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In the Shooting with Wireless Flash series, award-winning photographer Jim Sugar demonstrates his approach to using off-camera flash in a variety of lighting scenarios, sharing practical tips along the way.
In this installment, Jim shows how to shoot outdoors during twilight, what photographers refer to as the magic hour. He goes on location to create an exterior photo of a busy pizzeria, employing five wireless strobes strategically placed both inside the building and on its exterior.
His approach to lighting the scene involves balancing all of the scene’s light sources—the twilight from the sky, the interior light of the pizzeria, the existing lights on the outside of the building, and the output of his strobes—in such a way that the final photo doesn’t appear to have any special lighting at all. He demonstrates a variety of inexpensive lighting tools—clamps, gels, and other light modifiers—to accomplish this goal.
Also discussed is the importance of planning and setting up ahead of time to maximize shooting time when the light is waning. The course wraps up with tips on planning for gear, estimating the amount of time available to shoot, shooting in manual mode, and using a camera's histogram to judge exposure.
So now we're here at Tony's Pizzaria, a classic small pizza restaurant in Ventura, California, in Southern California, and we're going to take an image, where we're going to take elements of taking an image and making an image, and we're going to put it together into one shot. And we're going to take advantage of the ambient light in the sky, as the light goes down after twilight, and we're going to combine that with highlights that we provide with the strobe, and if we do it properly, everything is going to be balanced and it's going to be evenly lit.
If you look at the final image and I've done it correctly, it's going to be so seamless that it's going to look like we didn't do anything. The zen of it is to do it so well that it appears that nothing has been done and that it was done completely naturally. Now in fact, we're going to have about five strobes in this picture and we're going to balance it with the setting sun. So we've got some things that we can control and we've got some things that are variable.
One of the things that happens when we shoot at sunset, and in this case, we're shooting just after sunset. So we know that we're doing this photo in the middle of February. We know that the sunset tonight is going to set between 5:15 and 5:20 p.m. We also know that based on the latitude of Ventura and this time of year, that we've got about 20, at the most 30 minutes between the time the sun goes below the horizon and total darkness.
So the light is constantly falling, means the light in the sky is falling, and as that light falls the light in the pizzaria is going to become more prevalent. It's going to be appear to be brighter in the picture. And to that we're going to add five strobes and we've already locations scouted this place, and we know where we want to put the strobes and how we want to use them, and there is going to be about a 10 or 15 minute window in there where everything is going to be in balance.
The light from the strobes is going to balance with the lights of the signs on the front of the pizzaria and the light of the sky as it goes darker. And because we don't know the exact moment when everything is in balance, we shoot all the way through that process. So we start right at about 5:15 and we start taking pictures and we've already arranged with Tony, the owner of Tony's Pizzaria who has informed us that he and his dad have been here for 51 years since they moved out here from Brooklyn, New York.
And so Tony has graciously allowed us to use his beautiful shop right here and to that we're going to add these lights and we've got a really nice day. The weather is really great in Southern California today, and so the sky is going to get darker, darker, darker, darker, and eventually it's going to become black. In the meantime, the light in the shop from the fluorescent lights, the neon lights, they are going to be a constant, and the lights from these strobes are going to be a constant. Now we have the ability to adjust the strobe maybe a little lighter or a little brighter, and so we're going to use these lights to create kickers or highlights or detail, things that will bring out aspects of detail in the shot, and in Tony who is going to be working behind the counter, and we've already arranged all of this.
So we're taking aspects of taking a picture and we're adding to it the things that we can do to make a picture as a photographer, and we're going to try to put it all together so that in the final image it's going to look like we haven't done anything. And that's the zen of it, to make it appear that nothing at all has been done to this photo to make it all work out. So that's the drill. That's what we're going to try to do. Now in fact, we've spent some time scouting the location, figuring it out where to put the lights.
But what we didn't do is we didn't just sort of come here in the middle of the day at high noon when the sun was coming straight down and go click, click, click and walk out. That wouldn't have worked at all. One of the reasons that wouldn't have worked out is because we wouldn't have been able to see inside the shop through the plate glass windows. So if we do this properly-- and we will-- we're going to be able to see Tony himself working in his own shop and we're going to light the shop in such a way that the light from the shop and the light from the sky are going to be in balance.
And yet, again, if you do it properly it's going to look like we haven't done anything.
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