So, what do you do when you walk into a modern day, real life version of Geppetto’s workshop? Hopefully, light it reasonably well. Your lighting and your efforts at camera should be energized by the fact of this rare opportunity, one that will not come this way again. And that would be to visit and photograph the workshop of the famed Lambert Puppet Theater in Ireland, with your subject being Liam Lambert, who continues this fabled tradition of puppet theater, handed down to him by his father. What could be more fun with a camera in hand?
First thing, move fast and hopefully smart. Time is limited. Position the camera, and definitely use a tripod. Bleeding some ambient light into this scene will require playing with shutter speeds, potentially, but, more importantly, your frame of reference, what you are seeing through the lens, should remain a constant. Remember one of your missions as a location shooter is to eliminate variables, and the tripod, in this instance a heavy duty Gitzo helps you do that. The camera, a D5 with a 14-24mm f2.8 lens, is at rest. The world you are about to light remains finite and defined.
Start propping, within the limits of your subject’s patience, of course. Liam remained ever calm and agreeable, even as we moved his masterpieces around the shop, hooked them on shelves and generally placed them where he would never put them.
Main light first. In this case a Lastolite Ezybox soft box, the one with the white interior. No silvery, fashion-y, bouncy light needed here. Just simple, smooth, rounded light. That annoying sliver of sunlight crackling full bore through the skylight window, creating a hot zone, a four stop disparity of exposure right across where you want to shoot? Easy fix with a 3×3 diffuser panel, which flags and softens that hard slash of sun. See below.
Then identify the black holes in the picture. Why move all those lovely puppets in there and not see them? Below is a couple snaps that show simple, radio controlled wireless SB-5000 Speedlights, all gelled warm with full CTO gels, popping some light here and there in the background. For instance, the one below is the baby carriage light, which sounds weird, but was quite helpful putting a glimmer on a vintage baby basket behind Liam.
This is where the Justin Clamp, otherwise known as the Manfrotto 175F1, becomes invaluable. You can hang flashes all over the place in discreet fashion. Below is our background wall light, governed smartly with a couple of pieces of gaffer tape. (Super fancy stuff, here!)
All told, we used a total of five flashes, just to splash some light on the background and the various amazing puppets in the picture. None had shapers. We had to move fast and just pull some detail and exposure out of the scene. It is your obligation at the camera to manage foreground, middle ground and background for the enjoyment and elucidation of your viewer. To let something go slack and black in the background of this wonderful environment is to cheat people out of some measure of the special nature of the visit. So however quick you need to move, start throwing some light around. There’s a main light for Liam, a bounce fill for the rack of puppets over his shoulder, a key kicker on the ancient puppets hanging on his shelves to camera left, the aforementioned baby carriage light, and a spritz of warm light on the background. Finals at camera: 1/20th, F5.0, ISO 100.
And then, just when you might have thought, the hell with this lighting crap, I just wanna go shoot a picture and not use five lights with gels and clamps, you can do that, too, with the same radio wireless flashes. Simple light source, a Lastolite octa, camera left. Sea air, Irish sky, one light. Thanks to Sean McCormack for the below BTS shot.
Many thanks to Annie Cahill for shooting the background pix. the IPPA for staging this workshop, and to the Bank of Ireland for supporting the organization and its valuable efforts. And thanks to Ronan Palliser, who did the heavy lifting to put it all together. It was a well deserved pint we had at the conclusion of all the flashing.