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Move the Sun: Location Lighting
by Cris j Duncan Cr. Photog CPP


Light - It is the foundation of photography and without it, well; our images just wouldn’t be the same. Light has the power to create emotion, direct the viewer’s eye, show or diminish texture, color and depth, and the list goes on. Whether it be studio strobes, portable flash, ambient conditions or daylight the same principles apply. Simply stated - Light is light. Today, I want to challenge you to expand your box of lighting skills and move the Sun. Every light source provides three properties - Quantity, quality, and direction. Our job as photographers is to manipulate each property to suit our creative inclination as well as our client’s needs. Observe (Figure 1). This image was captured late in the day where the three properties are naturally pleasing. There is sufficient light (quantity), the light is of a soft quality and the direction is very manageable. The ‘Sweet’ light. Now, I cannot argue the fact that this time of day provides great light with little effort on our part, but I can point out that only one of these times occurs each day. As a husband, father and business owner I cannot afford to only schedule clients at this time much less work that late each day. It doesn’t make sense. So what is the solution? Move the Sun.

Using a few different techniques and a couple of great tools from Arlington Camera, we can capture great images anytime of the day in any lighting situation. First, let’s begin with a very basic, yet effective, transmissive application. You can see below (Figures 2-4) that we had direct overhead sunlight and by placing a 1.5 stop translucent diffuser overhead at a 45 degree angle we produce a flattering lighting pattern on the model’s face.

Two things occur. One, the light quality is improved as the shadows are softened. Second, the background brightness increased by 1.5 stops because the diffuser removed 1.5 stops of light from the subject. This phenomenon known as "key-shifting" is an important factor to remember when selecting your background. If it all possible, try to place the subject in front of a darker background knowing it will be 1.5 stops brighter in the final image.

Another way to photograph in direct light is to use a strobe. Whenever using a strobe you must first understand that strobe output will determine your aperture and the ambient lighting will be controlled with the shutter speed. No longer are these reciprocal values, instead they are independent of each other. A great way to begin adding strobe in direct sun is to base your initial exposure off of the sunny 16 rule. The sunny 16 rule state that your shutter speeds will equal your ISO at f/16 (ex ISO 200 1/200 @ f/16). To obtain a balanced exposure, simply set your flash output to f/16. When working on location, I use a Profoto D1 Air Head with a beauty dish powered with the Profoto BatPac. (Figure 5)

Figure 6 is an ambient exposure using the sunny 16 rule. The exposure is correct; however, the background is bright and the detail in her hair is blown out. By adding light with the Profoto D1, I can control my exposure of the entire scene. The D1 output determines my aperture and I can then shoot at a faster shutter speed to make the background darker. The sun is positioned to her left to act as a hair light and the D1 head is now my main light. Below is another example of using a strobe in daylight to create light direction and drama. I use the D1 over a speed-lite solely for the power output advantage. I can over power, move, the sun with the power of the Profoto D1 heads.

One final technique to move the sun is by reflecting the sunlight. In the following image a plexiglass mirror was used to reflect the sunlight toward the subject’s right thru a translucent diffuser. Notice how this technique has allowed us to produce a lighting pattern on the face to suit our taste.

I hope this will help you in your next outing and equip you with some simple techniques that will in turn give you more control in any lighting situation.
Happy Creating!

Cris j Duncan Photog. Cr. CPP
Sometimes called the "McGyver of Light," Cris creates his signature style by redefining traditional and non-traditional lighting techniques. He is a Certified Professional Photographer, a Photographic Craftsman and is will be receiving his Master of Photography degree in January 2012, where he will also be a platform speaker at Imaging USA in New Orleans. Since turning pro in 2002, he has photographed presidents, vice presidents, dignitaries and countless others. Cris has also worked for such companies as Frito-Lay and Bayer CropScience and has been honored to photograph numerous weddings, portraits and commercial assignments for great people all over this land. He is the recipient of several awards and honors, including “The Carpenter's Masterpiece," which was awarded a perfect 100 as well as Album of the Year. Cris is also the President of the SPPPA and founder of "Find your Focus" photographic education experiences. To see more of Cris’s work visit www.cjduncan.com

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