LATEST FEATURE: On Assignment: Ben Lurye

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

On Assignment: Don't Deny the Obvious



We give a lot of attention to light mods around here: big ones, little ones, hard ones, soft ones, umbrellas, soft boxes, grids and the like. But sometimes the best light mod is no light mod at all — especially indoors, with neutral walls.

In that environment, often the smart choice is just to stick your bare speedlights on stands and go.

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This is something I used to do a lot more often as a time-pressed newspaper photographer. Not so much specifically for the quality of light. It was just, well, faster to set up and tear down.

But it is also a way to maximize the apparent size of your light source, hide your flashes when necessary and give yourself the absolute most room to work.


The First One's Free…

As most of you know, bounce flash is sort of the gateway drug to off-camera lighting. It beats the crap out of direct flash and it's easy. You start out with a ceiling or two, and pretty soon you're scoring a white wall. Next thing you know, you're zooming your flash head to make different size light sources and by then it owns you.

Bounce flash from the top of a light stand is an evolution from that. That's because your light source is not tied to your camera position, tilt or orientation. And with multiple light sources the possibilities expand even more.

For the shot above of chef José Andres, done in his home kitchen, I was tagging stills off a video project. They were the primary and I was working around them. So I wanted to be quick, easy setup and unobtrusive.

There was a glass backsplash behind him, so I could not light him from straight on at all. You'd see the light in the reflection. And I wanted light that didn't call attention to itself, too. Just give me some soft illumination and a little separation and I'd be good to go.




So that's exactly what we did. All of these light sources are ungelled, and his walls and ceiling are both white. Any time I get a white-walled room with a white ceiling I at least consider the possibility of bouncing at least one light.

My key light was an LP180, bounced up high into the wall-ceiling juncture over my left shoulder. The room sorta filled itself, given white walls on all sides.

I used two other bounced flashes (another LP180 and an SB-800) as separation lights. One was high off the wall behind José's camera-left shoulder. I guess it was pretty much a mirror image of my key light.




For a hair light I bounced the third speedlight off of the ceiling behind him. The "wall" you see in the back of the frame does not extend to the ceiling. It is more of a room divider unit with a gap between the top and the ceiling. I prefer to think of it as an expensive, custom-built gobo. It was just too convenient, and you can see how I used it in the side-view diagram above.

The hair light is subtle — just needs to separate two similar tones (hair and background) and keep them from merging. This is not, "HEYEVERYBODYLOOKATMYLIGHT" light. It's just designed to do it's job and disappear, much as I was trying to do for myself.

In fact, the takeaway from me for that day was just getting the chance to watch someone who is truly great at what he does perform in his own home kitchen. That's a neat and privileged moment, not unlike the time I photographed a soprano singing in the shower. (My fancy stereo has never sounded good since.)
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Working in Haiti



I don't often intersect with high-end restaurants or world-renowned chefs. I am just as happy at a great barbecue joint in South Carolina (mustard and vinegar, not tomato).

But having met one, I'd like to think they are all as cool as the guy in the one-minute video you see above. Taking that talent and publicity and pointing it at the long-term efforts to rebuild Haiti is the kind of thing that makes chef José Andres triple aces in my book.
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Next: Chasing Light: Actress Margo Seibert




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25 Comments:

Blogger Iza Derlacińska said...

The thing I like about bounce flash is that it creates a more natural look but the downside is it kills all ambient.

My question is: Why both key and rim at the same side (left side) of camera. Generally they are placed on opposite sides as cross lighting? Is is just to break to rules or maybe there was some obstruction on the right side (video stuff?)

September 03, 2013 9:53 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Iza-

I neither believe in, nor acknowledge the existence of a rule that says key and separation light have to be on opposite sides. In fact, I prefer them to wrap on the same side, but that is not a rule with me, either.

#NoRules

#OkayMaybeJustAFewRules

September 03, 2013 9:57 AM  
Blogger Shawn Ruyffelaert said...

Hi David,

Curious as to why you didn't put the rim light on the opposite side (and for that matter, why not just point it directly at him)?

I've been through lighting 101 & 102 a couple of times, and either I didn't get it or it wasn't really in-depth regarding rim/separation lighting.

I'll search the blog when I have some time and see if you've got some articles covering this subject.

Thanks,

-Shawn

September 03, 2013 9:58 AM  
Blogger lv pg said...

Wonderful stuff David. Being overly-motivated by one [many] of your posts, I attempted a variety of speedlight setups in my last session [65 3rd & 4th graders]. After the session, the images I liked best were those with simple bounce set-up...no gels, no modifiers and no props. 2 rows of computer monitors facing the camera for the background; Images shot at f1.8; 2 bounced lights. Sometimes KISS is best. Thanks for posting.

September 03, 2013 12:10 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

I beg you, please give up the white type on black background. Typographically this is wronger (word invented) than straight, unmodified, on camera flash. If you don't believe me, please read this:

http://uxmovement.com/content/when-to-use-white-text-on-a-dark-background/

September 03, 2013 3:45 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Doug-

Thanks for your concern. If you need black on white you can bookmark the mobile version, or hit command-P and make a pdf. Both format into black text on white.

September 03, 2013 6:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I was wondering about the three lights on the rear partition. Did you consciously think about them when composing, or do anything to make them so bright, or was it just one of those happy coincidences that sometimes just happens? I think those 3 lights perform a very cool shoulder/wall separation function.
I would have expected that using flash bright enough to freeze falling spices would have washed out those three lamps. Maybe they're very bright, or maybe their recessed placement blocked the flash and made the effect work.
Very cool!

September 03, 2013 9:02 PM  
Blogger dom said...

It's tempting when I read your posts to try to record everything as a new technique. But that doesn't work as I'm sure you know.

What I try to do is ask myself WWDHD (What Would David Hobby Do?) when I get stuck on assignment. I try to think of lighting that best fits the subject and not my equipment or preconceptions.

Reading posts like these always helps, not because I do end up using the techniques at some point (and I sooo do) but because they help me approach photographs with a child-like eagerness instead of dread or cynicism.

So thanks, as always, for your continued awesome.

September 03, 2013 11:06 PM  
Blogger dom said...

It's tempting when I read your posts to try to record everything as a new technique. But that doesn't work as I'm sure you know.

What I try to do is ask myself WWDHD (What Would David Hobby Do?) when I get stuck on assignment. I try to think of lighting that best fits the subject and not my equipment or preconceptions.

Reading posts like these always helps, not because I do end up using the techniques at some point (and I sooo do) but because they help me approach photographs with a child-like eagerness instead of dread or cynicism.

So thanks, as always, for your continued awesome.

September 03, 2013 11:07 PM  
Blogger chico.walker said...

I loved this until post you said mustard and vinegar. There is no quicker way to ruin good pork than to cook it in South Carolina.

September 04, 2013 12:37 AM  
Blogger Tim Caldbeck said...

Thanks David. I was just yesterday using a massive cream wall as my main & biggest light source. The wall was cream and the colour cast actually added a nice warmth, so sometimes it's nice to go with the cast :)

September 04, 2013 2:43 AM  
Blogger Jebb said...

Heck yes to SC barbecue!

September 04, 2013 7:49 AM  
Blogger Jebb said...

Heck yes to South Carolina barbecue! ...and keeping it simple when appropriate.

September 04, 2013 7:50 AM  
Blogger Ami Siano said...

HI david,

I have a Q. If you were working in a video production environment, why not use their set up ?
I used a few in assignments I had, they use sometimes beautiful LED lights and you can add a single flash.
It's even quicker to set up.

cheers
A.

September 04, 2013 8:31 AM  
Blogger noblog said...

I often use this way of bouncing flash.

The picture looks good.
My only problem is the background.
It feels like the two vertical lines are not straight but at an angle.

Which gives the impression of the background tilting to the left.
Not sure why that is.

September 04, 2013 9:06 AM  
Blogger Hanno Köhncke said...

What i love a lot in your pic is the re-sculptured 3D feeling what you achieved with your three lights and i like the frozen motion of the ingredients on their way in the soup (or whatever). The two lights on the left emulate kind of window-light, i think. And - yes - the lights don't pull attention on themselves. I put your pic and the BTS in my bag of knowledge. Thanks!!

September 04, 2013 4:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

You're holding detail in the shadows without your typical on axis fill. Is that ambient, or is your hair light performing double duty?

September 04, 2013 7:34 PM  
Blogger Pittbug said...

I like the shot and the use of the 3 lights, but there's one light missing. The blue flame under the pan. Without the viewer seeing gas flame it looks like it was staged.

September 04, 2013 8:38 PM  
Blogger Wayne Ficklin said...

If ever you're in SC, I'll happily buy you some Mustard base BBQ. If you prefer Vinegar, I'm pretty sure I've got a place for that (but I haven't been in ages). The stuff everybody else thinks is BBQ (tomato), I've got a place for that, too. Let me know when you're in the area. I might even let you tell me where to aim a light or something.

September 05, 2013 3:07 PM  
Blogger der Ek said...

In a situation like this, do you zoom the flash head at all or do you leave it wide?

September 06, 2013 5:07 AM  
Blogger Scotsman said...

I've always been a big believer of less is more. My first rule has always been to look for that white ceiling or white wall first and see if it is workable from there.

Then I moved into a cabin with wood floors and wood ceilings and that rule went out the window when the wife wanted food photographed or the kids were doing something cute. Now i find myself screaming 'give me light!'

September 06, 2013 8:26 PM  
Blogger Scotsman said...

I've always been a big believer of less is more. My first rule has always been to look for that white ceiling or white wall first and see if it is workable from there.

Then I moved into a cabin with wood floors and wood ceilings and that rule went out the window when the wife wanted food photographed or the kids were doing something cute. Now I find myself screaming 'give me light!'

September 06, 2013 8:41 PM  
Blogger Lanskymob said...

No, they're not all as cool as this guy. Believe me.

September 07, 2013 1:18 AM  
Blogger Alexander Petricca said...

Hi David,

If that large white wall to camera right wasn't available, would you introduce your own reflector or a fourth light to act as fill and why?

Thanks!

September 19, 2013 7:31 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Alexander-

Honestly, it would depend totally on what the room presented to me. Short answer, tho: probably.

September 19, 2013 2:44 PM  

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