In Camera Veritas

Show of hands, who knew that the cameras we use every day are named after a room?

The latin word for room is camera, which makes sense when you realize the first objects for recording light were cameras obscura.

And in this case instead of the room being the camera, the camera is in fact the light modifier.

So here's my camera and my light modifier. It's only a camera if you are speaking latin, but it truly is the light mod. I started thinking about this after the passport photo post in which I lit Em with a white wall and a fill card.

As we were walking out of the room, it hit me that you could think of the narrow hallway as being a giant soft box, but how would it shape a light placed behind the camera and fired backwards?

So we took the photo off of the wall and spent five minutes on a one-bare-light portrait. I placed the white foam core under her chin to fill the bounce light coming off of the back wall, ceiling and two side walls:

Hmm. Think I just found a head shot booth.

My hallway being somewhere between cream and tan, you definitely pick up some color on the bounce. But nothing that can't be taken out in post. And you can get a variety of difference looks based on where you aim the raw flash.

Shoot it up into the ceiling and you get a more traditional clamshell when combined with the fill card, as in with the photo of Em above.

Aim the light a little to camera right and move slightly to camera left and you get a more directional light that still wraps well, as in the top photo of poet Truth Thomas. (Thus, the In Camera Veritas header.)

Aim it straight back and you'll get a flatter, more revealing light that will also create large speculars on a surface such as Truth's jacket.

Here's a wider angle, showing a camera's eye view. As far as lighting gear and set up goes, this could hardly be simpler to set up: bare flash aiming behind me and a piece of white foam core wedged in below Truth:

We closed the door at camera left when shooting, but now that I think about it, the doors on left and right are control surfaces, too. And an easy background swap replaces the black foam core with white for a totally different look. (They are 30x40" and you can pick them up at Staples for $6.99.)

But when used with a single light and the geometry of the room, the effect is that of using a big expensive light modifier. Which if you think about it, is technically exactly what you are really doing.

Next: Soprano Rebecca Hargrove Pt. 2


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Blogger S. Patterson said...

Awesome post, it's nice not to have to break out your whole mod/light arsenal everytime! I Just shot an ad for a trucking company and realized standing someone in between two trailers works well for natural light headshots as well (depending on where the sun is). Probably wouldn't have noticed the light if I wasn't reading the strobist blog. Thanks for all you do.

June 19, 2013 8:04 AM  
Blogger Keith said...

This is why I really enjoy using a flag on my flash to block direct light from the subject. You can turn just about any white-ish wall into a soft box, and have reaaaaaally nice light that doesn't look anything like on camera flash. You've definitely taken it to the next level using a fill card, and having interchangeable control surfaces with doors and all, but that gives me a lot of ideas for where I could do this in my house.

I also just found my justification for an indirect octa. "Honey, we could either move the walls in this room, or I could spend $1,200 on this modifier."

I like it!

June 19, 2013 8:38 AM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

Love love love Em's portrait.
Her little hint of a smirk is perfection.
You're in soooo much trouble man.

I love shooting headshots in corridors, it's just the perfect place to pretend I have huge lights on location and being able to control the environment. I also find it's great with camera shy people because it's more intimate and less scary than some huge studio with way too much empty space.

(BTW: camera still means room in italian: bedroom would be 'camera da letto')

June 19, 2013 8:55 AM  
Blogger lv pg said...

Nice affirmation of the the minimalist perspective. Photography, like many industries, can become a real money pit; driven by not only industry pressures, but our own desire to "have/need." Good images are created by good photographers...even with Buzz Lightyear cameras. Thanks David. I needed this post today.

June 19, 2013 9:15 AM  
Blogger Mike King said...

Camera obscura translates as darkened room (more or less) the closest English word for camera in this context would be chamber.

June 19, 2013 9:39 AM  
Blogger Dave E. said...

"Probably wouldn't have noticed the light if I wasn't reading the strobist blog."

Just one way this entire website can be validated in one sentence.

June 19, 2013 10:14 AM  
Blogger Taras said...

"camera" = jail cell/chamber in Russian. Just my 2 cents.

June 19, 2013 11:55 AM  
Blogger Daniel Sullivan said...


June 19, 2013 12:46 PM  
Blogger Mike Gaskin said...

I started doing a lot of bounce work back the the newspaper days. Bought a Metz 510 volt battery strobe. Fist flash I ever had that could bounce off almost any ceiling. I have had studio lights blow up during a shoot and substituted later model Metz's in soft boxes, also bounced with fill cards.
Other shooters mock me for my big bomber metz gear and battery pack that could start a motorcycle, but nothing beats power when you need it.
Bounce on.

June 19, 2013 2:45 PM  
Blogger Noces Blanches said...

Again, this shows what fantastic shots you can create with minimal gear.

The lighting set up looks very similar to the head shots from Kevin Major Howard who shoots gorgeous head shots from the back of his garage.

He was featured in a documentary a few years ago which also shows his approach to portraits and his very basic light set up. The video is here and you can see the set up at the 3:17 mark.

June 19, 2013 3:09 PM  
Blogger PK said...

Where else on web can you get inspired, learn Latin, Italian, and Russian, AND learn cool tricks to try at home?? Love this post!

June 19, 2013 5:21 PM  
Blogger Gorky M said...

Here in India, the room is called "Kamra" and "Kamar" in Indonesian. Super post as usual - I shall be looking at my corridor differently now.

June 19, 2013 5:25 PM  
Blogger Sportymonk said...

OK, Nobody else asked, what is the green clip / grip used for and what is it attached to other than the black foam board?

June 19, 2013 9:49 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


99-cent alligator clip holding the foamcore to a light stand.

June 19, 2013 11:39 PM  
Blogger Marco Castelvecchio said...

FYI, plural for camera obscura is "camerae obscurae". It sounds scarier in english ;)
Jokes aside, that's a brilliant way to "see" light and clever thinking. Kudos to McGyver of strobes :D

June 20, 2013 2:23 AM  
Blogger Dale Nicholls said...

Just came across this site recently after watching Digital Rev. Fantastic guides and photos. I found shooting into a dark room/doorway and bouncing the flash from the roof gives a nice black background.

June 20, 2013 2:54 AM  
Blogger Lanthus Clark said...

I am so going to build a passport photo booth for the studio (when I finally open) based on this but in painted chipboard!

June 20, 2013 10:21 AM  
Blogger GrumpyOldMan said...

At the risk of being labelled a heretic, couldn't you do this with the strobe *mounted on the hotshoe* ?!!?!!?

June 21, 2013 12:38 PM  
Blogger John Naman said...

David, If you use a polarizer in the room shot, the glare on the floor will be minimized. Not for the portraits.

June 21, 2013 5:17 PM  
Blogger Ifty said...

@GrumpyOldMan - If it's a bare-bulb light getting blasted, I suppose it could be done with a stofen (or other similar omnidirectional tupperware article) flagged with some kind of spill killer. Essentially the look is like a giant ring light - light coming from all sides to wrap around so a straight-out speedlight might not be quite as even.

June 25, 2013 11:47 PM  

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