Dynamic Lighting on Location
As a celebrity photographer you face many challenges. Photographing celebrities on location both indoors and out can prove to be quite an experience.
When using flash indoors or out, expose your subject with the aperture and your background with your shutter speed. This will equally balance the mixture of light. Nobody seems to be able to get that unless they have a picture to put together with it. It has nothing to do with depth of field. It’s finding the balance and equality between existing light and strobe light. You can control your strobe light but you can’t control your existing light. So if I’m outside at high noon, I need a fast shutter speed. Or if I’m inside, I’m going to do what’s called dragging the shutter to allow the ambient light in the room to match the output of the strobe.
For example, I photographed actor Luke Wilson in a seedy Sunset Blvd. motel room. I wanted to give him this morning after look, as though he spent the night with someone and was getting himself together the next morning. As you can see, in the background was ambient light coming in through the doorway, a television set and a table lamp.
I lit my subject with a Profoto 7b power pack with bare-head zoom reflector and bounced the light into a corner of the ceiling behind me, I then metered the exposure accordingly with a Sekonic L-358. The strobe read f8 and I dragged the shutter to a 15th of a second to get that one stop ratio for the ambient light in the background. This gave me the perfect lighting ratio for the naturally lit look I was trying to achieve.
When I photographed actor Kevin Connolly for L.A. Confidential magazine, it was both a cover shoot and editorial feature. I was looking for a more gritty look in this image so I chose to shoot it at The Brewery in downtown Los Angeles for it’s great atmosphere.
By looking at the photograph it would be hard for anyone to know it was made at high noon with the sun overhead and to the right of the subject. Now this was was an age old rule of when not to shoot your subject outside. Yeah right, I say learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
In this image you can see where the sun is casting a shadow on the pavement (this gives you perspective on it’s position above Kevin).
For the key light; I lit my Kevin with a Profoto 7b2 power pack fitted with a silver Profoto Softlight Reflector mounted on a boom arm just over camera and directed at the subject. I then metered the exposure accordingly with a Sekonic L-558. First I metered the sun directly – f4.0 at 500th of a second, then I powered the strobe on Kevin to read f11 this gave me a three stop ratio by overpowering the sun by using the strobe. This again gave me the perfect lighting ratio for the now gritty look and dark blue sky I was trying to achieve.
My tip for great lighting on location: Expose the subject with the aperture and balance or ratio the background with shutter. In other words, set the aperture for the flash-lit component of the overall exposure, and the shutter speed based on the available-light component to achieve balanced, natural-looking lighting or overpower the ambient light for a dramatic gritty feel!
Footnote: I most always use the Silver Softlight Reflector for men. When utilizing the same look for women, I’ll use the White Softlight Reflector (with diffuser) and a two stop ratio as it is softer and more forgiving on women.