It’s time to shift gears and move from the theoretical to the practical. Starting today is a series that will run regularly here showing the how (and the why) of the creation of a real world photo – mostly wedding photos because that’s mostly what I do – with enough detail to facilitate you recreating the shot should you so wish
A Shot In The Dark Posts
Want to put all the theory of flash photography into practice under my guidance, using gear you probably don’t already have yourself? I have two days of workshops lined up in Manchester to help you do just that.
I get asked fairly regularly about what photography and lighting gear I use, and on occasion the gear itself becomes quite important to a photograph I’ve made, so rather than dig too deeply into the gear side of things each time I break down a photo on this blog, I thought I’d take time out to address all aspects of my gear as it pertains to lighting in one post, and where necessary then I can link back to this as appropriate. If, like many others, you’re in the boat of wanting to invest in (or expand your) lighting equipment, this might help guide you in the right direction also. If I were reading someone else’s post about gear, I’d be less interested in what they use than why they use it, so that’s the approach I’ll take here, all from the perspective of light.
In the previous post, I reverse engineered a scene from Murder on the Orient Express to try to “guesstimate” the lighting. Obviously the natural thing to do then is to build the scene from Duplo, light it according to the theory, and see if I can recreate the shot. I mean, who wouldn’t do that…. that’s normal right? Right? In my defence, it was a pretty informative exercise and logistically a lot easier than sourcing a train carriage and Johnny Depp. Instead I had all the red Duplo blocks I could find and one of my daughter’s dolls. As well as allowing me play with Duplo, what the exercise did facilitate though is examining the impact of each light on the scene and that’s where the educational element comes to the fore.
They say that practice makes perfect, and that’s certainly true when it comes to learning how to shoot creatively and effectively in low light situations. The reality, though, is that you’re not always going to easily find yourself in a situation where you have a suitable location, a willing subject, and sufficient time – save, perhaps, organising practice shoots with friends or family where you can push the limits of what you think you know. However those times where you’re not shooting need not be times where you’re not learning how to deal with low light or indeed bad light.
Most photographers start their relationship with flash photography by sticking a flash onto the top of the camera, switching it to TTL (automatic) mode, and hoping it just does its thing. Often it does its thing quite well. But what if you want to move beyond that? There are two routes you can take from there in my experience – one path involves a realisation that that there’s a need to understand how flash works, and to learn how to take control of it for practical purposes of creating nice light when the available light is bad. The other path involves embracing the ability of flash photography to enhance your creativity. You might think that most people would progress from the former (understanding how to control flash for practical purposes) to the latter (using flash for creative purposes), but I believe for many it’s actually the other way around.
Anyone who has a bit of a flair for photography, or even perhaps who has just got lucky once or twice with a particular shot, has probably been told by an impressed viewer of one of their images that “you have a good eye”. More often than not, what this person means, whether they realise it or not, is simply “this photo has a good composition”. Photos with good composition engage a viewer for longer than those with a bad composition, they lead the viewer through the frame in a way that the photographer intended, and they tend to stand out from the crowd in a world where we are visually bursting at the seams. And if you ask a newcomer to photography what are the elements that make up good composition, chances are they will talk primarily about the geometry of a photo – leading lines, rules of thirds, balance, symmetry, uncluttered backgrounds etc. etc.
My own journey to learn about light started about 10 years ago, before I started photographing weddings, but at a time when I was attending a lot of friends’ weddings, and every now and then coming away with nice photographs. When I’d look at what made a photograph appeal to me, it would often be the light. And often not the primary light, but the accent light added by a lamp, or a flash, or an open doorway. I realised that light had the potential to make or break a photograph, and I wanted to understand that. I also realised that there would be times when you’d need to create your own light, and I wanted to know how to do that.
Photographers are obsessed with light. Not just light – good light, beautiful light, seeing the light, finding the light. And light, when it’s good, really is, well, a delight. But the harsh reality, especially for wedding photographers, and most especially for wedding photographers in Ireland in winter, is that good light can be a rarity. Some days, any light can be a rarity. And while, as photographers we’re taught to take quality over quantity any day when it comes to light, just what do you do when there’s neither quality nor quantity of light?