Hard Light - VSCO Film - Etc

As all of you know I have been spending a heck of a lot of time shooting illustrations for my upcoming lighting field guide series. The first one is almost an exercise in extreme minimalism. It was pretty hard to resist the temptation to mess about with a lot of modifiers, reflectors, and add a bunch of gear into the equation while I was shooting it. In the end I am really glad I didn't.

About half way through making photographs to illustrate a couple of the guides that I envisioned to be next in line I reassessed what I had written and how I was approaching a couple of those planned books. Not completely, just re-arranged, re-organized, and rethought the sequence a few.

Specifically I made two fairly huge changes. First off I had originally planned to tackle existing light first. Namely sunlight right after window light. Simultaneously I was shooting a lot of strobe work for a different guide to make the most out of the day and conditions that were presented to me. Namely I was working on the simulating sunlight field guide. I decided about a week ago that the natural sunlight guide is going to be much later on the release schedule and to split the simulating sunlight guide into two different books.

There are a lot of reasons I decided to do this but the biggest is my own experience and journey in using light. I decided that a really important thing to me, and I believe others, is how the the use of ambient has informed my use of strobes and light I bring to the scene. Not only that but it goes in the other direction as well. So the next lighting field guide will be part 1 of simulating sunlight.

The reason for the part 1 and part 2 split is twofold. Trying to tackle everything I have learned on this subject was getting a bit gear intensive and a significant amount of the content was too focused on nuance and fine tuning that tended to muddy the extremely important major topics of using hard light and making it look like the sun - or even better - idealized sunlight. I feel strongly at this point that again taking a minimalistic approach using only one speedlight and only things that can be found or made quickly and easily will be far more valuable to far more people as well as build on the whole use of natural light informs use of manufactured light and vis versa thing.

Of course I had to go out and re-re-shoot a lot of the things I was planning on using for illustrations. Not all of it but way more than I planned. This whole shoot it exactly like I wrote it is proving a bit more challenging than I had envisioned. Not a bad thing really - in fact it's sort of why I decided to do it that way and now I can see why others haven't taken that approach. I hope to have this guide out in the next month. At least that's my goal with my current schedule. I also have a hidden agenda - hard light is underutilized and in fact almost stigmatized to such a degree that I think it's a global conspiracy to stop photographers from using some of the most rewarding light, good looking, interesting, and readily available light sources around - the sun. It can truly revolutionize your photography once a little practice is under your belt. It's also an amazing teacher for using soft light well and in nuanced ways.

On to the other topic - VSCO film and my give away. A little over two weeks left and there will be a lucky winner of the film pack of your choice. I find it hard to give some guidance on which particular one you might want if you don't already have one. I will say that as a matter of course I use the 01 film pack more than I use either of the other two but I like them all. All of them can produce many many looks and are really quite easy to make "your own" from wild to mild.

I just had to bring up something that is a very common misconception out there about VSCO film packs and film in general for those enough that didn't shoot film much or at least not seriously. I heard a similar theme on four different occasions this week alone both people that did not own VSCO (one thought it was a Photoshop "action set" = clueless) and the other just acquired one film pack that day, etc. That general theme was ummmm I don't like film simulations because my work will look "dated" a year from now when none of this stuff is popular.

My response is… maybe but it doesn't have to. I have used film for longer than most people have been alive and I am here to tell you first hand that film in general when used properly does not all have a super grainy, low dmax, screwed up, whacked out, "effect-y", vignetted, smeary, shitty, crappy, look. Lomo would have you think otherwise - like some how we all had not a freaking clue when shooting film - like putting it in the camera backwards (redscale). Of course you can make all sorts of expired screwed up really shitty looking film results if that's what you are after with VSCO but it's not at all a one trick pony. Do I do that sometimes? Yea it's fun but my version of extreme are not even approaching instagram's filters. It more informed by my actual experience with the materials in question.

Are the results exactly the same as if I were shooting it side by side? No. Do they have a feel when used in smaller doses to the real deal - yes they can. Is that dated? Only time will tell but I can tell you if it's not too too too extreme it will probably be less dated than most "standard operating procedure" for a heck of a lot of photographers out there now - even the ones wary of dating their work from what I can see in their own home grown results, composites, scads of local contrast adjustments, etc, etc.

Take the image at the top - this is an extreme look for me. It happens to be from VSCO Film Pack 03 - the "instant" film emulations. It's a tweaked version of Polaroid 690 that happened to be shot and processed in an unusually warm environment. It's not the default. It's the minus version with some additional tweaks to bring it into line with my own recollection of real Polaroid 690 shot on 4x5 when shot under really hot conditions. Actually I don't remember if this last version was even made in 4x5 - I use pack versions on various cameras but it was pretty similar to type 579 with better tolerance of timing Hard to remember, I was not a Polaroid head. Yea - It could go all red/pink. For this shot (one of a bunch of scenarios to illustrate upcoming field guide) it kinda works.

Above is another extreme - for me - A tweaked version of my recollection of a film I was intimately familiar with. Polaroid 669 or type 59/559. I used scads of this stuff until I switched to Fuji instant for lighting tests etc. Pretty much the old time version of chimping prior to letting it all roll… Yea it could be a little cool but both the Pack film and the 4x5 sheets but it looked pretty good. Not all screwy unless you had no idea what you were doing.

Here is the bottom line - if it fits the image and the intent and it's not too heavy handed where the "effect" takes over and puts the subject photograph itself in the backseat then your probably going to be okay a year from now or 50. Just like really old photos now using substandard materials. Some look "dated" which may be cool, others don't that have the same exact "look". Will these two treatments be the final destination for this photo? I don't know - probably not for the lighting eBook as I stay away from post processing contributions when discussing lighting unless it's something like color temperatures which are medium agnostic. If I shot this for a specific purpose other than illustration then I may actually use the latter version - it seems to fit but I usually sit on these kinds of thing for a while unless I have an on-going project that has a predetermined look then I just use that.


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