Thursday, June 7, 2012

Seat Of Your Pants Location Lighting

Lighting environmental portraits on location is always challenging for me. I have to find and light a great composition, coax compelling expressions from my subjects and tell my magazine’s story, all as quickly as possible.  For a while I just plain go nuts with all the moving parts of the photograph tugging for my attention. But once I start flying by the seat of my pants, I’m able to relax and my image comes to life.

Lighting formulas usually don’t work for me. The physical layout of locations vary, every portrait subject is different, and, well, I never learned many formulas while earning my BS in Electrical Engineering. I meet the subject, recall the art director’s brief and adapt the basic lighting gear I own to tell my story.
Posed in a closet with computer are Goldstein Schechter Kock's, from left, Zvi Gold, Amelia Regalado and Alan Kirzner. Three grid spots for faces, forth spot on floor lights computer, a bare tube with blue jell behind rack is light number five. 

In May I flew by the seat of my pants on an assignment for Source Media's Accounting Today. I was tasked with creating two environmental portraits of three accounting firm principals, one with a tech theme for the tabloid style cover, one for the inside profile. The partners were only available at 10 AM, and the very earliest I could get into their offices was 830 AM. An hour and a half for two portraits, for me, is tight, especially without scouting ahead of time.

Assistant Jonathan Rios with computer and closet before we began setting lights.

I began my going nuts phase when I decided the best idea available would be to cram three adults into the former coat closet that now housed their computer server. Arghhh, what have I got myself into, I wondered. We quickly set up,  jammed, really, three grid spots into the doorway, one clamped onto the door with a magic arm and super clamp, with a small spot open for me to insert my 18mm wide angle lens. A forth grid was mounted on the floor facing up to catch the equipment, and flash number five, a bare pencil light with blue jell, went into the back of the closet.
I barely had room to insert my camera between two light stands and super clamp plus magic arm attached to open closet door.

With two power packs and five flash heads spoken for, I only had one pack and two heads left to light the secondary portrait. I popped open a  60 inch soft box over my shoulder to light the thee subjects, dragged the shutter to bring in the window light. But how was I going to light the the background white boards and wall with my one remaining light?  Arghhh. 
Paper sheets torn from presentation easel become my background light. 
I grabbed several sheets of the presentation paper off it’s easel, laid them on the carpet, and pointed my last flash head directly down at them, bouncing a broad and soft light onto my background. A quick chimp at the histogram, and I was good to go.

Were my solutions contest winners or fine art? No. But flying by the seat of my pants allowed me to adapt to difficult locations and pull of another successful assignment.

To see more environmental portraits visit my Miami commercial photography portfolio site.