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Be the Boss of the Light

  • “The hardest thing about lighting is NOT lighting. We’re talking control of light here-- lighting THIS, but not THAT.”

The hardest thing about lighting is not lighting. We’re talking control of light here—lighting this, but not lighting that. The problem is that light from a strobe likes to party—it pretty much goes everywhere—and it’s your job as photographer to be the cops, shut down the party, close the bar, and tell everybody to follow you.

I showed up to photograph Dr. Jeremy Nathans, whose work centered on color and the human brain. I had a couple of flashes with me, cameras, and a tripod.

Given Nathans’ work, he had a bunch of color gels. I covered the lenses on two Kodak carousel projectors with swatches of primary colors and asked him to put on a white lab coat. I tipped the projectors so that the primaries crossed and became the complement on the white coat.

Now all this clever color would go bye-bye if I just set off a flash in something like an umbrella. Hello washed out, dramaless, crappy picture that won’t get published!

I was always good with construction paper and tape back in grammar school, and things haven’t changed much. I took one small Nikon SB flash and taped a tight honeycomb spot grid1 over it. Then I took some gaffer’s tape and cut the grid even further, making a small, controlled opening for the light. I positioned the flash directly in front of his face (the flash was clamped to a ceiling tile), with a quarter-cut CTO2 gel on the flash to make the light a little warmer and add a little drama.

It ain’t pretty, but it works.

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