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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.
Okay, blow-away white, which is what I think of white seamless because the detail to be completely gone--really useful thing, especially if you're shooting pictures that are going to be used in a lot of spaces. What this does is create a background against which we can basically cut out the picture of a floating dancer, and she can put that on a business card, she can put it on a webpage, she can put it on a poster, in any context and float that in any way that she needs to go. Anther thing that it takes away is it takes away a frame of reference. It takes away the horizon. So she can jump up 2 or 3 feet in the air, and I can literally be shooting from down on my knees and get the appearance that she's just soaring.
So hopefully we can save her muscles a little bit throughout the course to the afternoon by altering that. I did a shot of a helicopter a couple of years ago where I was on the ground, the helicopter was in the air, and it's coming at me like this. So the fact that we didn't have a horizon behind it, we just had sunset sky, meant that it looked like I was above the helicopter, because of my point of view. I could see the top so the rotors. So Perry, who's just a little bit nuts, used to work with me on Baltimore Sun staff came in like a pocalypse now style, and because of that, it looked like we had two helicopter chasing each other on the shoot, rather than on guy standing on the ground and another helicopter.
Same thing with this. We're altering our perspective reality and that gives us the ability to project her higher or lower in the air, based on our camera angle. So how many lights do you need to do this kind of blow-away white? You can technically do it with one flash, but honestly, that's not particularly flexible and it's almost more of parlor trick, like I can name that tune in one note kind of a thing. In that case you would fire the flash through some kind of diffusion on your subject and you would let some of the raw light leak past the diffusion and light up the background, still very much of angle, saying very much of a pool shot to figure out, and you're not going to have any flexibility on your lighting.
Minimally, I would think that you need two lights to do this, where you would have one light on the subject and then one light directly behind the subject, hidden by the subject, pointing at the background. So that light is going to light the background, not going to be particularly even. You need a lot of space, blah, blah, blah. Practically, you want two lights in the background to get even light, just the way we did earlier, and then at least one light on your subject. When it comes down to it, the more flashes you have the better. And what we're going to be doing, I think, today, we got two lights on the background. We've got a third that is going to be our key light, and that's got the warming gel on it.
We've got a forth light this is going to be our fill light, and it's going to come somewhere near the camera axis. It might be a ring light, it might be an umbrella on the ground, but that's going to fill in all of the shadows made by this key light to whatever level we want them filled in. And then with a fifth and sixth light we're going to accent her, probably very subtly. The last thing you want to do is have someone blown out with rim lights against white light, so we're really going to get for shape from light from behind and really think of her body as a three-dimensional object in space, completely lighting it in a cool way without regard for the fact the that our background is just pure white.
So when it comes down to shooting on blow-away white, the more lights the better. Two is a practical minimum, but the more light you can bring to bear on it the more flexibility it will give you, because your first two are going to go for the background, and then you want access to everything that can possibly have to light your subject in as many ways as you might choose to light them.
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