Any photographer will tell you that if it were possible to grow an extra set of hands, he would. As simultaneous scientists, artist and pack-horse, photographers must know their equipment inside and out, but they must also be prepared to change shutter speed and aperture at a moment’s notice – even prophetically. Lenses need to be changed, equipment needs to be carried, and an artistic vision needs to remain intact. And while all that responsibility is churning, light remain the crux of the entire operation. When there’s an active subject, the process of moving and adjusting lighting forces the photographer to aim, quite literally, at a moving target. Whether it’s with an external flash, a reflector panel or a four-leaf barn door, lighting placement is complex, essential and tedious.
I didn’t write that, it’s a quote from an article “Smile and say, ‘drone!’ in Photonics Spectra, October 2014. Before outlining what the remainder of the article was about, let me tell you why I quoted its opening paragraph. My ‘mentoring series’ of articles are about visual arts with a specific focus on photography, mastering photography and developing your creative vision. When I talk about this, even among close friends that express a love and aspiration for photography, I’m left with the feeling I’m not getting across the depth and intricacies of the endeavor. They mostly seem to be wanting for tricks and magic. Not that tricks don’t apply, but the ‘magic’ actually comes from an innate talent nurtured by complete devotion and dedication, (and not predicated on fame and fortune). The opening of the Photonics article reinforces the earnest level to which photography can rise. A camera is a tool assisting your ability and determination in taking you to the summit of photographic excellence.
We are conscious human beings. The ‘magic’ in photography comes from us, our individual consciousness. From an early age we can look into a mirror and recognize ourselves. It is our self-awareness, the depth and sensitivity of our internal reflection with which we put our mind’s eye to the viewfinder to creatively project outward our take of the world. The strength of our innate talent is a gift, but our depth and sensitivity is nurtured and developed by our senses and thought. Together this can result in what may be called visual ‘magic’. Yes, in part, I am repeating myself again from the previous paragraph, because these are vital principles. Avoid tricking yourself, shortcuts need not apply.
Getting back to the ‘lighter side’ of photography, I had a shoot the other day of a young Austrian woman visiting her Aunt in south Florida. Nice person, slender, pretty face. She wanted to be shot like a model, had no experience, and there was also a bit of a language barrier. Working with experienced models is a wonderful thing. They know their best looks, are able to anticipate what a professional photographer is aiming for, and able to move in ways that will fulfill those needs. An inexperienced model brings insecurities to a shoot, along with unrealistic expectations that can be exasperated by their own lack of experience. You the photographer will learn from your own experiences how to handle different models. The bottom line is simple, you are the creative photographer, so have them listen to you and follow your direction, then pay attention to details and start shooting.
As I was taking head and variety glamour shots, when out of the blue, during a pause, I was told by her Aunt that among her favorite types of photographs is the silhouette. That’s an un-usual request, because…well, lighting for this puts the subject into darkness, and most portrait and model subjects especially want their faces to be seen. To do silhouettes the projected light has to be behind the subject, but the light itself (with light stand and power cord) can’t be without being a background obstruction. A light or cross lights can be placed on the side out of view. This method may give some control problems. I quickly decided on better approach allowing the control to put a bit of light on her face with this result:
I put the light above her and slightly in front to feather a bit of the light onto her face to add interest.
I mention coming up with this lighting scheme quickly. Why? Time is money. To master photography you have to think like a pro and quickly handle changing situations, unusual circumstances or requests, and solve or resolve un-anticipated problems expeditiously. With regards to placing a light, with stand and cord behind her and having some of it show, some may say “I can get rid of those with Photoshop” and you can take the time that way to clean up the background, since you are not a photographer.
What about the ‘drone’ you ask, written about in the Photonics article? Researchers at MIT and Stanford University have been able to suit up a drone with a light source and algorithms so it can light a moving subject always from specific angle. For instance, if you always wanted to rim light a moving subject it can anticipate the position of the photographer and moving subject to always provide the right lighting. How about that! This magazine is mostly above my head, nevertheless it always teaches me more about light and its future. Smile and say, ‘Photonics Spectra.’