The number one struggle I have as a photographer is light. The light will never be the right color, the right intensity, or coming from the right angle. As an artist, this will be something I will continue to try to change. If I had all the money in the world I could afford to create light and make it do exactly what I want. However, I don’t have all the money in the world and only have a limited number of strobe lights to help me create the scene I’m dreaming up. (This doesn’t include the random photoshoots that happen where the right gear is almost never present). With that being said, I’m sure that the gear you’re working with isn’t that far off from mine and therefore you are in the same boat of the constant struggle that is light.
If diving into the world of Yoga has taught me anything, it’s to embrace this moment for what it is and to not try and make it something it’s not. The reality is I have limited control of my light and have to use the light I am given to the best of my abilities. A recent shoot played this out perfectly and I’m happy to say that the results from the shoot were more than I had ever imagined. While it’s easy to dream up all of the things you don’t have or can’t do, it’s those same limitations that can create the best art.
When light doesn’t live up to expectations it’s easy to get flustered and freeze in the moment not knowing what to do. The reality is, light, while not equal, is all the same. The rules you have when the conditions are perfect are the same when your light is less than ideal. It starts with figuring out the right exposure, perfecting your white balance and ends with letting your imagination go wild.
For this specific shoot, we wanted an impromptu portrait session on a magical carousel that we found in Midway, Utah. In order to capture the look and feel of the carousel at it’s best, we would have to shoot at night when the lights were on. This posed a few issues with finding the right exposure. First, the light on the carousel, while bright to the eye, was much less so to the camera. The low light situation is one of the greatest struggles for photographers. Turning up my ISO was the only option to be able to get a decent baseline and fast enough shutter to keep from blurring the details in the face. While the brightness was there I would have to adjust for the grain that the high ISO would create. For the most case, the photos were dark enough to high a lot of the grain and the rest could be lightened up in post-production. The trick to compensating for too high of an ISO is to open up the aperture and keep a wide frame, allowing more light in. My other option was to get as close to the light as possible to absorb it. You’ll see in some of my close-up portraits how the light creates the perfect reflection in the eyes and makes the skin look flawless. The other note I’ll make is, just like in the best lighting situation, you always want the light to your back reflecting onto your subject. When your subject gets closer to the light, the light becomes stronger helping you to lower your ISO and not compensate as much for the low light. Keeping your subject close to your light source will give you the best opportunities to make some magic happen.
Once you’ve figured out your exposure you’ll need to clear up your while balance. Usually, when the light is less than ideal it also means that the color of it has changed. Sunset creates orange light, before and after sunset creates blue light and fluorescents create green light, all of these have to be adjusted for. Getting the white balance to be perfect in camera isn’t a must but the more that can be done in camera the more time and effort you can save during post-production. Being true to my style I like to stay as close to a white light as possible while keeping a bit of warmth in these photos and usually keeping it a bit cooler in my landscape and outdoor photography.
Once you become comfortable with the light you’ve been given you’ll start to become inspired by it. You loosen up and let go of your concerns about things not being perfect and you embrace what you have. As I got into this shoot, I went from being worried that nothing would turn out, to falling in love with the light I was given and inspired by all that was around me. It just goes to show that there’s really no such thing as bad lighting, just the limitations of your imagination.