Picture Makers

Every time I sit down to write for the magazine I have two goals.  Firstly I’d like to think I make the read at least enjoyable and secondly, and probably far more importantly I’d like to me it useful to you… maybe even educational.

There is no getting away from the fact our cameras, whichever Olympus we tote, is an incredible creative tool capable of delivering superb quality files.  the question therefore begs why isn’t every image a stunner?

The issue is very simple, when we first get our cameras we are “Picture takers” , we literally “point and shoot”!  Its my quest, whatever field of photography you enjoy is to inspire us all to become “Picture makers

You may think that you have no direct control in what you shoot, lets say in the field of street photography and I’ll argue you do – three steps to the right or waiting that extra half second to frame the subject centre of the arch for example could make all the difference.  As an International print judge I see it all the time.  Whenever we pick up the camera to shoot we are in control and the way to improve our photography is very simple… strive to be a picture maker!

There is no better way to see this done than on a BIG shoot day or a concept, capture , create workshop. The idea is to take the image in your head and transform it into printable pixels.

This is my favourite  image from my last BIG shoot and I’m so pleased with it because its the closest thing I’ve ever got on to paper that resembles the image I set out with.  I’ve used layers of light in this image to “make it”.  Now often that can sound a little scary but thats what many trainers want you to think, in reality its not I promise.

The simple fact once more is this.  No matter how good our cameras are, and they are amazing these days, we need to educate ourselves in light!  Light is the very raw material we need to create our images and learning to “see” light is the key.  Whether its that shaft of sunlight coming through the trees or the soft gentle glow of light through a net curtain diffused window, or indeed a brace of speed lights or a phalanx of studio lights – IT DOES NOT MATTER!  They are just the sources of light, its how we use them that counts.

Let me explain, I use a system I’ve developed of the years that I like to call the “Lego brick” system.  Its a way of building the light up one simple block at a time, it works for me and it seems to work for my students… 21 POTY titles across all associations in 12 years is impressive, actually I should give a “nod” to two of my students whom have recently been made “Master “ photographers, congratulations ladies.

My boxing image will demonstrate this admirably… so “How was it done”?

The first thing I do is measure the existing ambient light, the light that is just “there”.  be it created by natural light or artificial mood lighting, I want to know what its doing.  Depending on its power I can choose to use it or simply ignore it, in this case I ignored it.

So if the light that is there naturally isn’t wanted its up to me to paint the picture I envisage with my lights. In this image I started with two overall wash lights.  One, an Elinchrom ELB1200 was stationed at the back of the room just out of shot, I’d fixed a CTO gel to it and pointed it up at the ceiling.  This way the light hits the ceiling, bounces off, and runs down into my picture to give an overall exposure and warmth into my picture.

That light only effects the back of my image.  the second light, in this case an Elinchrom ELB 400, was fitted with a blue CTB gel and pointed up to bounce off the light fittings above the ring.  That gave me a subtle wash of light of a different temperature / colour to effect the mid and fore ground of my picture, so thats the overall mood set.

The ELB 1200 at the back of the room is a pack capable of powering two heads so the second head was placed on a stand, again with an orange CTO fitted, and placed just to “peep” round a heavy bag and imitate a point light source found in such a n area.  For me it is also my accent light adding highlight and separation to my subjects, the ropes, the bags etc.

My “Key” or main light was an ELB 400 on a boom arm with a 19cm guided dish.  I wanted a pool of light and this was the best tool for the job.  Again fitted with a CTO, with the “Theatrical light” placed in the background as previously described that helps “sell” the idea that Pip the gentleman  is all lit by a spot light.  I LOVE the way the light rakes down his face and body showing form and creating mood.

My last light was yet another ELB 400.  This time though there was no gel.  I needed a white light to finish telling my pugilistic tale.

This unit was placed in my favourite modifier, a 105cm silver parabolic umbrella.  I love these for many reasons, firstly the quality and control of light I can get with it but its portability and relative cheap purchase price must be considered major plus points.

This was placed to camera left, just out of shot and reverse feathered just to paint white light on ring girl Rhiannon’s hip and bum.  The “waste” light was allowed to dissipate across the ring and the subjects to raise the density of the shadows to bring those to deep back into a printable register.

For those “light minded”  this light was EV-2 to the key the ELB 1200 was EV -1.5 to the key.  For those that see that as off putting gibberish don’t allow it to turn you off.  It is just a simple short hand formula to tell you the strength of the lights i.e. EV -2 to the key just means that the exposure value of that light was 2 stops less than the key light… us photographers like to make things seem dark and mysterious when they are really not!

So thats it, an image built up from “bricks” of light.  each little block building on top of the next to make something in the end far greater than its individual components.

Whichever way you cut it, even if you declare your an natural environment, available light reportage style photographer understanding light, where its coming from and its quality is a must if you are going to step up from being a picture taker and start to be a picture maker.

Heres some diagrams to help you see how we build the picture






Until next time


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