Lighting 101: Long-Throw Hard Light

Here's another little trick, and one more lighting technique example before we move on to your learning how to "reverse engineer" others' light.

And to get you started thinking that way, I am going to guide you through reverse engineering this photo.

For lack of a better term, I am going to call this technique "long-throw hard light." This photo, like the backlit kids taking a bow onstage, is a good example of just what kind of a working distance you can acheive with a small shoe-mount flash.

The light in this case was a Nikon SB-28 on a stand, at full power, 85mm throw, about a 80-100 feet from the budding gymnasts.

I was working at ASA 800 but the light makes the photo crisp and gives the illusion of a lower ASA, in my opinion at least. This was also shot with an early Nikon D1, which did not do nearly as well with high ASA's as do today's bodies.

OK, let's break down the light as we explain the technique.

Look at the picture. Was the light on the right or the left?

It was to my left, as the shadow of the obscurred, back center gymnast on the right side of the background should show you.

Was the light hard or soft? Well, you already know that. Hard. As it darn well had better be if you are throwing a shoe-mount flash 100 feet. Imagine how tiny that actual light source looks at that distance. That's how hard the light will appear to the subject.

What was my lighting ratio? The tonal value of the shadows of the gymnasts on the wall, compared to the lit portion of the wall, should clue you into the fact that I was working my ambient about 1 1/2 stops below the strobe.

"So, gyms are not daylight-lit," you say.

No, they are not. Not where I live, anyway. They are usually icky sodium vapor color. The closest I could get my flash was to gel for florescents on the flash, dial it in on the camera, and dial the white balance compensation down to -1 (a bit warmer) to try to "spackle over" the inconsistencies a bit.

If I had missed it badly, where would you see it?

If you said the color of the (ambient-lit) shadows on the walls, brownie points for you. But the gymnasts would have looked a little bit hinky on the shadow side, too.

What about the gymnasts in the foreground? They are closer to the flash, yet they are not as brightly lit. What gives?

Here's where the tight beam spread of the 85mm setting on the SB-28 pays off for a second time. Because it has a controlled beam spread, I was able to "feather" the light, or aim it a few degrees high. This put the kids on the balance beam in the main path of the light and the kids in front in the fall-off, bottom portion of the beam.

Why did I do it? Purely sobjective choice. I wanted to emphasize the kids on the beam, instead of the ones in the foreground. They would have been brighter than the beam kids had I not feathered.

The success of this photo is not the final product (I like it, but it is not the end all) but rather the difference in what the photo would have looked like - really bad - if I had shot available light in the dark, cavernous gym.

No on-camera lighting technique could have helped much, either.

Next: A Shorthand Approach to Describing Light


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Anonymous Dan said...

What no comments on this page? Too tired are we? We can't have that.

I've liked all the pages so far, but this in particular because it's like a little quiz to see if I've been picking the stuff up. (And, yes - for the most part - I have!) So... a big THANKS!


January 26, 2008 10:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your experience! I would suggest you edit this article, especially in making it flow better. It is hard to follow the ideas when the sentences are choppy.
Keep up the good work!

February 21, 2008 1:22 PM  
Blogger David said...

Great of the best so far. I like the series of questions (and answers) as I moved down the page. Being spoon fed is nice, but being forced to think about it is even better!!

January 29, 2009 7:58 PM  
Blogger Dramatic Imaging said...

I keep seeing the term ASA in place of what I would have thought ISO would be written. Why? What does that stand for?

May 27, 2009 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ASA stands for American Standards Association, what the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) was called two name changes ago.

It used to be that film speeds were commonly rated on two different scales depending on where the film came from, either the ASA arithmetic rating for film in the Americas, or the DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung, or the German Institute for Standardization) logarithmic scale for film in Europe. (Technically there was also the GOST scale in use in the Soviet Union, which was also arithmetic, but slightly different from the ASA standard.) The logarithmic speed rating was followed by a degree symbol, so film that was ASA 100 in the US would be DIN 21° in Europe, while ASA 200 film would be DIN 24°, ASA 400, DIN 27°, etc. (because the scale is logarithmic 3 degrees is a full stop no matter where you are on the scale).

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) decided to create a worldwide standard for film speed ratings by simply combining the two different scales into one using both numbers separated by a slash, as in ISO 100/21°. It seemed cumbersome to most to continue including both numbers in the scale, so people started dropping the second number and just using the ASA equivalent number when they gave the ISO film speed rating, so currently the two terms are essentially interchangable. Although perhaps to avoid conusion on an internationally popular site it might be better to use the ISO term.

August 07, 2009 11:34 AM  
Blogger Keyes said...

I want to know how you convinced a gym to let you use flash at all. It's completely prohibited in any gymnastics gym I've ever been in, which makes it's quite fun to take pictures of my "budding" gymnast.

GREAT site, by the way. Everything is well explained and extremely helpful.

October 30, 2009 12:07 PM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Love the site, David. The lighting information is nice, but it's also entertaining to read comments of the blowhards that give you greif. Thanks again sharing all this information, in spite of all the trolls.

February 28, 2010 11:46 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

Great site! I really learned a lot, very useful resource, thank you!!!!
I need some clarification about the gelling:
'gel for florescents on the flash, dial it in on the camera, and dial the white balance compensation down to -1 (a bit warmer) to try to "spackle over" the inconsistencies a bit'
What do you mean by dialing it on the camera and the -1 WB compensation ???

April 28, 2010 7:10 AM  
Blogger Jeff Preston Photog said...

Learn something new every day. I'm embarressed to admit that up until now, I thought ASA referred only to camera film and ISO to digital sensors. Consider me re-educated. Thanks!

~ J.P.P.

December 22, 2010 12:15 AM  
Blogger Fabio said...

So far so good. Great articles. But can somebody explain me when the author says: "I was working my ambient about 1 1/2 stops below the strobe". How can you measure that?

January 26, 2011 5:42 PM  
Blogger A N Young said...

Fabio. Think of it the other way around... my strobe was 1 1/2 stops above the ambient. Makes more sence?

Read "Lighting 101: Balancing Flash and Ambient, Pt 1" again for more clarification.

April 10, 2011 3:01 AM  
Blogger yogi bear said...

Dear Strobist.
Thanks for the knowledge You share with the rest of us.
I'm an European living in Canada
for me ASA sounds like misspelled ISO
since Your audience is so huge(because You have a lot good things to teach)would You like to consider (just a suggestion)using ISO instead ?
Let me put it this way-I have a favorite 1.968 inch Carl Zeiss prime lens,doesn't sound bizarre.
Again,thanks for You being there. Erik.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) decided to create a w o r l d w i d e standard for film speed ratings.Just a thought.E.

September 30, 2011 10:56 PM  
Blogger JMPhotos said...

I thought there were 2 strobes in use. 1 on the right and 1 on the left; because of the shadows on the rear wall. What is causing the left side shadow???

November 26, 2011 2:36 AM  
Blogger JMPhotos said...

I just figured it out. It is coming from a gymnast on the far left that is not in the photo. D'oh!!

November 26, 2011 2:40 AM  
Blogger Clint D. said...

Why is the shadow on the upper left so much darker than the other shadows? Would the ambient light be the same for that shadow? Or is that the gyms logo added afterwards in post?

March 05, 2013 9:31 PM  

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