For many, “available light” photography is synonymous with “natural light” photography — the use of the sun as the main light source.
But, for us MacGyvers, the meaning is a bit different. To us, it means using whatever light is “available” — be it the sun or any other source of illumination we can create or put our hands on. It’s a subtle, but fun, difference.
A couple of weeks ago, I got to go “Angus”, and here’s a short note on what I did.
My friend, Todd Ramos, was producing the fashion shows at the recent Houston Bridal Extravaganza. In the hall were some rather elaborate sets — the creations of some amazing designers who specialize in transforming ordinary rooms into locations for fantasy weddings. Todd, and his gifted photographer Collin Kelly, wanted to use the sets for a shoot with of a couple of Todd’s models. I volunteered to be the grip.
Collin came prepared with a set of Profoto Acute 1200 lights and some Profoto light modifiers — the right gear for the shoot.
But, sometimes the best of plans hit a snag — and Collin’s did.
Through no fault of Todd’s, the fashion show ran a bit late. And, since we were at the end of the last day of the show, the set designers started striking their sets.
We rushed over to our venue, models in tow, and asked for a few minutes to do our shoot. The designers kindly stopped taking things down. But, we knew we had to be quick. There would be no time to set up Collin’s lights. (He didn’t even have time to take the Pocket Wizard he was going to use to fire his lights off his camera.)
So, we had to shoot “available” light — which, at first glance, meant using the overhead lights that were illuminating the convention hall.
Ugh. Dull, flat, non-directional light.
It was at that point that I started to channel MacGyver. No, I didn’t pull out a Swiss Army knife with a built in photo light. But, I did start looking around the set to see if I might find a light I could use to create “directional light” –light that would create depth and dimension in what was, otherwise, a very flat lit scene.
Eureka! I found it. On the wall of the set, was a replica of a “stage spotlight” — a can light that even had a built in gel holder. With the permission of the designer, I took it off the wall and, voila, I had a hand held spot with which I could create depth and dimension on the model’s face. (You can see another of the same light, on a base, behind the model, Allessandria.)
All I had to do was find the right angle and hold it in place. For most of the shots, I tried to use a Butterfly or Paramount Glamour lighting pattern — lighting from above the model to create the butterfly under her nose and a slight specular highlight on her forehead. However, in this shot, I was going for a bit different look — broad lighting the face and trying to get some light on and under the eyes, which were dark sockets when illuminated solely by the overhead, convention hall lights.
When the light proved a bit harsh, I grabbed a piece of white cloth that had been used to wrap a column and used it for diffusion. However, it was thick and we lost probably 2 stops of light. So, I asked one of Todd’s assistants for a piece of white paper which actually worked fairly well; then, a videographer in the crowd that had gathered around us, handed me the ultimate solution, a neutral density gel that also softened the light. After all of that, I decided that I liked the hard light best, and in the shot of the set up you see, I used the light without modification.
I really liked that light. It had a bracket that made it easy to hold and aim. It’s an easy way to manipulate the light in a setting with overhead, tungsten lighting. I’ve been looking to buy one to add to my travel kit. When I find a source, I’ll post it here.
(In this photo: On the left is Todd Ramos. On the floor, Collin Kelly. And, that’s me, Angus MacGyver, holding the light. The model is Allessandria Alamilla; I was very impressed with her — particularly in her ability to hold some very difficult poses while we fiddled with the lights; she’s a gamer. This snapshot came out of Todd’s point and shoot. He can’t remember who was using it at the time so there can be no photographer credit.)
Here’s Collin’s final image — a true work of creativity and beauty.
This experience reinforced the mantra of the gurus of guerilla lighting — “available light means whatever light is available”.
And, it brought back lessons from my first two lighting classes. It was Scott Smith who taught me that a classmate in a white t-shirt could serve as a reflector. And, Don Eddy, who taught me that I could light most anything with a tungsten bulb in a cheap Home Depot reflector/holder.
With most of my work done in a studio in which I can control my light down to the smallest detail — I was pleased to learn that with some ingenuity and the general lessons I had learned about lighting, I could help solve the problems we were facing.
Since that shoot, like Michael Weston in Burn Notice, when I enter a room, my eyes do a quick scan for what’s out there. Michael is looking for enemies. I’m looking for friendly lights. I wonder if there’s a TV show concept here.
Many thanks to Todd and Collin for letting me join the team for this shoot.
(Copyright: PrairieFire Productions/Stephen J. Herzberg — 2010)