I just finished a teaching stint at PhotoWorld Manila, in the Philippines, and I can say I have never been more warmly welcomed or graciously treated by any host, at any time. The Filipino people are amazingly easygoing and friendly, and, rabidly interested in all things about digital photography. The conference was a non-stop love fest, and a non-stop laugh fest among the speakers; Eddie Tapp, Judy Host, Amy Cantrell, Ken Sklute and Hadi Doucette.
The key to the deal for me to come here was the offer to teach a lighting workshop on the island of Corregidor. Ever since I was a kid, poaching my dad’s World War II books, I have wanted to see one of these islands where so much pivotal history occurred. I was busy teaching most of the day, but I did manage one quiet walk. The huge guns and the gutted buildings are still there now, of course. But it was not hard to hear the echoes of those desperate days. So many gave their lives here. There are ghosts.
Photographically, the upside of so much untouched carnage is the patina of decay, the rust of the place. The old walls of the buildings… You would pay a backdrop painter thousands to come up with a mottled drop of such gorgeous, muted color. Unreal.
And our subjects were dancers! Put a dancer in front of my lens, and Joe be happy monkey. I feel a real affinity for dancers, actually, because, just like photographers, they are hard working, creative and underpaid. I started photographing dance years ago, by accident. I moved into a tiny studio apartment in right by Lincoln Center, the nexus of the dance world. I started seeing all these ballerinas heading for the studio to work out. “Hmmm,” I thought. “This could be a great way to meet girls…”
Over time I fell in love with the art form of ballet, its excruciating demands and exquisitely expressed forms. It is a powerful expression of living, breathing art. I also made a habit of taking ballerinas into unexpected venues, like the NYC subway.
[More from the Philippines after the jump]
So we be on Corregidor, with about 25 students in my class, six dancers, my D3′s, a 14-24, a 24-70, and a 200 f/2. For lighting, I had four SB-800 strobes, one SU-800 commander, and some grip stuff. So, what to do?
Kind of fell in love with the ruins of the officer’s quarters, and the array of shapes and colors. Made this snap. Very handy, the LCD on the D3, by the way. It’s like having a mini HDTV in your hands. Liked this enough to pursue, so I put a dancer in a logical place. Made another snap.
She is hatchet lit, basically, with no light really hitting her from camera angle, but highlights creeping in on either side from the windows. That might be fine for Alfried Krupp, the pre-war German industrialist who Arnold Newman turned into the devil incarnate with an appropriate application of the old hatchet style. Not good for a lovely, delicate ballerina. So we drug out some lighting.
As you can see, we’re using a c-stand, and a 3×6 Lastolite panel in vertical mode. Got two SB’s going…one high and one low. Separate groups, upper is A group, lower is B. Why two different groups outta the same source? Independent ratio control. Knew I wanted some low glow on her cause there was a lot of ambient light bouncing around in there off the floor. Gave the place a nice feel. So I thought I might want to pump some power (plus EV) from the low unit. The Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) gives you the chance to fine tune the mix of light by thirds of stops, right from the hot shoe master.
Put her back in the same spot. No go. I mean, you got an exposure and decent light, but the light is all over the place, lighting that wall behind her, waaaaayyyyyyy too much. Big source, tough to feather and control and gradate. Hmmm…..what to do?
Finally settle down, and pull down some of the available light exposure, saturating the scene, and she steps much closer. (Finals were aperture priority, minus 2 EV, 1/40th @ f8, and played with the light ratio till I liked it.) Worked the light so it embraces her, wraps her, and we begin to have a portrait that works.