Window Light Recap -- Part I

I mentioned that I did another installment of the Atomic Canary Window Light Mini-workshop last Sunday. I also ranted about using the Fuji X100S to make make demonstration shots as my one and only camera. All complaints meant to keep the universe in balance in contrast to the gushing praise lavished on Fuji. Today I wanted to veer away from the gear rants to explain why I love hosting this particular two hour mini workshop. In a lot of ways the reason I love leading this little foray into simplicity is the same reason I still love shooting film in some of my super simple 35mm cameras made decades ago.

When I walk others through distinct variations of the exact same scene with the exact same light it helps me to get back to the things that really matter. Not the gear but the subject. Even more it's how you creatively use what's in front of you rather than the need to bring more and more complexity to any given scene and subject. It also tends to really focus you on working with what you've got rather than wishing you had something else or running for the gear bag searching for gadgets that will somehow improve the situation. In other words – using your head versus some placebo that tricks you into thinking you don't have to.

Here are some thoughts on what I hope is the method to some of my madness in the way I approach these mini-workshops. Candidly I was really hoping for a sunny day in the Atomic Canary:Baltimore space. We have a southern view and the lighting possibilities are completely different on a sunny day. I can do things that look like north light. I can play with the hard sun etc. Fact is I spent half a day planning the agenda or four that I was going to do assuming there was sun. Turns out it was cloudy all day Sunday. Oh well, that's okay too – just different. Here's a secret – I do these completely differently every time. Typically in a space that has a lot of different rooms with different window combinations. This was going to be cool because I was going to do it in the same room with the same window but simulate different room conditions with objects that typically wouldn't be thought of as any sort of lighting gear.

The typical strategy is to move through completely different scenes or looks using the same window. Sunday we got through five. I would have been okay with four in two hours. Everyone had plenty of time to photograph each setup. Each setup was night and day in terms of look for the same window and same room. That is what I hope covers really broad brush strokes in using the same light and the same scene in completely different ways.

Within each setup I then setup two distinctly different ways to use it, with subject positioning, exposure, etc. They typically also have completely differing feel. Then within each of those I point out two distinct subtleties to manipulate in terms of usage of the light and scene. I also try to reinforce and encourage running through those variations as well as playing in-between while the participants are shooting the setup. I could talk about this stuff all day but strongly believe that showing and then immediately doing at those things while paying attention to the what the variations look like to the eye and on the camera allow people to internalize this stuff in their own way. A way far and away more useful than just reading about it. I try as much as possible to open up the possibility of choice in many different ways to get both newer photographers as well as old-hands out of the mindset of the notion that any given scene is some how a fixed quantity.

For those of you that can't come to Baltimore on a moments notice for a two hour engagement I thought at the very least I could share a few notions of this. As the title implies I'm not going to attempt all of those in one post. I feel like going in reverse so today we'll start with one of the tiny little things at the end of that change of drastic difference. Believe it or not I chose that particular top that Nia is wearing on purpose specifically to point a few things out in considering use of light and it's interaction with the subject.

To human vision it registers as the color black but sheer and see-through. It's one of those little things that once the see-through sheerness is registered in your brain you tend to think of it as always having that characteristic. In fact I had a conversation with Nia prior to the workshop to inform her that we would be doing one mini session today instead of the usual two – one portrait and one figure/boudoir. My choice of that top was that it could be used for either on the fly. I said something along the lines of "It's opaque on camera unless you pump a lot of light through it". This was on of those little variations of choice I pointed out within the bigger two variations of use of a particular setup.

Even if nobody remembers that tiny little bunch of words nor the two examples I made showing it visually there's a good chance they actually made their own picture by accident that shows at least half of what I was pontificating about on that little thing within the big variations of the scene. The picture at the top of the post is the opaque version I made as a demonstration shot. If I made more than one I could have made it even more opaque. Here's the demonstration of how it completely changes character with a teeny-tiny bit of provocation.

Not my two best pictures ever but they worked to get my point across. Also note that both are sorta work-safe… even the transparent version due to strategic positioning of various bits. Practicing a goal of mine to make sure we actually start to accumulate some work-safe promo BTS shots, etc, etc. In any case I thought it that little variation within the two bigger variations was interesting way to point out learning to really look at what's going on with your eyes instead of allowing your eye-brain combo to take over and lead you to believe that same light, same scene, same subject equals same picture. It doesn't, it never ever does. All of it is extremely variable and a lot of those variables can be manipulated by choices that you as the photographer make.

That point brings us to the wrap up for part I. Let's use the tired old 80/20 thing to get to the meat of the matter. Eighty percent of any given scene is easy to setup but in actual use variations of that last twenty percent are completely different, they look different, they feel different, and they can make or break what look you want. The magic ingredient is in that last little bit. You can easily get the eighty percent part right or the same as any other picture. In fact it's easy to trick yourself into believing that you need to change the big 80% when what you really need to focus on is that 20%.

The fact is that my little window light mini-workshop is actually a trojan horse that hopefully forces people to focus on that 20% and variations within instead of instantly re-re-re-re creating a different 80% without exploration and manipulation of what's going to matter a whole lot no matter which particular big thing you change. This is quite obvious when you can't change the light out or control it's brightness. It's actually the same equation when you can. No matter where you are at within this crazy photography endeavor it's always a good idea to revisit that notion with a simple set of circumstances. We all fall prey far too often that the answer lies in swapping out some big thing or that any given setup is a fixed quantity sort of like that eye-brain thing telling you what Nia's top actually is instead of what it looks like at any moment in time.


Ps. Post-processing treatment was VSCO film 01 Fuji 800Z

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