Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flash in Daylight: Creating Dimention and Mood

Before I took this shot I said to my subject, "Okay, now we're going to take a few where it looks like it's evening and your under a street light." She responded with a classic, "That's cool." For a photo geek, that's an understatement since it was 2pm in the afternoon, in the summer. This shot was done downtown Snohomish, Washington. I love the historic feel of this little town and the the Snohomish River waterfront that is only steps from shops and restaurants. It feels like Pioneer Square in Seattle but without the tourists and transients to distract my subject. So how does one create a false street light and evening light? I'll answer that with a  diagram- including stick figures!
It was a windy day, so umbrellas on the speed-light would spell disaster, so instead I grabbed my Lightsphere to add a little softness, but not much, I wanted the light source to mimic the harsh quality of street lights, so it put it up about 8 feet and pointed it down on the subject. I also put the light close to the building to extend the shadow behind her. Then I asked her to look in the direction of the flash for three reasons: to create a classic lighting pattern on her face, emphasize her great cheek bones, and to add interest to the portrait by insinuating that she's waiting for something or someone on this street. To add to the concept of a pretty young girl alone on a street at night, I shifted her to the far left of the frame and balanced the image with the window in the top corner. This design creates a visual triangle; your eye starts at the light coming from the top corner, moves to the subject, and then up again to the window, and back to the light. Does the set up seem simple ?  It is! The hard part is the exposure and even then it's not very difficult. It's just involves a little guess and check.

I didn't want a lot of ambient light affecting the shot, keeping the illusion that it late evening light was very important, but at the same time I didn't want to have to use another strobe unit to light the window separately, so some daylight had to be included; just enough to add detail in the window and wall and allow the flash to be the main light on the subject. Even though my flash unit was only about 4 feet from the subject, I set it 1/1 power (or full power). I then set the f-stop to match the power of the flash. The exposure turned out to be 1/160 at F9. I also tried slower shutter speeds to see the difference in the ambient light. At 1/60 a second the daylight overpowered the shot and the shadow on the wall dissipated. At 1/250 the window was barely visible. In total we probably took about 10 versions of this shot to get the right expression and exposure. On the right is another version shot at 1/160 @ f 6.3 . On this one I simply backed the light stand and flash combo back a foot farther from our High School Senior. By increasing the distance between the light and the subject I changed the intensity of the light falling on her face. I still can't decide which image I like better, the second one has softer shadows and looks be be earlier in the day then the first, but I love her face in the second one more. These are the tough choices we photographers have to make! What do you think? Please share your comments. Also if you would like to view more of my High School Senior Portraits please visit our senior site or Irene Jones Photography Online.

Next up: Painting with strobe light.

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