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In the Lighting with Flash series, photographer and Strobist blog publisher David Hobby demonstrates how to use compact flash units in a variety of lighting scenarios. In this first installment, he covers the basics, starting with ambient window light and ending with a four-light shoot of a model. Along the way, the course covers a variety of fundamental lighting concepts as well as accessories such as ring lights and softboxes. The course includes diagrams and detailed explanations of the lighting setups.
Okay, not much sense on doing a lighting diagram here, because nearly every light source is in the picture. It's a little bit of a stretch, we were talking about on the last jump out for the diagrams, pushing and trying different things. And we had a beautiful subject, a neat room, and bunch of flashes sitting around, so that's exactly what I tried to do with this setup. We've got a couple of things to consider here. The ambient exposure is going to be keyed off the available light coming through the window. I want a to tone in there, and that gives me a complete silhouette in this room before we start adding flash, other than that window, which obviously is going to be backlit by the ambient light.
So let's work this from the back. We've got two RIM lights and those RIM lights have CTO-- or Color, Temperature, Orange--filters, and those are the common conversion filters that change flashlight into tungsten color. And that gives a nice color to the wrap light in the back, the RIM coming in from the sides. In retrospect, I could have had those up a little higher and gone ahead and carried that RIM around the top of her head, but that's a subjective choice I guess, and I'm okay with this as it exists. The key light has--it's a Nikon SB 800 with a LumiQuest SB III Softbox. We've got a one quarter CTO gel there, which is one quarter of the way to tungsten, and it's a common gel for me to use for my key light.
I use it a lot. It gives a nice healthy warm glow to flesh tones, and that's coming in from very high so that's obviously going to leave you some pretty hard edgy shadows. We are going to push against those shadows with a fourth flash, which is the only flash you can't see in this picture, and that's on the ground, and that's got a CTB, which is the opposite of the tungsten flashes on the background lights, or the RIM lights rather. This CTB changes tungsten to daylight, but it will take a daylight flash and push it into blue. This is a calibrated blue, and that's why I like it. So it exactly offsets those tungsten lights in the back, and it sets up a complementary color scheme that automatically works together.
I especially like where this works, when you look at the zones that are being lit with all three lights. For instance, her left arm, which is your camera right arm as you're looking at it, several zones of intensity and color coming across that. Number one, at top we've got the skim or the RIM lights coming across, and then we've got the diffused highlight of the RIM lights which is a pure tungsten stripe. And then we get into sort of a mixing bowl of light as it's primarily one quarter CTO light wrapping around the top and as you get around to the bottom, it's blue light coming in, because that light is all being handled from the fill light coming from the bottom.
This was just a straight let's mess around and try something, doing it in front of the cameras, so hopefully you can see that process a little bit, something I'm trying to do as much as possible. Most of the time these are going to fail. I happen to like the way that this one turned out, and I'll definitely be using that opposite color and opposing direction key light and fill light in the future. This is a first time for me, but it's certainly not going to be a last time. Key things to remember here, the exposure is built on the ambient outside the window. So everything that you're seeing in here is lit by flash inside the room. And we're taking a white room in the middle of the day and giving in a little bit of film noir look, which I think is kind of cool.
The other thing to think about is you don't necessarily have to have those light sources in the frame. We could back all of those light sources up, pull her away from that window a little bit, and have this working pretty much in any way we want. Frankly, we could do this outside at night and our ambient light could be keyed off an existing sodium vapor or a hotel flashing light, hotel, hotel at the back, some kind of neon light or something, anything. The point is you need to build your initial exposure on the ambient and then you come in and fix the areas that need fixing with flash. You've really got two completely different exposures going on here: the ambient on the outside and then a four-flash lit picture on the inside, and it's going to be the shutter speed that determines the balance between those two.
As far as the exposure, this one may look a little complicated, but it's not. Start with a window exposure, then we are going to add our RIMS in from the bottom and dial them up until they look good. And then we are going to add in our key light, dial that around until it looks good. And we are just talking about adding salt to soup, right? And then last, we are going to take our fill light and dial that around until it looks the way that we want to look. The intensity of the fill light is probably most important on her legs, because that's the only light hitting her legs, and that's where that picture goes from a warm to cool as you go all the way down from the top to the bottom to the subject. And then, obvious having that cool background up top, literally and figuratively, gives it something to pop against.
So it's a quick little experiment on the fly. But as far as I'm concerned, it was successful enough to allow me to want to go down this route a little further in future portraits. That extermination is important, and I want to make sure that we show that.
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