Tutorial: Daylight plus fill
story with photos (68 photos) starring Ariel Anderssen
Tags: blonde, outdoor
This is the fifth in the series of tutorial exercises we did with RE member-turned-photographer PaulMcRope which he has kindly allowed us to share with you on the site. We've established the key variables for shooting - focal length of lens, aperture, where the main source of light is placed relative to the subject, and the use of fill and ideally back lights to complement the main light source. In this exercise Paul wanted to see how to put those ideas into practice in the other common shooting scenario- outside in daylight. We picked our lens and aperture- started at 35mm, f/1.4 then played with the aperture a bit as we varied light sources.
By this stage it was mid-afternoon and while the sun had gone down at bit from peak "chest-nose hell" (see the last lesson on horrible top-lighting) it was still a bit harsh and unflattering, and furthermore was not coming in a co-operative direction. We had the option of a small patch of direct light on the patio, or dappled light and shade under the trees. Dappled light is a very common, and very tricky, outdoor shooting scenario. Here's how we handled it.
We had a choice of two swings in the garden, facing each other. On one swing the direct sunlight would be shining into Ariel's face- which would be fine, because it's dappled light she would be able to avoid being dazzled. Making your model look directly into the sun is daft because she'll be forced to squint, and it is not very flattering anyway. So we did what almost all photographers do outside at this time of day and decided to use the sun as a backlight. Would that be enough to get away with, or should we add some supplemental light?
In this scenario the key and fill is provided by the very soft was of light bouncing around in and through the foliage. It's very soft and not very directional, so you're at risk of flat lighting, but in daylight there's usually a bit of difference from side to side. As before, these are the JPEGs out of the camera, with fixed white balance (daylight) to give us a constant baseline for all the shots.
Take a look at the first series of shots, marked daylight only.
The first thing to notice is that serious green cast. That's because under all that greenery, the light genuinely is very green indeed. Our eyes adjust, the camera doesn't. We can recover that in post to some extent, but we'll be left with a different problem- the direct sunlight, as in the patches of light in the dappled light and shade, have come direct from the sun, not via a big green reflector/filter. So if we correct for the green on most of the shot, the direct sunlight will go purple. This may or may not be a problem- we might be able to find a happy medium in post, and the eye will probably allow and expect a bit of green tinge in photos under the trees.
Second issue- there's a big range in brightness between the patches of direct sunlight and the shade. Again, our eyes correct for that automatically. Modern digital cameras have marvellous dynamic range, and we might be able to find a happy medium by pulling the highlights down and lifting the shadows in post. But now we're looking at two potential problems to deal with in post, which is trusting an awful lot to our skillz in colour correction. If you want to see how that would go, look at res_25062018_DSC06914.jpg where the camera has underexposed for the main scene because it has exposed to keep the detail in the highlights as chance and the camera on auto would have it for this one shot. To do this correction in post we'd probably shoot everything like this to retain detail in the highlights and hope we don't get too much noise in the shadows when we pull them up.
Thirdly, with the lighting being even across the scene, there's not much to draw the eye in to Ariel and separate her from the background.
Finally, Ariel's eyes do have some catchlights because of the patches of light and dark on the foliage opposite her, but they are a bit hit and miss. And that's the general rule with shooting in dappled light- you will luck out and get some fantastic shots, but it'll be quite hit and miss, and there will likely be quite a lot of work in post to get the best from the images.
With a tied up model, we might want to do better in camera.
There are a few standard ways to go about this, and we tried the following:
- Use a reflector
- Use a ring-flash (or an on-camera flash with a diffuser)
- Use a studio flash with a diffuser
- Overpower the daylight entirely and start again
If you've got a friend around as crew to help you, the go-to solution is a whacking big reflector. Get a big bright board- white for a subtle effect, silver for a harsh effect, gold for a warming and romantic effect. Find a patch of sunlight "down shadow" of your subject and get the reflector into it, then angle it to bounce that light back onto her.
Have a look at the "gold reflector series. We used my favourite sort of reflector which is half gold, half frosted. It produces a softer, less intense and more subtle light that a true gold shiny board, brighter than a white reflector (which usually needs to be really close to have proper effect, which can be tricky for bondage photography as the photographer needs to move around). The half gold gives a definite warming effect like sunset, without messing up the colours too much. Best of all since the main effect is coming from direct reflected sunlight, the light from the reflector lacks the big green cast of the ambient light.
For this series I found a relatively small patch of sunlight through the trees, to camera right. You can see that the green cast remains in the shadow side, but the overall impression on Ariel's skin is much more flattering than the "zombie flesh" green of the daylight-only shots. This gives you a much easier starting point in post production. Furthermore, it's offset the difference in brightness between the patches of direct sunlight and shade on Ariel's skin, allowing for a much gentler and more glamorous appearance to the shots without looking unnatural.
Problem solved! And indeed if you can use it, the gold reflector is my favourite way to go. Why wouldn't you use it every time?
- You definitely need a friend to hold and point the reflector. It's quite a skilled job to catch and direct the sunlight this way, and propping the reflector up on a stand never really works, even if there's not a breath of wind.
- It relies on there being a suitable patch of sunlight in the right place, big enough to "catch" in the reflector. You may not have such a patch of light where you want to shoot, which leaves you making a series of compromises like moving the model or location, or just plain unable to do it.
- From the model's point of view, the reflector is sending direct sunlight right at her. It's like having a six foot by three foot board of blinding golden light right where you need to be looking. Some models can't do it at all. A skilled crewperson will catch the rhythm of the shoot and only direct the light at the last moment, and photographers can help by counting in each shot so the model can keep her eyes closed until the last moment. It's not such a big problem in dappled light like this, but where you are blasting a big fat beam of key light into a shadowed area as your main light source it can be physically painful for the model. Be aware.
- In wind these things are uncontrollable, leading to lots of missed shots and potentially going for an impromptu hang-gliding trip. Don't use on cliff edges in stiff breeze.
- Lastly, they are monolithic. You can sort-of control how much light you send in by how big the patch of sunlight you are in, or maybe trying to move to a not-quite-so-ideally situated angle. You can control to some extent how much light is on the model's face and feet by bending the reflector as you hold it. You can aim the light a bit off the model, missing her or feathering the light, but it's really hard to get any significant variation. Basically, the reflector is on her at full power, or off.
I tried to control the light for the last few shots in the sequence and as you can see the results are all over the place. Reflectors look great, but if you want to fine tune it, you're out of luck. And you can't use them on your own, at least not for bondage shoots.
Next up we have ringflash, or an on-camera flash with a diffuser. With the light coming from a hard source almost on the lens axis, you'll definitely want to avoid using undiffused on-camera flash (have a look back at the last lesson for why). Ringflash is nice because the only shadow it throws is a subtle halo behind and around the subject, which is pretty much invisible in situations like this. On-camera diffused flash is good because speedlights talk to the camera and can use ETTL metering, which can help get consistent exposure. For this experiment, we chose ringflash.
As you can see from the first few shots, you have a choice of how much fill to add from the flash, which is a definite plus compared with the monolithic on/off of a big reflector. So long as you keep your exposure around the same or a bit below the ambient light, the result can look entirely natural and almost unlit (Ringflash(low) example) whilst still getting rid of some of the green cast and ensuring good catchlights in the eyes.
Ringflash (high) on the other hand is quite an obvious effect, but it doesn't have the distracting shadows a diffused on-camera flash would have at high powers. It deals with the green colour cast, evens up the exposure on skin, provides catchlights, and also provides some nice separation between Ariel brightly lit in the foreground and the foliage behind, without looking too unnatural. A bit of fine tuning in post and this can look really glam, polished and high-end.
The Achilles' heel of ringflash is that most units do not talk to the camera's ETTL system in the same way that on-camera flash and connected speedlights do. This means you need to manually fiddle with the flash power setting as you move forwards and backwards, to avoid unintentionally over-exposing or under-exposing. It makes getting consistent exposure shot-to-shot very hard and can definitely set you up for a bit of work in post. On the other hand, it's self contained, especially the new high-power battery operated ones, so you can be out and about with a minimum of gear and still cope with a very wide range of lighting situations.
Next up is what I've called "fill in flash" on the captions. This is a battery-powered studio flash system with a powerpack, a meaty cable, a flash head, umbrella reflector, light stand and shoot-through umbrella. In theory you can use your favourite studio light-former for this, but I know from experience that it's very hard to secure a big softbox on a stand even with lots of sandbags, and you lose a lot of light that way too. I use shoot-through umbrellas because they do a cheap and cheerful job of softening the light source considerably whilst being light to carry, compact, and critically in wind are more likely to collapse or turn inside out than fly off and cause an expensive and fragile glass and electronics light head to turn into a shattering grenade. They also nicely cushion the blow should the light land on its nose. Best of all they are cheap and therefore easy to replace when they, inevitably, get knackered by outdoor use.
For this sequence I just parked a single flash head with umbrella to camera right, about where I was when holding the reflector. If you pick your lighting ratio carefully you can again avoid unnatural shadows, whilst providing catchlights, reducing contrast, making catchlights and generally focussing attention on your subject. If you like, you can do the whole three point lighting pattern outside with this sort of lighting set-up (and often we do).
Compared with the other solutions its main problems are cost, weight and bulkiness, especially when you need to sandbag the light stands for safety in a breeze. It also has a bit of a mechanical quality compared with reflector light- if anything, it is a little bit TOO predictable, shot to shot. Reflectors can give you happy accidents. Studio flash just give you the same light again and again and again.
Finally, I just whacked the studio flash to full power for the last few shots to show that in the right circumstances you can overpower sunlight. Compare with the original daylight shots- remember it is the same model in the same place. One is clearly a sunny afternoon. The other looks more like night-time. There are lots of creative possibilities there, which is the plus side of all that controllability.
That finished day one of our tutorial. On day two, we set Paul the challenge to shoot some actual bondage photosets to put it all into practice. Watch this space to see what he came up with!