Ever wonder why some photographers carry around so much gear?
I’m not just referring to the shooters you see at sporting events — the ones with multiple camera bodies hanging around their necks. I’m talking about the ones who bring along assistants with dollies, all manner of light modifiers and even their own gasoline-powered generators.
The reason is that for most photographers who take their craft seriously, control of lighting is paramount.
Photographers often don’t have a chance to do much reconnaissance for an assignment. Instead, they are told a time, the name of their subject and how much time they have to shoot. In these situations, I tend to load up everything and the kitchen sink.
I expect and plan to light. If I don’t have to, it’s a big bonus.
So why light? Here are six reasons:
1. Control the clutter in the background.
When you have a lot of clutter which you can’t lose in your viewfinder, either by changing your shooting position or removing it from the scene, flash is often a good solution.
In this portrait of a cycling team, taken outdoors, I overpowered the ambient light with my flash to create what looks like a studio shot.
It was actually taken outside in a cul-de-sac. There is a bare bulb strobe behind the coach in the foreground and another on the left lighting the coach.
2. Control the depth of field.
If you photograph home interiors, most of the time you are working with small apertures and long exposure times. So in addition to a sturdy tripod, having multiple flash units can be a way to reduce those long exposures. It also can help you control contrast by filling in the shadow areas discreetly.
3. Take the guesswork out of exposures.
At a wedding ceremony, lighting the entire reception hall enables you to shoot with different focal length lenses from any part of the room in virtually any direction without worrying about camera shake. If the room is lit well and evenly, your exposures will be consistent and predictable. This frees you to concentrate wholly on focusing the lens and picking out those special moments.
4. Capture or arrest fast action.
Selectively lighting just your subjects draws attention immediately to them.
Compare this picture of tennis player Jim Courier, taken with available light, with the one I lit below it, of teachers wrestling in chocolate pudding for a fundraiser in a high school gymnasium. Can you see how the flash froze the very drops of the airborne pudding?
5. Create special effects.
Flash gives you another creative tool to add to your arsenal. Manually firing the flash repeatedly makes motion studies, like this one of a young gymnast, more interesting.
6. Add some pizzazz to an otherwise dull event.
When called upon to photograph mundane events like groundbreakings, even the most hardworking and professional of photographers will be hard-pressed to come up with something engaging.
Adding your own lighting, as I did in the second shot below, can dramatically change the “look” of the event.
It is easy to get lost in the technical aspects of photography, especially when you work alone. Since not all of us can afford a “voice-activated light stand” — or what we generally refer to in the business an assistant — it’s a good idea to arrive early to set up. That way when your subject arrives, you can dedicate all your attention to them.