Lighting for Digital Part 19 - part 1 of 1 2 3

by Dave Montizambert Published 01/04/2011

In a world of uber-sensationalism I only thought it fitting that my surreal, facetious photographic interpretation of the musical Annie Get Your Gun should be an over-the-top-one, hence the film noir treatment and my choice of an uber-feminine shape, graciously supplied by body builder, Judy McFarlen. I wanted to juxtapose the feminine form, clad in a provocative cocktail dress, against a dark scary environment, but instead of seeing Judy as vulnerable, as the victim, as women are so often portrayed; I made her the predator, she is the hunter-goddess Diana and she is out for revenge. Thus explains Judy's expression which is stoic, frigid, because revenge is best served cold.

Photographically this image of Judy is all about light even though this is a really dark shot. Interestingly enough there are far more dark pixels than light in the 'un-Photoshop-ed' version, yet it is the light pixels that draw our attention; the light pixels are the minority and the dark the majority, and just like racial differences that cause so much tension in the world, it is the minority that draws all the attention. Our senses, in this case, sight, are no different and so for the minority to exist we need the majority to contrast it against; the majority is our 'canvas - which is a really long-winded way of saying, if my high-contrast lighting were to appear dramatic, then attaining black without detail was uber important.

First step in creating this image was composition and choosing camera position. A low camera position, 12 inches from floor to lens tip, was chosen to make Judy all the more imposing. In most of my shoots, step two is figuring out depth of field. In this image since the background was to be a dark, detail-free tone, it would look the same whether it was in focus or out - the only consideration for depth of field, then, would be keeping Judy sharp. F8 was chosen since f-8 would be more than enough to keep all of Judy in focus. F8 was also a good choice because f 8 is an optimal aperture for sharpness on the 28-70 mm f 2.8 zoom lens (set to 58 mm) I was using for this shot.

Lighting prep was next on the agenda - Judy was to be lit solely with studio strobes and so the ambient light in the room needed to be dealt with (see Image 003). Ambient light usually affects shadows only, and obviously has more affect on lighter- than darker-toned objects sitting in the shadows. The room's ambient light was provided by a series of fluorescent tubes, mounted in the ceiling. These fluorescent lights needed to be turned off or cancelled out with shutter-speed to prevent them from contaminating my lighting on the set and subject. As it turned out they could not be turned off for very long and so I needed to work with them turned on for most of the shoot. To deal with this potential ambient threat, I took several incident meter readings around the photoset with the dome of the meter pointed at the fluorescent tubes. The shutter-speed control on the meter was dialled about until the aperture read-out on the meter's LCD screen read my pre-chosen shooting aperture of f8. The shutter-speed responsible for making the meter read f8 was duly noted - it read 1 second. Rather than setting my camera to f8 at 1 second, which would correctly illuminate the set with the fluorescent lights and would totally screw with the studio strobe lighting that was about to be created, I set the camera to f8 at 1⁄100th of a second. This shutter-speed at this aperture ensured no illumination from the fluorescent tubes since 1⁄100th of a second is almost 7 stops faster than the one-second shutter-speed that the meter was calling for. In other words, I underexposed the room lights by 7 stops (measured with an incident meter) to ensure that they would not foul my pristine strobe lighting with their filthy-green, depressing light (see callout box How Dark Is Dark Enough). When figuring out the best shutter-speed keep in mind shutterflash- sync speeds for your camera - my 1⁄100th of a second shutter-speed was an excellent choice for the digital SLR used being that it is slower than the manufacturer's documented, maximum safe shutter-flash-sync speed of 1⁄200th of a second.

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1st Published 01/04/2011
last update 06/11/2019 11:06:46

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