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Today's Special: Gourmet Speedlights Al Fresco

UPDATE: Nick was kind enough to drop by and answer some of your questions in comments. (Thanks, Nick!)

I love letting the new submissions to the Strobist Flickr Pool build up for a few days, so I can spend a few hours looking through the thousand or so photos that have dropped in since the last edit.

That's a lot of images to look at in one sitting. But every now and then a photo really jumps out and grabs you. Such was the case with UK-based photographer Nick Turpin's series of portraits of thriller writers, shot for Arena Magazine.

They are sophisticated, stylish and bathed in pools restricted light. And they were done entirely with a few SB-800s and voice-activated light stands.

More, including Nick's video and links, after the jump.

I hope you enjoy this movie as much as I did -- I probably watched it half a dozen times. Take a look, and then keep reading for some of the thought process behind street shooting with multiple SB's as light sources.

Nick says that began as a pure street photographer, and then started evolving his look to include small flashes. The street has since become his impromptu studio, and he is free to choose his settings on a moment's notice. He is now shooting magazine work and advertising campaigns, using gear that would be right at home at a Strobist meetup.

My guess is that he often is able to work without location permits because he is not setting up stands or tripods. And from the look of this video, this series was shot over the course of a single day.

When shooting outdoors in the daytime and using small flashes, there are three things to consider: Ambient level, balance and lighting direction(s).

It is helpful, though not mandatory, to work in shade. This keeps the ambient light at a manageable level. Still you'll want to start out at you highest normal sync speed speed, to give yourself a reasonable aperture.

Take a "properly exposed" photo and look at your frame. It will probably look okay. But likely a little boring, too.

Next, keep your shutter speed where it is, and start to underexpose your ambient light by dialing down your aperture and chimping the back of the camera. This will set the mood and contrast range of your photo. What you are doing is basically setting an ambient "floor" on your overall exposure via your chosen aperture.

How far down should you go? One stop? Two stops? Five stops? That is entirely up to you and depends on the look you are trying to achieve.

Now, bring in your lights. You will have to dial them up to a power level sufficient to properly expose your subject at the aperture you have chosen in the last step. Nick is using multiple SB-800's, snooted and aimed (via the VAL's) to create multi-directional pools of light on his subjects.

This is where it gets more difficult. Nick's eye for narrative (and humor, if you look at some of his other work) is what defines where he places his subjects and his lights. Sometimes he motivates the light with objects on the set (i.e., the lamp post) and sometimes he goes for pure, seemingly random whimsy. Your photos probably will not look like Nick's because you will bring an entirely different eye to your settings, body attitude and light placement.

But however you do it, cool things start to happen when you balance multiple hard lights against soft fill. It is as if your subject wandered into an area of interesting, mixed light. Texture happens. Depth happens. Interestingness happens. Sure, the light from the strobes is hard, but the shadows are only as deep as you set them with your baseline ambient exposure. So it is all under control.

What are your thoughts? Were you as surprised as I was to find the photos were done with speedlights and VALs? I found myself thinking back to Gregory Crewdson, mostly because of the sense of place defined by those pools of light.

Pretty amazing, when you think of the comparative amounts of gear being brought to bear on the shoots.

I love that VAL street lamp boom. To be honest, I love all of the photos in this series. It's amazing how he can be at once both sophisticated and mobile.

You can the whole series of portraits of thriller writers at Turpin's website. (More projects, and another video, here.)


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