Mimicking Mother Nature's Morning Glory
Mimicking what’s natural is often easier said than done or my case, trying to create a look of natural light is sometimes a task that pays close attention to not only the amount of light but, the direction where the light is coming from. Most DSLR nowadays are extremely sophisticated in evaluating exposure and giving us a perfectly balanced image that balances the ambient light as well as the amount of fill flash that has to come from the flash to create a flawless image. It’s simply a matter of turning the camera on, putting it in the full automatic (for Nikon users, Green Box) mode, putting the flash in TTL and voila! A perfect exposure can be creating before we know it! The issue or dilemma with most digital photos and this is partly true for film or analog photos is that the photos shot with an on-camera flash that’s connected to a hot shoe with the light coming directly from the camera in a straight directional manner tend to look very snap shotty or unnatural. There are certain occasions where that look is appealing and some notable fashion photographer have made it their aesthetic like Terry Richardson but, for most of us working stiff photogs or photogs that have made architecture and interiors a passion, we know from working with our architecture and design clients that natural is beautiful.
To cut-to the chase, I wanted to post an image that I shot for a new home builder client that commissioned me to photograph a model home. As always, the sun is never in the spot that I would like to be when I’m shooting as was with this shot. Typically, I like to shoot my interior early in the morning as I find the light to be softer and not as harsh, especially in areas where there are sun spots. In this case it was around 11am and the sun was already high in the sky and the contrast or light ratio between the interior and the brightness of the exterior was already growing significantly. The walls were white and the furniture dark and I knew that the only way to produce an image that was fairly contrasty and vibrant was to try to keep most of the light on the furniture, especially the dark couch that I knew would turn into a dark hole, if I lit the scene evenly or committed the sin of putting my camera in the automatic mode and hoped that my clients would love the snap shot like look, technically, it would be a well exposed photo but, I seriously doubt they would like a photographed that looked like it could have been shot with their iPhone, after all, that’s why they hire me.
Here's a brief description of my lighting set-up, I’ve also enclosed a lay-out.
Around late morning or noon, I know that the lighting ratio or brightness outside is so great that I need a fast synch speed to balance the interior strobes with the exterior brightness, in this case as is in most cases that means that I must shoot around 1/100 to 1/200 of a second, I shot this image a 1/125 of a second @ f 7.1 iso 100. If you follow the sunny 16 rule, the brightness of the exterior make sense since it does appear to be around 2 stops off or brighter. I kind of wanted the exterior not to be perfectly exposed so that it doesn’t look phony or distracting. As for my lights, I employed an Alien Bee 1600 mono light and a sb-28 Speedlight, they were both outfitted with shoot through white umbrellas with the only difference that the Alien Bee (Brighter Light) was placed on the exterior of the house, right outside the left window, barely out of the frame. The intention was to create a look that mimicked natural light fluttering in through the window and at the same time try to add as much light or direct the light towards the dark couch that was turning up as a black hole when I lit the scene evenly. The smaller speed light was set at ½ power and placed slightly right of the camera and directed towards the coffee table and chair to help fill in some of the hard shadows that were created by the large Alien Bee that was blasting through the window. After a brief run through Lightroom were the images shadows were brightened and the vibrance and saturation were punched up a bit, as well a spot glow or high light added the art work on the wall. The image was ready to be delivered. All using some old school flash photography techniques and some very light post-production tweaking, the image was shot one single RAW image.
Trying to mimic the power of mother nature isn’t always easy but, with a little know how and extra muscle (powerful lights) we can sure make it look like we can.
Bernardo Grijalva is an Advertising Architectural Photographer in San Jose, California
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