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In this installment of the Lighting with Flash series, photographer and Strobist.com publisher David Hobby demonstrates using strobes to freeze action while capturing the strength and grace of a dancer in motion. After working through the lighting challenges of a dance studio, David sets up a white, seamless background and shoots some test shots, adjusting the flash units to create a white "blow-away" background that will enable the photo to be easily composited. Next, he photographs the dancer, working with her to capture a relaxed expression as she leaps and strikes various poses. After the action shots, David lights and shoots a portrait.
Welcome back to our diagrams, where my drawings exist for one primary function, and that is to make you feel superior about your own drawing skills. So this is an amazing likeness of Stephanie, as you can tell, our dancer. And we are doing something a little more edgy compared to the white picture that we did. We are going Yin Yang, and we're going to do a shot on pure black. She has an amazing back, and I wanted to capture that.
I saw it in another frame that had been done by another photographer a couple of years ago. It's a back you just look at and you say, I've got to get a chance to shoot that back sometime. It's just gorgeous musculature and just an amazingly fit person. I knew right away I didn't want to light it from a typical angle. This is a portrait of the definition of her body. So I wanted to light it from the top and hang an umbrella right over her, which frankly, is something that I do a lot. I spent a lot of time shooting with umbrellas at 45 degree up and 45 degrees over, and they have just long since ceased have become interesting for me at that angle.
But I do like what they can do if you float them over someone and just move them around. Maybe move them a little to the left, a little behind, a little to the right, a little in front, and you're going getting a very, very different looks. Certainly that was the case here with Stephanie. So we get a typical 43 inch shoot-through Westcott doubled-fold umbrella with a Nikon SB 800 in it. This umbrella is slightly behind her and over to camera left. So we are working in some black background, and that's going to make her really pop against the black. But as you travel down her body, that body is going to go more into shadow and you're not going to get any separation.
So we are going to bring in a couple of separation lights now. These will be rim lights, Nikon SB 800s, and these are designed specifically to separate her body from black in just a really subtle way. The light on the left, the back camera left rim light, is also going to serve double duty as a kicker light for her face. So there are going to be two zones in the interface. One is top lit by the umbrella and the other is back rim lit by the left back bare SB800, and let's bring this up now.
So the secret of this picture is letting a lot of it go into shadow. Obviously, the background is going to be very dark, but you define those muscles going down her back by letting the shadows remain shadows. Very subtle with the separation, just enough going down her arms. The cool thing is, is, for instance, her camera right arm, the camera right rim light in the back is separating the right side, and the camera left rim light in the back is separating the left side of that right arm. Take a look up on her face, where we get her cheekbones really getting popped by that umbrella flying over the side--or flying over the top rather than back left top.
But her eyes and her lips and her chin and around her shoulder, that's being picked up by the rim light right there on the edge. So you have little extra definition coming around there. Then the last thing is that rim light on the right is separating her hair and her bun. I love this picture, mostly because I think it's one of the most amazing backs I have ever seen. I am just happy to have gotten a chance to photograph her. But this is just a cool image, and you can't go into this picture lighting typically, because, unless you really start sculpting with a lot of hard lights, you are just not going to bring out the definition. And certainly if you were to go with glamour lighting or beauty lighting, which in a lot of ways is designed to fill in wrinkles or to gloss over imperfections, at the same time you are going to be glossing over all the definition you want to see in her muscles.
So if you're going to use an umbrella, it's reasonably safe light source. Really think about what you can do, as far as flying an umbrella over someone and top lighting them or sticking the umbrella on the ground and creating some atypical fill, and then maybe coming in with a hard light on someone's face is a key. Or as we have done before, just take an umbrella, sticking it behind the camera, and using it as a very low-level fill, building a safety net against which you can you can add more interesting light. But in this case it's the umbrella that's carrying the weight, and it's carrying it from directly above.
That's what's giving us that hard-to-find look in Stephanie Yezek.
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