Donut shops wake up early, and Ralph’s, that legendary emporium of frosting and deep fried dough in Cookeville, Tennessee, is no exception. We got there one morning this past summer about 3am, which is roughly when the bakers get your sugar dusted apple fritters ready to roll. Oil bubbles, dough gets smoothed and swirled in big buckets, icing gets spread and lathered, and trays of delights make their way to the front counter to brighten the weary mid-week gait of the array of working folks who stop by for a red velvet and a coffee regular. After a pit stop at Ralph’s, they either hit the workplace with a glazed cruller fueled determination accompanied by a frenzied (but most likely brief) burst of efficiency, or they curl up on a packing blanket under their desk to sleep off a sugar coma, hoping no one else notices. (Or perhaps hoping everybody else in their shop also went to Ralph’s.)
Regardless, life at Ralph’s starts at in the wee hours. So, how do you light up something to convey a sense of darkness? One Speedlight in the street is a potential approach. Streetlights are nasty, right? Hard, edgy, off color. So, make your light look like that. There is one SB910 out in the street on a simple Manfrotto stacker stand. No shaper. Zoomed to 200mm. Hard light, designed to create shadows. Specifically, the shadow of the name of this legendary establishment, cast up on the wall. A hot shoed commander flash fires through a window and easily picks up the other small flash out there. Thank goodness there is no traffic in Cookeville at 3am, ’cause my stand was smack in the middle of the street. You want distance, as the further a light like this is away from your subject, the more it behaves like a real, distant street light.
This lighting thing is just a series of experiments, right? So, I did something I had never done, which was to place two gels, green and warm, vertically arrayed on the flash head. Streetlight colors are noxious, right? A nasty mix of warmish, puke greenish, and God knows what else. I literally tried to make my light look off color, along the lines of what was out in the street. Above, splattered with the uneven hardness of a single light beaming through windows, doors, placards, and signs, Thomas Rodriguez, one of the bakers, mops up the store, prior to the commuter onslaught. Shot with a D810, a 20mm Nikkor lens, at 1/250th @ f5. ISO 800. I left it on auto white balance, as the scene seemed just a touch warm and green, but not hugely so. The AWB is most likely trying to clean things up a bit.
But, later in the day, the whole store is inflected with the steamy, full, vaporous light of summertime Tennessee. So, chuck the hard light approach, and make the Speedlights not so much light the scene but blend with it in soft, virtually unnoticeable ways. This approach is not lighting, really. It’s just mixing in a couple of hot shoe flashes into the mix of what exists and letting them clean up the color and direct the action a little bit. Below, peerless fiddler Nathan Stoops serenades the obviously enchanted Kiren and Koby.
Using a Lastolite tri-flash below, but populating it with only two flashes. I figured I already had strong light coming from camera left, through the windows, right? So, again, experiment. Maybe don’t need that left side flash, and I’ll just have two of them push a little light towards the right and deeper into the shop. The shaper is a Lastolite 4 in 1 umbrella. Seemed to work okay. First exposure on TTL was the right mix, so I went with it. Kids perched on the counter, working fast.
Same angle on the same shop. Couple of Speedlights. Night’n day. Check out the short video on lighting the shop! Small Flash, Big Donuts! More tk….