On Assignment: Simple Wall/Snoot Portrait

The longer I play with my small strobes, the more I graduate away from soft light.

There is a time and a place for the umbrellas. But, increasingly, I find myself using hard light. More specifically, I find myself using restricted beam light.

Hard light has a bad rap, as we talked about in Lighting 101. The trick is controlling the ratio of the strobe's light to the ambient.

This quickie portrait was a Varsity cover of a state champion high school wrestler who was returning to spend another season embarrassing his would-be opponents.

The snoot-against-a-wall technique is a trick I go to frequently when I am shooting an athlete in an indoor environment. The result is basically a photo that burns its own edges down. The severity of the falloff is determined by (Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) the shutter speed. The higher it is, the darker the falloff. Remember - assuming you are within the synching range for your camera - the flash only cares about the aperture. The ambient is controlled by the shutter/aperture combo. So keeping your aperture constant and decreasing the amount of time your shutter is open does nothing for the flash-lit area of the frame, but drops the value of the areas the flash is not reaching.

Why use a wall? Well, as you can see here, the wall provided a nice fill reflector for the camera left side of his face. It is amazing how much light you'll get back from a white wall at close range. Even if the wall is not in your frame, you can use it for fill light. One strobe becomes two lights that way.

So, if you have been reading the articles, the light position, modification and exposure process should be coming to you already.

I have a Nikon SB-28 on a stand about 8 feet away from the subject at camera right. I slipped a home-made, 8" cardboard snoot onto the flash to restrict the beam of light. The flash is on manual. I am purposely not going to tell you exposure info this time because the actual numbers should be getting increasingly irrelevant to you by now.

Here's the process:

I tend to start with the flash set on manual at a quarter power. I was working in sodium vapor lighting, so I greened the flash and shot on the camera's florescent white balance to get close to the ambient color temperature.

Working at a quarter power (at 400 ASA) I start with the camera on the max synch speed (1/250th with a Nikon D2.) I adjust the aperture while doing a series of test exposures until it looks good. Then, I shoot a few more test exposures, opening up the shutter speed until my falloff looks the way I want it.

(If this is confusing to you, you are probably jumping in late. Might want to go into Lighting 101 or On assignment and read some.)

This is a very quick, flash-meter-less process (hey, do you know how much cool lighting gear you can get for the price of a flash meter?)

My target was to use the beam of light to call attention to him, yet make the falloff such that you could still read "Hammond," the name of his school.

By the way, a good friend of mine always thought that Hammond High School should change their mascot to the "Hammond Eggs." (Yes, I have strange friends.)

So, there you have it. A super-quick, one-light set-up that can be used in a pinch almost anywhere. It is a bit of a gimmick, so it is not the kind of thing you want to do once a week. But it is nice to have a couple dozen "gimmicks" that you can pull out and choose from when you need them.

Oh, and while I am thinking about it, I have to remember that I now have found I have readers from (among other places) South Africa, the Philippines, Japan, Finland, England, Brazil, Romania and Alabama. So, the reference to "Bueller" is from a 1986 US movie called "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." Several lines from the movie are common slang usage here in the US, but they might not make any sense to my new friend Christian from Romania.

Stick with me and I will corrupt your English in ways you never thought of.

Next: Make the Ambient Work For You


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