The Prince of Cheap here!
The last few months I've went "at it" hard in my lab (garage studio where I create and perfect new stuff… and come out thinking I'm Batman!). Well, I've finally come out of "the cave" with something good! Its a MONSTER - 2 part article - about how I created the light for my first published - magazine fashion shoot! This time I'm going to give you some insight as to the thoughts and planning that went into the shoot instead of only a simple diagram saying, "Here! Now go do it, PUNK!"… On to the post.
Recently, I was on a shoot at the infamous Smash Photo Lab in Long Beach CA just to keep up my "chops" and practice some new theories I had about hard light. When I was done "Mr. Cool" himself (Bill Shutt - Owner of Smash Photo Lab) told us we should check out this little hole in the wall hut that had recently been erected on some abandoned property. With myself being the adventurous type and my Creative Visionary Kevin Shannon we went out to see what all the hoopla was about that had Mr. Cool's hair on end! To my surprise it was a federal inmate cell sized tool shed that was littered with graffiti, busted wood, broken nails, stripped floors, 5lbs. spiders and every other horror imaginable to befall a small structure!
SEE WHAT I MEAN!
Here were my challenges and my proposed solutions:
CHALLENGE: How to get wide angle with my APS-C format Sony A700 DSLR?
SOLUTION: Invest in the Sony 18-70mm F3.5-F5.6 DT Kit lens! It would be the widest lens I owned.
CHALLENGE: How to get a very moody lighting in such a microscopic area?
SOLUTION: Use a small light source like a parabolic reflector.
CHALLENGE: How to prevent spill light (which has to be considered since I'm inside a such a small area) from ruining my images?
SOLUTION: Grid, flag or feather my light source to ensure minimal spill.
CHALLENGE: What tools would I need to perform the tricks and do something totally different.
SOLUTION: 16" Beauty Dish (the sleeper hit of 2008), Alien Bees Ring light ABR-800 (totally unexpected since I dont yet own one!), Gels, Grids, 42" Reflectors, 1 Innovatronix Tronix Explorer 1200 and one Tronix Explorer XT, 2 Britek BB-200's stands and the new love of my life, 6 Elinchrom Skyports & the most important tool…my Polaris SPD-100 light meter! Yes, I overpacked but I used approx 75% of my bags contents!
FUTURE CHALLENGE: Extreme overcast with a 60% chance of rain!
FUTURE SOLUTION: Get punked and go home if it rains!
My decided lighting objective: Create a very moody lighting effect that didn't destroy or overpower the light that was already in the location. My primary thoughts were to get a parabolic placed and suspended directly overhead in the same location area as the large hole in the ceiling. This way, the light would make "more sense" as opposed to coming in with a diffuser and pray for balanced exposure and just play it safe and "fix it in photoshop". Besides, I knew that ever since Kevin and the MUA were talking about some cool makeup concepts - I really made sure I broke my own norm!
With rain clearly in threat, I reluctantly call off my assistant for the day. (Sorry again Mrs. Land.) Because of over packing I am embarrassingly the last to arrive. The MUA had already begun the magic of applying a severe coating of "Pancake Makeup" to Kevin's face. Under the clock of 2 hrs to play we were given a heckuva gift to test out… the Paul C. Buff ABR-800. Now, I will make an honest confession Studiolighting.net. Totally honest. This was the absolute very first time I had used a ring light! The closest thing to it was placing an 84inch Photek Sunbuster umbrella directly behind me in a 1200 watt Profoto head (studio rental) to simulate the effect. My understanding of a ring flash comes from 100's of post all across the internet from Dave Hill, David Hobby, David Tejada (The Davids rule, I know!), photo.net, etc… So I could from a technical point of view, say what I should expect from a ring light. So here we go:
Beauty Dish high in a diffusion sock into the ceiling!
Here I set the Dish as high as I could (about 11ft) into the ceiling to allow the light to be high enough to place the model in the beauty dishes' optimal focal point (the best distance for your size beauty dish-remember, this is highly objective). I set the diffusion sock on the beauty dish to soften the light and allow the light to spread out softly. At the opposite corner I placed a 42" 5n1 reflector (gold side up) to softly fill shadows were inherently dark because of the use of such a small main light small because of the lights size and distance. I chose the gold side so that some complimentary warmth would be added to the skin.
The key to this simple 1 light setup (That's right, 1 light!) was to get the dish high enough overhead to allow the light to spread out wide enough to light both my scene and my subject. (Dont miss that lil Elinchrom Skyport radio receiver on the flash just above the dish and sock in the picture). This simple combination creates some moody yet controlled light. The dish creates a circle of light with a dramatic falloff while the reflector softly fills the totally dark areas of my model.
Beauty Dish with Ringlight fill!
Starting with the same setup as before the only differnece this time is add the almighty RINGLIGHT for fill light!! The last thing you guys should have done is let me out of the cage with a ring light! Which ring light you ask? The Alien Bees ABR800 of course! Why you ask? 'Cause its CHEEEEEAP! In a few images I used a 42" disc reflector (gold side) on the floor to catch some of the light and bounce it into the models shadow side.Here's the dire important part. Make sure your ring light does not equal nor overpower your main lights output and viola… instant hit! Fine detail and deep imposing drama all in one image!
I have gotta admit it my ring light training lasted all the better of 90 seconds! Paul C. Buff created a marvelous tool! (Check out the review here on on Me working the ABR800 studiolighting.net!) I give this thing a serious P.O.C. Endorsement! Why? Its easy to figure out, lightweight, packs a good amount of light, being able to use it with a standard photo umbrella, with it being an expandable SYSTEM (not just single use tool) with the optional 30" & 56" moon unit diffuser tools make this the ONLY ballgame in town worth your $399.00 (as far as ring flashes go)! (By the way, my cheap cap on lighting equipment is $400 for any single piece of lighting gear… SO HA!!)
Bill of Smash Photo Lab in Long Beach, Ca… Special thanks to ya man!!
Check out his website for rates crazier than he is!
16" Beauty Dish (Wait for my review. I'll even tell you where to get it!)
SL-400 [400 watts @ $180.00] (Wait for my review. I'll even tell you where to get it!)