Generally, when I teach a large group in a seminar setting, I involve the audience in as many ways as I can. They become my photo subjects, all day, for one thing. In other instances, I pass (or throw, if someone looks like a good bet to catch it) a speed light out there so that some luckless soul then becomes a VAL (voice activated light stand).
At the recent GPP event in Dubai, we posed the intrepid Ali, and imagined him as a young auteur director of indie films who was ginning up a reputation in the Middle East and beyond.
First step, as always, is forget about the flash and the light, and compose the picture. Get control of the scene. The obvious thing to do in that auditorium was to use the center aisle, with glow strips set into the steps, as a compositional element. Once the subject is settled into a reasonable place in the frame, the main light is placed, which in this instance is the Lastolite 2×2 EzyBox soft box, white interior style. It is placed up and to camera left, in sort of standard, regulation soft box position. It does hover at the upper edge of my frame, as I want it low enough to scoop light into Ali’s eyes.
Next are the audience held kicker lights, placed to either side and behind my subject at about 45 degrees. These lights are ungelled, and hand held. (Hmmm…last sentence, beginnings of a rap song about speed lights?)
I digress. Those two lights simply rim his face and form, and define him. The corollary benefit, which to me was a happy accident, is that they also rim lit those auditorium chairs behind him, which have a rich blue color. You do have to be careful how those rim lights are aimed and zoomed. If they go too tight, and too forward looking, you lose the chairs, as in the frame below. Their position, angle, and zoom factor all bear experimentation.
Last step was to place our simulated projector behind him, which was another speed light, Group C, fixed up with a blue gel. (No smoke machine handy. Rats!) Remember in TTLville when you have the actual speed light in the frame, it effectively is blasting into the lens, and thus the camera’s brain, and it can easily go kaflooey. (That’s a technical term.) It will report on itself as being a very bright source, and thus power itself way down, most likely to a level where it’s barely discernible. When you have a backlight like this, in a position that is clearly visible to the lens, best to slam that puppy into manual mode immediately, and tell it how to behave from the get go.
When all these pieces are in play, you can then factor them and play with their ratios, relative to your camera settings. In this instance, I chose f1.4, so the background doesn’t get to be too much of a player, and remains just soft context. Here are the final settings. As always, the ambient light level was the driver. I needed the background auditorium to go relatively black, but did want the glow strips on the steps to radiate into the picture. 1/60th @ f1.4 was a good combo for that.
Below are the flash settings as recorded in the metadata.
Group A: TTL, -1.0EV (Camera: 0EV, Speedlight: -1.0EV)
Group B: TTL, -1.0EV (Camera: 0EV, Speedlight: -1.0EV)
Group C: M x 1/128 Device: SB-910
It’s a fun way to teach in that everyone gets involved, and sees the result built one flash at a time. It never becomes a fully finished picture, as you shoot a few frames and move on, but it does open some doors and solve some mysteries, such as how to tackle an extremely large, dark room with a few speed lights. We repeated the experiment at PhotoShop World in Atlanta, in an even bigger, darker cavern of a convention center, with the ebullient, charismatic wedding shooter Jason Groupp as our subject. He was great, and very patient with my bumbling about.
The below are the same basics, really, with the additional kicker of another speed light (why not:-))) with a red gel aimed at the far, far back wall. And instead of seeing the blue backlight, this time it slams into my subject, giving him a bluish rim. (Jason’s hair was perfect for that light!) And the 45 degree rims have warm gels on them. Variations on a theme. Thanks to Jason for jumping in as our subject!