Magazine Article


Lighten Up


Lighten Up
Keep Lighting Simple for Brilliant Results


When I began my career as a photographer, I did a lot of reading. An early article has stuck with me and influenced all my work.

The article's message: Creating images with very little equipment is probably the easiest and most creative thing we can do, especially on self-assignments.

Granted, for some big projects, big lights may be needed. But I have seen smaller jobs—and some very large jobs—shot with tons of lights that were totally unnecessary. Some photographers simply want to impress clients with their equipment.

Why spend money you don't have, or haul more gear to a location than is needed? I think it's time to bring enlightenment to creativity, not big inventories of high-priced lighting gear.

I love shooting from the hip with my Mamiya RZ67 and making due with what's around me, even when I have lighting gear with me. You may have heard the saying: "You can't call it an adventure until you lose sight of the shore." No matter how you capture your images, starting with a properly lit and exposed subject is essential. Remember, photography means "paint with light," not "click with mouse."

I always wear my photo vest when I'm shooting because I carry a laser pointer and mini-mag flashlights, among other things. I also place a great deal of faith in my Vivitar 285s. I realize that some shooters see these flash units as "on camera" assists. I use them for creative lighting effects.

For the Mohegan Sun (bottom, left) pre-opening, I used two Vivitar 285s and balanced with existing interior light. One unit was above the camera, the other was 10 feet higher, aimed 45 degrees up the pillar (f/8 for 4 seconds on Fujichrome RHP 400). My reasons for using this technique? I trust these units; the shoot was cross country from my studio; it was right after 9/11 so traveling light was a big concern.

I shot the green two-foot by one-foot model float (below) in a warehouse, again using my Vivitars. I used four Vivitars and scrap cardboard as gobo's, scrap foamcore as bounce boards, and colored plastic business cards as gels. Those who saw me work and then saw the final images were amazed when they viewed the transparencies (f/5.6 for 1/30 second on Fujichrome RDPII 100).

The image of Indian ruins (below, center) in Sedona, Arizona, was shot a while back. I'm not fond of black holes, so I placed a Vivitar 285 with a small slave, and my red business card on it just inside the opening, with the slave positioned at the door opening. I then exposed for my ambient light and set the flash on my camera to just enough power to set off the flash in the room (f/11 for 1/125 second with Fujichrome RDPII 100).

I shot the rose (below) at night, using my mini-mag flashlights to illuminate the flowers from behind, metered through the flower, with two extension tubes on my Mamiya RZ67 (exposures were f/2.8 for 8 seconds with Velvia). I needed to be very patient because I don't like to pick flowers to shoot in the studio. If even the slightest breeze came up, I kept shooting.

Patience is a virtue and self-assignments can be very valuable to your art and your business. I like to depend on the human factor—what you and your brain can create—before you even touch a camera or a mouse.

To me, this is true art.

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