It’s 7:30 on a summer evening. Thunderstorms boil in the background, their westerly face glowing in the orange light of a slow sunset. You are there, as Ansel Adams said, “just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter.” All you need is to pick the right place to stand and your subject.
Unfortunately, your subject is locked inside an industrial freezer.
My goal was to shoot interesting behind the scenes images of Sean (owner Full Spectrum Ice) carving the sculpture for a creative project Josh is working on. The lighting in the first attempt version isn’t really bad, but neither does it bring anything to the photos. It just IS. You can see Sean clearly and see what he is doing. However, thanks to the unsubtle way in which the lighting is used, you can also see everything else in the aforementioned ugly industrial freezer.
We spend a lot of time thinking and talking about the quality of light, how to create it, modify it and put it just where we want it. This situation, limited space in a reflective ugly room is one of the hardest I’ve had to deal with. Almost any modifier or lighting scheme you try backfires. The more light you use, the worse it gets. Control is the problem, not quantity or quality of light.
A multi-pronged approach was needed.
- Focus the light using modifiers with snoots or grids on them to keep the light on the subject and off everything else.
- Use the flying snow (created by his power tools) as a curtain concealing the background through back-lighting.
- Work the composition to minimize visible background and that the relative positions of the lights.
The lighting setup I used for most of the rest of the afternoon was a variation on a theme. One light, an Einstein with a long throw and 15 degree grid in it was placed in a corner and used as a back-light. A speed light, zoomed to its narrowest focus was aimed into the sculpture from behind gives it a glowing life of its own. It also turns it into a light modifier, placing a glow on Sean’s face as he works close to it.
In time critical situations, you might have to accept the uninspired “get the job done” lighting of the first throw away shot. Luckily, time wasn’t a big factor. It was an 8 hour carve and I had set aside the time knowing the lighting was going to be tricky. I worked the lighting, adjusting until I was happy. Then I just had to wait for the action I wanted and click the shutter. In a way, I did what the Ansel Adam’s quote says.
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.