Saturday, September 26, 2009

I learned about photography in reverse

The normal progression in photography is to learn how to take pictures in natural light first. Once the sunlight has been mastered, some would choose to add an element of flash photography to the mix. Well, I learned about this all backwards!

Even before I got my digital SLR, I was following a blog called Strobist. The philosophy there was to take the small battery-operated flashes (strobes), the ones normally sitting on top of the camera, and use them off-camera. They would have to be fired wirelessly or by a wire running from the camera all the way to the flash. After getting the required few pieces of gear, the techniques themselves were quite simple. The resulting images on the blog and from the readers were phenomenal…professional results with a flash that cost about 200 bucks!

Rika

[In the above shot of Rika, the harsh sunlight is at her back giving her that great rim light wrapping around her left side (you can see where the sun was by looking at the shadows coming from her legs). The main light on her is a strobe off camera left (to the left of the camera, or to her right), triggered wirelessly and set to about ½ power to just about balance her with the ambient light. This is all done without a light meter (since I didn’t have one then!) and balanced by looking at the back of the camera and using the histogram. This is called “cross lighting,” using the sun and a strobe to produce 2 apparent light sources.]

So soon after I had a camera, I started the “strobist-style” shooting. I joined some informal groups that met up occasionally and practiced the techniques (I will definitely write about some of these earlier shoots in the future). I used flash in every picture I took, and at some point must have thought that “strobist-style” was the only style! Having a few flashes that you can put anywhere you want is a powerful tool in photography, and one that is easily overused. I would look at a scene and think “how can I light that,” not “should I light that?” Some people were so into this technique that they called themselves “Strobists!”

You are not alone

[In this last shot, the sun is behind Rika all the way to the right of the frame (look at the highlights on the trees and the shadows on the ground) and is lighting the entire front side of her body that is facing away from me as well as giving her strong highlights on the left side of her face. To balance this out and give a little light to the right side of her face and back (otherwise it would all be in shadow) I used a strobe off camera left, set to just match the ambient light. This is another example of cross lighting with the sun. To change the mood a little, I added a bit of blue-gray to the highlights in post production and that’s it!]

At some point in the last year I came to the realization that while the “strobist-style” is an important technique to master, there are many other ways to get a great picture. I am a photographer, not a Strobist! I am now making a special effort to focus on learning more natural light techniques when I can. You know, getting back to the basics!

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