L102: 4.3 -- Cross Balance and Sculpt Discussion

Report from the assignment given on January 18th, in which you were asked to shoot a photo predominantly lit in one direction, and partially filled by restricted strobe coming in from another direction. This concept proved a tad elusive for many of you, but there were some cool photos made, all the same.

Pix and more, après le jump.
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This assignment and technique is a pretty tough thing to get, IMO. But it is one of the most useful ways to use a single flash. For instance, Joe McNally is basically doing exactly this -- selectively lighting against the ambient -- in his blog post on lighting a fence.

Seriously, if I put out an assignment for you guys to shoot a fence with a single flash, take a moment to picture in your mind what would come back. But a photo like that in the hands of a photographer who is elegant with his or her light can yield a beautiful photo.

Also: Until he starts explaining to you how he lit it, did you notice that the final photo was not really about the light at all, but the fence? It just looks pretty darn good photo of a fence, is all. When light works really well, it does not call attention to itself. Your mind just explains it away as being natural light. Only really cool natural light.

That is sculpting with restricted light. He restricted it by zooming the flash out to 105mm, which at that range is as good as sticking a snoot onto the flash.

That said, there were some cool shots in this group, too. So let's look at a couple.

Leading off is a nicely done photo that I am reluctant to post because it just reinforces that 94% male thing we apparently have going on here. (I would like to report, for the record, that I am 100% male, whereas you, as a group, are merely 94% male.)

I'm just saying.


Anyway, here is Dat-Tuyen Nguyen's simply and beautifully lit portrait, shot in color but (IMO) looking better converted to black and white.

I really like the photo, but I might have moved the camera-right light up (in direction) a tad. As it is, it is pretty cleavage-oriented. But I suppose that is a matter of personal choice. Remember that you connote a lot about what is important and what is not by what you choose to selectively light.

(And yes, I do expect that there will be some comments -- both ways -- about this...)

That said, I think you will find that any controversy attached to the above photo pales in comparison with that of the following picture, which is by Lowell Sannes:


You see, Lowell is busy shooting his assignment while he is also flying a Boeing-Effing-737 jet plane.

Now, I do not know about you guys, but what I like to hear from my pilot during a flight is the occasional report of the (smooth) weather that is expected ahead, meted out over the intercom in a confident, baritone-pitched voice.

And not something like, "Hey, look, Bob! Every time I do a test pop with my Pocket Wizard the nav displays go nuts!

That's right, the same guy who would prefer that we turn off our pacemakers as he prepares to land the plane is just hunky-dory with a Pocket Wizard transceiver going off repeatedly at 34,000 feet. It's good to be the captain.

Also, I would like to know: Did he actually turn the plane to position the sun correctly?

I can hear it now:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Lowell speaking. Shortly, we will be executing a quick l'il barrel roll, so's I can nail my backlight for an important photo. Please do not be alarmed. Oh, and you might wanna buckle up...

That said, what is important in this venue is that it is a very cool pic. And it is just what the doctor ordered for the assignment. Lowell has chosen a scene defined by strong backlight and selectively filled it with restricted flash to light exactly what he wanted lit, and nothing else.

And if I may address Mr. Sannes directly:

You, sir, are the charter member of the Strobist Lighting 102 Six-Mile-High Club. That said, my URL had better not be the most recent address in the browsing history of your charred iPhone when they find it next to the plane's black box.
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Smoldering remains aside, the takeaway from this assignment should be to consider the possibility of working against the direction of the ambient light, and then working some selective light back into it to create a center of interest that is controlled entirely by you.

NEXT: 5.1: Refract and Reflect


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