Making a Difference with Strobes…How strobes and light modifiers can aid in creating extraordinary glamour and boudoir photographs.
Whether I am shooting in a studio, on location in central Texas, or elsewhere in the world, I will always strongly consider using some form of strobe and lighting modifiers. Natural and ambient light are great, often providing a regionally unique look that is found only in that part of the world. (This is a perfect excuse for any photographer or painter to travel.) Anyone who has traveled widely can attest to how different the light is at one given location over another. The warm golden colors of Rome, the intense spring colors of Europe, or vibrant colors of the Caribbean are but a few examples.
The overriding problem with available light, however, is that there is always an uncertainty of what you will have at the time of the photograph. Even then, it will be changing from moment to moment. Photographers know well the concept of chasing the light, or may be heard muttering that they are losing the light.
This brings me to artificial light - any source other than the sun, moon and stars. It can be available light such as street lighting, candlelight, city lights, etc. But in its most controllable form, the kind used by movie makers and skilled photographers, it can be counted upon to make the exact kind of light the artist is envisioning. There are two main forms of artificial light used in cinema and photography. They are classified as continuous lighting and strobes (commonly called flash). Two examples of strobes are studio strobe and speed light.
I presently use strobes and speed lights with a variety of devices to change and shape the light. This shaping of the light is accomplished with light modifiers. Light modifiers are any device that is used around, in front of, or on the light source to provide control such as softening, directing, or intensifying the light. When used in consort with accessories that include light stands, colored gels, battery packs and more, they afford the artist immense creative ability to construct and shape the very look of the light.
Lady In Orange v.2a by Von Trapp Photography 2014.Image capture made in San Antonio on a sunny morning at the Pearl Brewery.
This image was created using two 1000 watt Profoto D1 Air studio strobes. The first is fitted with a beauty dish attached to a boom above the model and to camera left. The second strobe is placed 25 feet away and aimed up along this narrow walkway to illuminate the model's lower body, and highlight her pumps to really pop their great color. The camera is 40 feet away and fitted with a Canon 200mm f2 L IS lens on a 5D MkII body with a radio trigger. My lens choice, along with the strobes, allowed me to drop the background out of focus and into darkness, thus keeping the viewer's attention on the subject.
Using high powered strobes allow the photo-artist to overpower the ambient light such as in the image above. The strobe appears to be the only light source when in fact the photo was taken at 9am, albeit on a cloudy day. It could, however, easily be done on a brighter day by increasing the strobe's power of output and adjusting the exposure settings. The Profoto Air units can also be individually turned on and off, their power increased or decreased or a modeling light activated all from behind the camera with a radio trigger. This creative power, however, comes at a price. Top of the line units with an external power source and accessories will amount to the equivalent of 5 to 6 months of house payments in many parts of the country.
At a considerably lower price point are speed lights, which will give similar control but with much less power when compared to the studio strobes listed above. Being more portable they will be the better choice for some projects and I keep three for such jobs. It is possible to buy the necessary gear in order to pair two or more speed lights for use in one light modifier, such as a soft box or umbrella, to gain more light output for those sunny locations. You will get more light output by using multiple units in this way, the smaller components will be easier to transport, and there is no need for a large battery pack or AC power as with studio strobes. But three mid-grade speed lights for one soft box with triggers for each will start to approach the cost of one of my studio heads listed above. Thus speed lights do offer great results when used in most situations not needing to overpower the ambient light.
For the next image I used two speed lights with radio triggers. I used one speed light and trigger in a 24x24in folding soft box with the front defusing panel removed to create a crisper (harsher) light for a more edgier mood. A second unit fitted only with a colored gel and trigger is placed some 80 feet away at the end of the corridor facing the camera's position. I used a tripod to give me the control needed to make slight adjustments in the camera's position to get the light just above the model's shoulder. A star filter was not used.
Artistic lighting, like the edgy lighting seen above or the dramatic shot at the beginning, will require two and three strobe/speed light locations, sometime more to develop the look. In order to creatively place your light sources in a number of possible locations away from the camera's position you will also need a triggering system. There are two kinds of cordless triggers, Infra red (IR) and radio. The IR system has the inherent disadvantage of not working well in bright sunlight, and are line of sight only. Presuming your creative juices will on occasion have you shooting in daylight (overpowering the sun) you will not be able to always count on the IR triggering included on many upper tiered speed light units. So you will need a radio trigger for each strobe/speed light head and for the camera. Radio systems have the added value of allowing you to place units around corners, most up to 200 to 300 feet away.
So if you are a natural/available light photographer possibly looking for a new creative twist for your work, give controllable-artificial light a try. If your budget is such as to limit your lust, consider an inexpensive speed light with a guide number as close to or over 100 as possible. Several simple radio triggers are ever more affordable now. Depending on brand, an entry level investment of $230 to $450 will get you a speed light and triggering system consisting of a transmitter and receiver. Additional speed lights and receivers generally run another $160 to $350. Start with two speed lights and then add light modifiers as your budget allows.
Flash unites at these price points do not, however, have the through the lens (TTL) capability of pricer units. The TTL function allows the flash and camera's metering system to communicate to create a "correct" exposure at the moment of taking the picture. This feature is great when working with quickly changing scenes and subjects such as sporting events, some street photography, news events etc. But when creating an image with an artfully planned concept, you are best served to set the flash power manually and calculate the settings using a hand held light meter. One that works with flash is referred to as a flash meter.
This ladies and gentlemen will be the best bit of photographic kit that will take you to a new creative level, both when shooting with strobe and any other light source. A hand held light meter is so worth the $180 to $600 price tag to get such incredible ability to "get it right". I am presently using a Sekonic L-478D flash meter and I just love it.
If, however, you wish to "do it old school" you can use a chart that gives you the f-stop for a given ISO for a given strobe's power (Guide Number) at a designated distance of flash to subject. It is quite simple and accurate. You can learn more about this method online at www.creativelive.com. Look up the segment under: Catalog, Category: Photo & Video, Topic: Lighting, and find the lesson titled "Crazy Stupid Light" with Scott Robert Lim. The cost of the course at $129 will be well worth it and can change your world. Or, you can put this money towards a flash meter - both options will yield great possibilities. All you need do is try/use them.
If you are a creative I hope you will value my essay in some small way. If, however, you are not a photographer, please read on.
If you are someone looking for a photographer, consider the look you want for your final image. You will be investing some $300 to $900 for most average good quality work. Now further consider the opportunity to have something out of the norm. Your investment just became more sound when your images are a work of art. Conduct an online image search for glamour, beauty, and boudoir photography. Look at the quantity and similarity of available light photos. With the considerable cost in terms of lighting equipment, training, and experience it is no wonder that so many professionals are shooting with available light. However, although gorgeous, you may wish to have images more unique; ones that cannot be created by just any photographer. If you want an image that is styled more like what is seen in fashion magazines, or perhaps cinematic like as seen in movies, you are going to need to find an artist who is doing that kind of work. I urge you to consider stepping away from the pack and seek something special for yourself. Now that you have some idea of what is possible, look past what is normal.
The saying amongst professional photographers is that everyone today is a photographer. With the advent of the camera phone that may seem to be true. However, I submit that a high megapixel phone camera, with its tiny sensor which is incapable of producing high quality images in the first place, does not an artist make. Only a creative mind, trained and experience with an artful eye, and yes, often a considerable amount of expensive gear, makes a photo-artist.
Don't settle for the "selfies", ladies. Invest in a quality professional photographer, be they a natural/available light shooter or otherwise. You deserve to see and feel your glamour in pictures.