floor stand that comes with the unit, left the dome diffuser on, tilted the head up about 45 degrees into the wall, and let fly. Bingo. That little sucker had just enough power to complete the photo.

Seems a little crazy, when you’re using a monster pack up front, to use a speed light in the back. I use small flash in conjunction with bigger flash all the time, but usually those bigger units are in the 400ws to 1100ws range. Using a 2400 pack, I thought the hot shoe flash might be like a small rock thrown into a deep quarry made of photons. It would vanish immediately.

But, it hung in there. When I overshot it, and the flash did not fire, this is what I got.

Small flash, big difference. More tk….

JAY MANN says:

on May 21, 2013 at 8:16 am

“Never under estimate the power of a Speedlight.” I think a Photog told me that in a course…..

What were the distances – Profoto to subject to wall? I assume that the wall was a significant distance so that you did not get shadow?

Thanks for the very effective demo of the effect of a small backlight

Joe McNally says:

on May 21, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Hey Jay….beauty of a big studio. Fred was about 20′ from the seamless, and the Profoto was just out of frame, boomed over him. It is a fairly hard downward angle to him, so it does not spill badly onto the backdrop. The little light back there just cleans everything up, and pops those other “prop” lights back there. All best, Joe

Kellie McCann says:

on May 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Wonder if the canon flash units would fire off with alien bees? never thought about trying that! Joe you were my photo guy at Eddie Adams 1993!

Nawfal says:

on May 22, 2013 at 2:39 am

Hi Joe!

An awesome Portrait very suitable for your Photography Teacher! The SB910 did a GREAT Job lighting up the background – it really makes and completes this portrait by creating space behind the subject. And…I too still have my NIKON F – I love the NIKON F – A TOTAL TANK of a Camera! :) It never failed me.

Tom Bricker says:

on May 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Great image, Joe! It is great control of light there. While 2400ws seems like a ton of light . . . Okay, it is a ton of light and should be called a photon cannon. It still is only 2 stops brighter than a 600ws light at the same distance.

Tom McKean says:

on May 23, 2013 at 5:13 am

Hey Joe – now that you told us the distance Fred was from the wall, that little speed light did it’s job perfectly! Awesome shot :))

Mike Christine says:

on May 23, 2013 at 8:57 am

WOW Joe, Mr. Demarst really looks like David Ziser to me. I did a double take. I think we found Davids long lost twin.

robert quiet photographer says:

on May 24, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Interesting, sometimes an additional little light can help a lot…

Billy says:

on May 27, 2013 at 7:07 am

Big tree….small axe!

Lech says:

on May 28, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Hey Joe,
What a fantastic demo of the power of adding a second light. I can’t imagine a better instructional short. Really nicely done.
That said, I’m going to call you contrast (or at least “black” adjustments). You certainly processed the final image with 2 flashes, whereas the first feels a bit dull (along with only firing one light). So I investigated in particular pant color and I notice an astounding difference. Was it a filter or just post process?
Thanks so much for sharing all your work.
– Lech

Joe McNally says:

on May 29, 2013 at 3:43 am

Hey Lech…yep, I did some post on the final of Fred, as it was my favorite frame. The other I just dropped out of the camera into the blog. Didn’t really see where it warranted any work, so I just let it go as a counterpoint to the two flash pic. Thanks for stopping by the blog, really appreciate it…Joe

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