Light the little ones

I don’t know what the weather is like in the rest of the world but here in Belgium we have what appears to be one of the crappiest summers in years. Up until now we had some rain, more rain, … and then it rained some more. Okay, I must admit we had an occasional nice-weather day or even couple of days too, but these tend to end up in thunderstorms apparently (one of which, just last week, caused the dramatic events of Pukkelpop 2011 where 5 people died and many more were injured).

Having weather like this isn’t exactly inviting to head outside hunting for pictures. But that doesn’t mean your camera should be just lying there gathering dust. When I feel the urge to shoot on a rainy day (and unfortunately I do not have a studio + model readily available) I often end up experimenting with smaller objects to shoot.

The pictures in this post are the result of such an afternoon of experimenting. I challenged myself to make a variety of shots from the same object which I carefully selected from what is readily available in our home (not to say that we must be careful not to trip over this stuff sometimes :-)). I was curious what I could do with one object, but lighting it in different ways. The first shot is very straight forward: little guy on a glossy white tabletop, speedlight with shoot-through umbrella 45° camera-left, and for the background I set up a diffuser scrim against the tabletop which I lighted from behind with another speedlight. Although I shoot nikon, my D60 lacks the commander-mode that most other nikons have, so I had to fire my SB-600 and SB-900 David Hobby-style (with radiotriggers, all manual).

For the next one I gelled the background flash green and turned it’s power way down. The challenge though was controlling the front light so that it didn’t light my background (just 15 inches away) as that would turn it to white again. I ended up putting my speedlight as close as I could, just outside the frame on minimal power, softening the light by shooting it through a tupperware container lit (hoping for sponsoring-funds here ;-)).

Then I wanted to try out if I could get some kind of night-feeling. The skyline was cut out of black paper cardstock. The lighting pattern is similar to the previous picture, but I ungelled the backlight again and dialed the power down even more. To get the blueish tint I gelled my front light orange (CTO, tungsten) and adjusted the white-balance setting on my camera accordingly so the backlight appears blue. The front flash was controlled using a snoot. This shot is also the only one that went through some post-processing (rest is nearly straight out-of-camera, maybe a little levels-adjustment here and there). Two layers and some masking were done to blend the two lightsources somewhat more naturally, plus I desaturated the whole image slightly.

For the last one I just let my model sit down on what was the skyline in the previous shot. Next I fried the poor guy with two bare speedlights on either side just outside the frame (90° left and right, minimal power). Even at minimal power I had to stop down my aperture somewhat to compensate. As a result, the background turned into pure black (I removed the diffuser scrim, so there was nothing within a distance of 5ft or so) as the ambient light could not add to the exposure.

I find sessions like these where you can just experiment freely very rewarding and fun to do. You can learn so much from them because lighting small things is basically the same as lighting a model for instance. It’s just a difference in scale. Experiments like these help me anyway to learn and understand light. Hope you enjoyed!




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