9.22.2010

I went through a stage when all I used was hot lights. I think I'm going back....


I trouped up to Dallas to take this shot.  It was many years ago.  It was the first time I worked with Anne B. as my assistant.  Maybe that's why I remember this particular shoot.  Anne and I are still close friends over a decade later.  But what really brought this image to mind is that I've been getting back to real lighting control and I remember going thru a period when I shot almost everything with "hot lights".  I may be going back to that style because it offers such tight control for the kind of work I light to do.

This image was done to accompany a story in Prevention Magazine.  The story was about how and why to stop smoking.  The woman in the portrait above had kicked the habit and the magazine was doing a story about her experiences.

In those days I travelled with a box of interesting "hot (tungsten halogen) lights".   The box had a few Lowell Totalights,  some Lowell Pro Lights ( small focusable lights with "peanut" bulbs that put out 250 watts for light), and a couple of small, 125 watt, fresnel spotlights.  I'd use a small Pro-light shining thru a layer of Rosco diffusion gel about two feet above the subjects head in order to get the little butterfly shadow under the nose, and the flattering shadow under the chin.  I'd use another light, bounced into something flat and white, right behind the camera position, about 2 and 1/2 stops down from the main light.  Maybe a carefully snooted back light and then, finally, a "sprayed" light on the background.

The benefits of working with the hot lights were threefold.  First, it was so easy to focus the camera accurately as the image coming through the finder was much brighter than that given by the diffused and reduced light coming thru a big softbox from a modeling light in an electronic flash set up.  Second, everything about continuous light is WYSIWYG.  You can see the effects easily as you build your lighting.  Very nice change from the vagaries of flash.  Finally,  you have total control about which f-stop to use.  I used something like f4 with a 150mm lens on a medium format camera.  You can see what that gives you in terms of depth of field.  

Another thing that's nice about using smaller lights, closer in is that the inverse square law works for you beautifully.  Look how quickly the light falls off from the subject's face to her arms and mid torso.  This serves to naturally keep the attention on her face.....the lightest thing of interest in the frame.

I thought about this today on my job.  I was shooting portraits for one of the hot public relations agencies in town and I was using Westcott nets and Westcott flags to control light spill and to keep the light levels on people's hands a few stops darker than the light on their faces.  More control means a more three dimensional photograph.  And that means more return clients for me.  While I was using flash I was thinking about the creative control of hot lights and how the use of flags was really only getting me half way there.

Looks like the remainder of the month will be a search for the Holy Grail as expressed through tungsten lighting and flags.  Stay tuned.

Kirk