Always A Student Of Light

Finally digging out of some unplanned busy-ness so I have had a chance to review some more of the photographs I made a week or so ago during a few sessions to illustrate some of my upcoming lighting field guides. The shot at the top is not my best work ever but I like it. That's not the reason I'm posting it though. It's a great example to illustrate something that I can talk about forever but hard for anyone to understand with out actually seeing it for themselves.

It's sunlight - not simulated sunlight - not modified sunlight. Strait up this is the light that was there. You've most likely seen it before the question is - did you really notice it from a photographic point of view. The 40 or 50 seconds where these conditions lasted at this particular angle with these ratios may be the biggest reason I made some sweeping decisions to reorder my lighting guide sequence and release schedule.

Could I make this shot again with natural sunlight? Sure - but I have no idea when I could do it. It may take me a year - or more, depending on if I actually showed up at this location at the calculated time to get the sun this way at this angle and then waited and waited and did it over and over again until these particular circumstances reoccured. If I chose to simulate it with a strobe I can pretty much make it on demand any time I want to. At least as close to it as is likely to ever actually repeat in the real world. I can also make it at anytime of day and anywhere.

For those of you that don't immediately see what I am talking about let me point it out. See the highlights and shadows behind Carly? See how defined the shapes are? See how some of them are actually cast by Carly? This is lit by direct sun. Whoa… wait a second how is this possible with this low of lighting ratios (shadows not black or at least much much darker) with ambient fill. Well - natural sunlight conspires all the time to produce an almost endless varieties of looks that are timing, weather, environment, and phase of the moon dependent. This particular set of circumstances where the hard sunlight and soft ambient fill produced from bounce-back and skylight are so close is pretty rare but it happens.

Yes I moved Carly around a bit to optimize and play various tricks to get it to look exactly this way but that's not the point. The point is that when I discussed "idealized" sunlight in the context of I why I am releasing part one of the simulating sunlight guide this is what I was talking about. Idealized meaning reproducing conditions that maybe have happened and you have seen them or maybe could happen but you just haven't encountered them yet or could never happen where you are shooting because there is no window. The funny part is that I shot a very similar set of simulated conditions the day before I make this image. Not exactly but similar…

In terms of the vertical angle of my simulated sun it's almost identical. My horizontal angle was more extreme. I shot it with about a stop and a half more relative exposure but that's because I was shooting from the shadow side. I would have done the same thing if I was shooting Carly in the top photo from the reverse side. Overall the ratio between my simulated sun and the ambient fill are about the same.

I shot the image at the top in very late afternoon. I shot the simulated sun image in late morning the day before. While shooting it I considered the ratios I set up to be idealized because they are pretty rare with natural sunlit conditions. At least they are rare in terms of having a camera and a subject in the environment you want to shoot them when it happens. I thought you might find this amusing - I was certainly amused.

The main point here is that all of us as photographic artists should always and forever be students of light. Consciously take notice to what is going on even when you are not making pictures. It seeps in and not only informs you when there are amazing conditions to make pictures but also informs your use of light you bring to the scene - even if you are idealizing it. I was lucky - I could not have possibly cooked up a better set of coincidences to better explain the whole "using natural light informs the use of strobes/manufactured light and vis versa" thing better if I had planned it for a year.

To bad I felt like I had and icepick stuck through the front of my head when making pictures with Carly. If I was feeling a little better I would have been downright giddy. Carly was not really that giddy either - she had a fairly severe cold that day. We made the best of it. Just how it goes sometimes.


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