Tuesdays with Nate | How to Light like a Boss (or a Pro)
(Editors note: On facebook I promised to post a wedding today. But after reading this post that Nate prepared, I decided that it rocked and so I bumped my wedding post till tomorrow. Enjoy your Tuesday with Nate…)
Hello everyone! I’m so happy to be back on the blog writing a Tuesdays with Nate post. Time for honesty with Nate. Every time I think I’ve gotten on top of my game, like I finally know what i’m doing, like I can finally be comfortable with my skills as a photographer, I’m quickly brought back down to earth and reminded how little I know and how much really goes into mastering the art of photography, namely the art of lighting.
When I get stumped, I find myself calling my good friend Erik Valind. We met when we were both working at Apple, and quickly bonded over the fact that we were photographers. Over the last two years, I’ve watched Erik really transform into an even more amazing photographer, and grow a lot as a person into someone that I’m honored to call a great friend. He was recently picked up by Wescott as one of their Top Wescott Endorsed Pros, and knows more about the technical aspects of lighting than anyone I know (no pressure Erik). I asked him if he’d be willing to discuss lighting with us today as it is an area that I’m not ready to teach anyone but that I think we can all learn more about. I’d also like to make a disclaimer (public apology) because these are the first pictures ever to appear on our blog that were taken with a Nikon. I present to you, Mr. Erik Valind (on the far left in the image below).
1) A lot of newer photographers call themselves “natural light photographers”. In your opinion, is “natural light photography” an art form or an excuse to not spend the money and time it takes to learn off camera lighting?
Natural light photography is certainly an art form. After all the hours, ego and money we spend trying to control light in the end we are just trying to recreate something that exists all around us naturally. The best lighting doesn’t draw attention to itself, but to the subject, whether it be natural lighting or carefully crafted and controlled light. Now after saying that I think one should beware of labeling themselves a “Natural Light Photographer” as a crutch, instead strive to be a better photographer all together – one who draws/paints with light. With natural light it seems more about capturing an image, when other lighting elements are introduced you start to get more involved with creating an image.
2) You’re on a shoot and you can only take one light and one modifier, what do you bring?
Definitely a large reversible umbrella. With only one modifier I’d go for the most versatile. Used as a shoot through and brought in close it can produce a even soft lighting for beautiful portraits. When pulled back and used as a bounce umbrella you get a more crisp light without any light bouncing backwards, finally if partially collapsed you gain even more control over the light spill, similar to that of a softbox. The newer Canon and Nikon speedlights afford a decent amount of power with great mobility so you can’t go wrong there, just don’t think you can compete with direct sunlight.
3) How can you make it practical to use off camera lighting in something as dynamic and fast paced as a wedding?
Take full advantage of TTL and E-TTL. Its amazing how intelligent the current proprietary flashes are. The new Nikon SB-900 can even read the color temperature of the gels you put on it to auto White Balance for you. A little practice and understanding here goes a long way towards creating dynamic images through off camera lighting.
4) What is one principal of lighting that everyone should know that most of the “naturals” don’t know or commonly misunderstand? (distance/size of modifier)
Just about all wedding photographers seem to have grasped that bouncing a flash, when possible, produces more attractive lighting. I wonder what percent truly understand why though. It has to do with the size of the light source in relation to your subject. The light coming from your flash is emitting from a very small source when compared to a person and lends to a harsh unflattering look. Now when bouncing the flash off of a white ceiling, you’ve effectively turned the entire ceiling into your light source… a much larger one when compared to the little opening at the end of your flash. This large light source produces a more evenly spread soft light which is pleasing for most portraits. According to this principal, the “naturals” might ask, “Why then does the sun create such harsh shadows most of the time if its such a big light source?” Well thats where the third variable comes into play, distance. The sun is much larger than the biggest softbox or that high ceiling but it’s infinitely farther away too. Understanding these 3 variable of light will allow you more control in any lighting environment.
5) Why are modifiers so important, what is your favorite, and when do you use a softbox vs. an umbrella?
Lighting modifiers afford you the creative control to bend or build a scene into something all your own. Without them we are left to only interpret the light as it exists at that moment. Currently my favorite lighting modifier is a 28″ Westcott Apollo. It is an extremely lightweight softbox built on a collapsable umbrella chassis. This provides for fast setup and breakdown just like an umbrella but with the added control you normally expect from a softbox. It also doesn’t require a special adapter like most softboxes so it can be used with speedlights or studio strobes quite easily. Both softboxes and umbrellas are capable of producing soft beautiful light, but when it becomes important to curtail the light spilling from your strobe, that is when you would begin to think about using a softbox over an umbrella.
6) What wedding photographers are great with their off camera lighting? (The McLellans, IMHO)
Most of your readers can probably rattle off a longer list of respected weddings photographers than I, but I had the pleasure of meeting a photographer earlier this year, that quickly comes to mind, David Ziser . He is an extremely talented shooter and a prime example of how to use off camera lighting in the fast paced wedding world. He has a great book out on the subject and his blog is a excellent resource on off camera lighting for wedding industry professionals. Canon shooters should especially check out his blog, as he sheds light on speedlight shooting techniques that were once only available to Nikon camera systems.
7) Would you rather shoot Scarlet Johannsen with natural light and a kit lens, or Rosie O’Donnel with an unlimited budget?
Haha I really did laugh out loud after reading how you loaded up this question. Either of these two woman would be a blast to photograph. I’m really glad I get to end with this one too, because it refocuses the interview on what’s most important. In the end cameras, lenses, and lighting are all just tools… While it would be awesome to have an unlimited budget one might easily get lost in the process and forget the most important part of photographing people, the rapport. We photograph people in many ways for just as many reasons, but every time we do it is an intimate exchange. That human connection and what it communicates is what counts. Sometimes it’s just easier to open that channel when you’re not buried in a million modifiers and camera controls. Thanks for having me on the blog Nate!
You can see more of Erik and his work on his website, Erik Valind Photography or you can follow Erik on Twitter and Erik Valind Photography on Facebook. Take a minute to check out with stuff. He posts awesome behind the scenes videos of some of his shoots as well so you can see what his setups look like.