Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Having Trouble with your Light? Just Ask Joe McNally for Help

Evelyn - After
Joe McNally helped me fix the light the light in this portrait. He was actually holding the umbrella above the model (more on that below) when I took this shoot. I believe that means I can say "Joe McNally was my photo assistant." Yea, right. ;-)

In case you don't know who Joe is, he's one of the best photographers in the world. He's shot for National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, and Life magazine to name a few, so he knows how to light a photo. Here's how I happen to get his help lighting Evelyn ...

So yesterday I, and approximately a bazillion other Austin photographers, attended David Hobby's and Joe McNally's "Flash Bus" tour at the Palmer Event Center. It was a blast. Like Joe, David is a world-renowned photographer and is famous for is "Strobist" blog that has helped many a photographer learn how to use small flashes off camera (me included). Joe and David spent the day teaching us Austin photogs more of their methods.

There's nothing like trying something yourself to really learn it, so after the seminar, a few of us photog-nerds when outside to practice what David and Joe were preaching. My friend Michael Tuuk brought along his daughter Evelyn to model for us. Given her dark skin, I was struggling with how to light her. Here's one of my attempts:

Evelyn - Before
Right about the time I took this photo, Joe and David walked out of the building on their way to dinner, so I asked Joe for his help. He was great, and quickly identified what I was doing wrong:

First, the light on her face is "brassy" (harsh) as Joe said. He recommended I switch from using a reflective umbrella to a white shoot through that would considerably soften the light. When Joe says switch umbrellas, you switch umbrellas, so I switched to a white shoot-through and added (again at Joe's suggestion) a Sto-Fen flash defuser to help soften the light even more.

Second, the fill light I was using wasn't doing much, if any, good from camera right, so Joe recommended bringing it under the umbrella to fill in the shadows on her face. Bingo. 90% of the lighting problems in this photo are solved (see the final photo at the top of this post). It could still use a bit more work, but it's at least usable ... thanks to Joe.

Stay tuned for a few of the lighting tips I learned from David Hobby, including how fill light is key to allowing you to create and use more interesting light ...

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