Pimp My Light: Camera Repair Guy

Reader Keith Taylor photographed the owner of a very large camera repair facility for the Business Outlook issue of Gwinnett Magazine. It's a clean, two-light setup that has a lot going for it.

Take a moment to reverse engineer it (it's an easy one) to exercise your lighting muscles.

Then, for a closer look at what works in the lighting -- and a couple ideas on how to tweak it -- hit the jump.

First off, you may remember Keith from his fireman shoot, which was profiled here earlier. Back then, he was using Vivitar 283's. But he has since moved up to AlienBees 400's.

Since Keith is comfy using his speedlights in manual mode, moving to the big flashes is a piece of cake. Everything you learn with a manual speedlight easily translates to the more powerful flashes.

This shot is lit in a similar manner as his fireman shot, except that the front light is coming from pretty much directly over the camera rather than off to camera left. Said front light is a small Westcott softbox. We know it is directly above camera from the way the nose shadow falls. Easy tell.

The backlight comes in at a lowish angle, hard and blue. It's obviously behind the guy, but we also know it is low from the fact that it is lighting the bottoms of the middle-row boxes.

Think for a sec what this establishes for the boxes, lighting-wise. They are pretty close to being exactly cross-lit: High front vs low back.

Also, they are cross-lit with different colors of light. This makes for a very 3-d effect on the boxes and really maps out the texture of the environment in an interesting way.

He went for broke on the blue gel intensity, which is a totally subjective choice. (Think Spinal Tap, at #11 on the voume scale.) One reason I like the blue family of gels is that they include the CTB, or "color temperature blue" group. They correspond to the opposite, CTO (color temperature orange) gels, which turn daylight into tungsten. Which means that you can get both of them in full strength, half, 1/4, 1/8, etc.

You can get a controllable tonal contrast by, say, lighting your subject from the front with a 1/4 CTO and the background with a 1/4 CTB gel, and the warm-vs-cool thing offsets in a neat way. Plus, you can make it subtle, bang them over the head with color, or anything in between.

Keith has the front-back contrast thing working for him. He also has nice internal tonal separation everywhere except for one place: The guy's head.

His head has a little hint of blue going up the left side. But Keith had better cross his fingers and toes if he wants Camera Guy's dark hair to separate from that dark background in the final product.

There are a couple of ways to go after this. The easiest would be to simply raise the backlight some and nuke Mr. Camera Guy to give him an unearthly blue ring around his head. That'd separate that black-on-black tone, fer sure. But it would also look a little weird.

Remembering Keith has a Vivitar 283 kicking around somewhere in his kit, my preference would be to take care of the black-on-black problem by raising that far background tone up a little. Wouldn't take much, either. You could bring it up to two stops below medium grey and it would separate nicely from Camera Guy's dark hair. If you gelled it to the same color as backlight number one, you'd create a full blue area in the center top that would make the first blue backlight look more natural.

You could stick the 283 right behind the backlight, pointing towards the back of the room. Or, depending on the room itself, you could stick it somewhere low in the back of the room and just wash some blue light up on the wall to make his hair separate from the blackness.

But I'm cheating now, right? Just pulling an assumed third flash out of Keith's bag, as if we all had endless light sources to work with.

There is a way he could use his backlight to do everything: Lose the reflector and point the bare bulb straight up.

Downside is, he'll have to make a little blue gel condom for the AB400 flash tube. But once he gets it gelled, that thing sends blue light out in all directions. Then, all you have to do is gobo it where you do not want light.

I would probably gobo it on the sides, and maybe a little on the top as well. I really like what the directional backlight is doing (at least, in the areas where it is happening.) Gobo'ing the top and sides would accomplish a lot. It would keep the directional light coming from the back. It would keep the blue from getting too hot on the sides close to the light. And it would send some blue light towards that back area to separate the guy's head.

See the online version of the Gwinnett Magazine Business Outlook story here, and more of Keith's editorial portraits here:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


One difference in the way good lighting photographers think (as compared to the rest of us) is that they think of light as a means of solving a problem. Other shooters just think of light as a way to create a look. And that look can sometimes grow into a starring role in the photo.

I know this because I am as guilty in this department as the next guy. More than most, to be honest.

But the hotshots tend to think of light as a tool -- one of many -- in the final photo. And to them, light is simply a means to an end rather than an end-all.

After you create your light -- but before you start making your final frames -- take a moment to anticipate the problems you'll see later which can be solved with a little tweak. It'll pay off big in your final photos.

And most important, once the light is nailed down, focus all of your attention on photo/subject interaction. This way you'll stand a good chance at grabbing some (well-illuminated) moments. When the light is good and the photog and subject are clicking together, that's a high-odds recipe for success.


Related links:

:: Readers Shoot Back: Keith Taylor ::
:: Pimp My Light: Underwater Flash ::
:: Pimp My Light: Light-Painted Knife Knife ::


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Blogger Mike said...

Just a typo - last paragraph, second sentance "This was you'll stand a god chance at grabbing some (well-illuminated) moments." You mean good, don't you?

Great thoughts from an interesting springboard. Thanks.

March 05, 2008 1:47 AM  
Blogger David said...

Impressively, there were *two* typos in that sentence. Which, of course, was puposefully inserted to see if you were on your toes....

March 05, 2008 1:59 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

In reference to the blue gel: Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top... number... and make that a little louder?

... but these gels go to eleven!

I wonder how many Tap references you can drop in with photographers in mind? "My last assistant died in bizarre gardening accident"

March 05, 2008 2:51 AM  
Blogger Cesar S said...

If using an extra light was not a issue wouldn’t a snooted light directly behind his head (of coarse about the same distance as the blue one)without any gel separate the hair with out spilling into the blue on the side boxes?
Or doing it professionally should one shun from using too many lights?

March 05, 2008 2:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's with the motion blur PS effect the magazine added to the background of these portraits? It ruins the images in my opinion. It looks especially goofy in the photos made outdoors.

March 05, 2008 8:30 AM  
Anonymous Hexfire said...

The fact that you referenced a gel lighting setup to spinal tap is without a doubt one of the best references I've heard in a long while. Not sure I particularly love the super blue, but hey its still a great shot :) good work, kudos to the photog.

March 05, 2008 10:50 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

know what?...my entire career in the film biz (including college courses) i have always been told CTO and CTB were "correct to orange/correct to blue"

weird, huh?

March 05, 2008 1:19 PM  
Blogger redpony said...

Looks like the web designer wanted to "improve" the portraits. A shame that such nice work is wasted on such a poorly conceived and designed web page.

Re: the AB400 vs Vivitar: besides power, what is the main benefit of moving up to the ABs? Is the quality of light any different/better than speedlights?

March 05, 2008 1:51 PM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

March 05, 2008 4:31 PM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

The Bees offer consistent performance.

You can trip Vivitars that aren't full charged. Well... technically you can do that to an AB too. Also, they will recycle and be ready for the next shot faster than a n AA-powered flash.

Consistent performance allows you assurance that your equipment is ready when the decisive moment happens. Sometimes the gig insists on it.

March 05, 2008 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

@redpony: More power can lead to better quality light because you have more freedom to use diffusers and you don't need to compromise so much with your aperture/ISO settings. For example when I used small flashes I would generally light groups of people by bouncing the light off the ceiling and shooting at around f/5.6 ISO 800. Now I use two big strobes for most group shots and I can set them up with shoot-through umbrellas and shoot at f/11 ISO 100.

March 05, 2008 5:55 PM  
Blogger Keith Taylor Photography said...

David thank you for the feature and compliments you made I appreciate it.

As far as the lack of a third light... I have no excuse other than being rushed for time. I had two 283's out in my truck along with a 550EX right there in my camera bag within arms reach. It was something I don't even remember noticing until I got it up on my monitor at the office. Like you say though... I need to learn to anticipate such problems beforehand. I should have known better.

As far as me moving up to AB 400's... I actually have moved down to 283's. I say this because I learned to light with Speedotron 2403 Packs/3000 Watt Second heads and Arri hot-lights and then went on to assist for other photographers with high end lighting gear.

Being kinda poor starting out in the biz... well I was unable to afford the more high end stuff so the AB line was perfect for me. I ordered two of them. And then I credit both you and Zac Arias with showing me how handy and useful a 283 or 285 could be. I wish I knew in school what I know now... I would not have had to fight for strobes so much in the check out room. Anyway I have thanked you before and I am thanking you again for running such a cool and helpful blog.

@ Annonymous and Redpony

Yes... I am not a huge fan of how the article turned out seeing that the images got cropped down so much. I worked really hard to show something about what each person did in the shots, but it does not show in the final outcome. I have learned to try and just let go of them (my images) once I have handed them over to AD or designer. It is out of my hands at that point.

Sometimes it is not even in their hands. At this agency the owner is VERY hands on with the magazine... so it (the final product) more often than not turns out to be his vision and not the AD or designers vision. In his defense though... he may have had the designer crop the images in order to meet a certain page count for the article. Who knows... I know he also is very into the more modern and futuristic high tech look which may explain the motion blur look.


I tend to use the AB's when possible because they have a faster recycle time making it where I can shoot faster catching more expressions. Also I find them more versatile than my 283's... as long as there is power near by.

Everybody... thank you for the kind words, I do appreciate it.

March 05, 2008 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

OK a little OT but since the Strobist has several solutions involving cereal boxes, I thought I'd point out to other Strobist readers the 2/24/08 post at Foto-Tech. I've got no connection.


March 05, 2008 7:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

is this shot done with the main light at camera top right and a light with blue gel at the back zoomed wide?

March 06, 2008 1:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where do you buy these coloured gel packs for the Sb600? Apologies if this is covered somewhere already! I love this blog!

March 06, 2008 6:21 AM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

You can get the gels from a camera store such as robertsimaging.com Ask for the Rosco gel sampler pack. Rosco gels are scientifically engineered to produce precise color temperatures. There are other brands, but my limited experience is primarily with the Rosco and Bogen gels. I prefer the Rosco gels. Call it voodoo.

March 06, 2008 10:33 AM  
Blogger focusfinder said...

Here's a novel cheap tweak:


March 20, 2008 5:15 AM  

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