Join me in the California desert for one of my popular night photography workshops! We use a variety of light sources to light up the desert under the stars. Next one is just a few weeks away, on April 22nd. Go to the Eventbrite page for details and registration.
I travelled to Mt. Nemrut in Southeast Turkey to photograph the curious group of statue heads, believed to have been erected around a royal tomb in the 1st Century. At some point in their history these heads sat atop the carved bodies several yards above on the hilltop behind the heads. My goal was to photograph the heads to show their final resting place as well as the original carved bodies watching down on them.
It was a rainy 3 hour drive from my hotel in Sanliurfa and once I arrived at the base a dense fog bank started to roll in, and after a 25 minute hike to the top a light snow began to dust the ground. The light was very flat and as the minutes ticked, the visibility between the statue heads and the bases on top of the hill was diminishing quickly. I took a few ambient test exposures and one with a Nikon SB900 Speedlight with a Honl Photo traveller8 Softbox. Still very flat.
I quickly added 2 Honl Full CTO Filters to the speedlight with soft box and set my camera's white balance to 2500K (a bit cooler that tungsten). The result is a deep blue background with a warm tone on the statue head. The traveller8 gave just the right amount of spread and feathering on the statue and the smaller rocks at the base. A bare flash would have spread the light too much and taken the attention away from the ancient face.
All in all, a successful shoot, even under the ever-demanding Mother Nature!
To light the character Zira, I used a 1/8 Speed Grid with a 1/4 CTO Filter as the main light, just to the right of the subject. This light gave a focused beam on the face, and was positioned so a small bit of light spilled over to the left side of the face. I added a speedlight with a Speed Gobo and 1/2 CTO Filter at a low position on the front to provide a bit of definition in the costume, part of it spilling on the left side of the face for an additional fill. The speedlight was set at a lower power than the mainlight, to provide fill, but maintain the drama of the lighting. The green fabric background was lit with a speedlight outfitted with a Speed Snoot in the reflector position with a 1/4 CTO Filter, which provided a fan-like spread and a nice falloff. Power settings will be different depending on which model of speedlight you're using, but a good guideline is to start with your main light, and adjust your power settings on the rest of the scene to fit your tastes.
All speedlights are kept relatively close to the subject at around 4 feet, so I was able to maintain an aperture of f/5.6, 1/60 second at ISO 200.
If you want to shoot in full sunlight an use speedlights to light your subject, here are a few tips:
Whenever possible, I place the subject in a shaded area. This gives me much more control over the light on the subject, as I set my initial exposure at 1 stop underexposed on the background. In this case my exposure was ISO 100, 1/250 @ f/11. At this exposure, the subject will be in shadow, giving me a good canvas to add light to the subject.
For this shot, I placed the surfers under the shade of palm trees. As you can see in the video, both the mainlight (with the traveller 8 Softbox), and the rim light (with a Speed Grid and CTO Filter) is placed very close to the subject- between 4 and 5 feet. Both speedlights were set at full power.
The traveller8 gives a nice even, soft light on the subject, and adding the Speed Grid with the CTO filter simulates a warm sunset light on the right side of the surfer.