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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 we came here about three hours ago and we got the permission of the owner of the pizzaria and we also scouted the location and tried to determine where we wanted to put the lights. And we decided that we want to put five lights in place and balance them in such a way that it appears that there are no lights at all in the photo. That's the drill. So we're going to put two lights in the inside and three lights on the outside. And what we have here is we have a Nikon D3S camera and to fire these strobes, these five strobes, we are using a Nikon SU-800 Trigger.
It's equivalent to a PocketWizard. It's also equivalent to the ST-E2 on a Canon system. The camera is almost incidental to what we are doing. The drill here, the important detail, is the light and so we are trying to add light and we are controlling it for distance and for quality and if we can control for those two things we can make it appear to be invisible, when in fact the final photograph is going to be highly lit.
So we've got five Nikon strobes. We just put fresh batteries in them so that we know that once we get started that the strobes are going to continue to fire. We are using three Nikon SB-800 strobes, two Nikon SB-900 strobes, and this triggering device, which is called an SU-800, and this is going to fire all of these strobes simultaneously. And we've got the strobe set up in channels and modes A1.
So they are all going to fire at the same time, hopefully. And I've figured out where I want to put them and how I want to set them and how I want to gel them. So by controlling for distance and also the power of the strobes, we are controlling the quality of the image. So come along with me right now. We are going to put all five of these strobes in place and you can see what we are up to. So we are going to put our first light in place inside the pizzaria and I am going to use a small umbrella.
And it's a beautiful day in Southern California. It's not raining inside the pizzaria but we are going to shoot into this umbrella. And we are going to take a very small light source at the head of the strobe and we are going to diffuse it over a much larger area, an umbrella. And by doing that, we are going to affect the quality of the light tremendously. So we are going to put it in the corner and we already know that it's going to fit there and we are going to put it behind the door with the legs of the tripod closed.
If you think of the head of the strobe is being the origin of the light, which it is, what we want to do is we want to take that really small strobe head and diffuse it over a very large area and by making the area as large as we possibly can, we make the light, the quality of the light softer. In other words, the range from the highlight to the shadow becomes less and by putting it in the corner like this we create a very soft light source.
So here we have another light and we are going to balance this on the other side of the light that went into an umbrella and we figured out that we can take this light and this time we are going to attach it using a device called an adjusting clamp and we can mount it like this. We've made this light balanced with that one over there by setting the two strobes up the same and this has been attached to an adjusting clamp and we've attached to the front of it a Gary Fong diffuser, and that will make the two lights - and the two lights are in balance.
Now this one is a little bit closer, but again we've taken a very small source, the head of the strobe, and we've diffused it over a larger area like this right here. One of the ways that I can control the quality of the image is by controlling the color of the light. So if I take a small gel like this, and this is called the CTO Gel, Color Temperature Orange, by taking a small CTO, an orange gel, and putting it on the front like this and then putting that underneath this Gary Fong diffuser, I am going to make this light orange.
So that light in the corner that we just put on a second ago, that's a white light. This light is an orange light. So that's going to give us dimensionality in the photo, from left to right. So again we are controlling the softness of the light and the color of the light, and also the intensity of the light by the way that we set the strobes up. So we are doing everything that we possibly can to make this picture as beautiful as we can make and at the same time as natural looking as we can make it.
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