On Assignment: Thinking Outside the Box

Sometimes there seems to be no place to stick your light where it won't create more problems than it will solve.

A good example is this martial arts-themed exercise class at a senior center.

It was a typical dance rehearsal style room, with one of the long walls covered in mirrors. Sure, you can do cool things with the reflections, but you have to hide yourself while you do it. You can either work at an oblique angle to the mirror, or hide behind an object or person in the frame.

But including a light in the equation adds another variable/limitation/problem/opportunity, depending on how you look at it.

Now you need to find an angle where there is good composition, you are hidden, your light is hidden and the light is doing worthwhile things to your subject.

This is easier than it sounds. The solution is to light the scene from outside of the room.

In this room, assuming you are standing at center, the wall of mirrors is the long wall in front of you. At the upper right corner of the room there is a door. There are also a couple of windows along the wall to your right.

I stuck the flash about 8 feet outside of the door and aimed it back into the room to hit the instructor and spill over onto the front row of people. The open door and one window created two broad shafts of light.

The light is coming from slightly in front of the instructor and I am behind him. This is not a problem because I can shoot his reflection in the mirror. Problem solved.

The mirror also gives me access to the cool shadows being created along the back and left side walls of the classroom, too.

My light will affect the whole room without popping up in a shot (either directly or as a reflection.)

The light was set to a 70mm zoom angle, and on 1/2 power. I wanted some depth of field and enough light to create some dark shadows by cranking up my shutter speed if I wanted.

When using hard, direct strobe in a room you will get shadows that you do not see unless you either chimp your TFT screen or carefully scan for them as you test pop your flash. I do one or the other regularly as I work.

These can work for you, as is the case in the close-up (above) of the lady working with the wooden sword. Keep an eye out for those opportunities.

Or they can work against you, as in this photo just below.

Can you see my problem yet? Look on the lower right. I may be hidden, but the tell-tale shadow of a camera with a Pocket Wizard attached to the hot shoe is clearly visible.

Just be aware of both possibilities.

Next: Designing a Backdrop


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Anonymous Brady said...

Thanks for another great tip, I love the idea of lighting the image from outside of the room.

April 18, 2006 9:36 PM  
Anonymous Ray said...

Nice post and interesting pictures. Thanks.

March 12, 2009 6:16 PM  
Blogger LucasP said...

I'm just reviewing your lighting techniques, David, as I'll be shooting some MMA/BJJ later today and wanted to gen-up on lighting in a gym.
I've found your L101 series to be fantastic - I keep going back to it every time I have something new to shoot to remind me of the things I need to be taking into account.
As the basketball court and Taiji shots were from quite a few years back, have you any updates on technique?
I'll be looking to key-light either through the window or door, with a fill light from within - possibly an on-camera ring-flash (on loan from a pro-tog friend).
Thanks again for sharing all of this info - invaluable!

September 07, 2014 3:21 AM  

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