I can imagine in some quarters that is pretty good advice. In my own experience all I can say is that it was a delight!
Back at the end of the 80’s when perms and shoulder pads ruled, believe it or not I was quite shy and retiring. I had left art school under mutual agreement, long story, and in my immense naivety had decided to strike out on my own and formed my own photographic company, if only I knew then what I know now… I may never have continued in this line of work.
I was stubborn and focused and maybe the nativity was tainted a little with stupidity but I worked hard in bars and clubs in the night to fund, help develop and grow my idea. Point is I didn’t know what I was doing for the most part but I’d chosen several role models to study and emulate.
In Liverpool was one such role model a guy from my area that existed in the cool world of fashion, travelling the world, shooting the beautiful people, driving sports cars and living the “high life” I craved – to me and many others Bruce Smith was “the man”! His world was a million miles away from the weddings, Christenings and portraits I was scrabbling to get.
Now I’ve known Bruce for a while but our lives were mutually so busy that we only ever really saw each other in passing, on stages somewhere or if shoot locations crossed, we’d never really hung out together or just done stuff.
We’ve spent a lot of time chatting and messaging one another over the years and always threatened to “do something” but nothing had come off. In fairness I’ve been busy building a business and raising my profile
Well earlier this year all the planets and stars aligned and we not only got to hang out and chat with one another but I got the chance to go out to France and shoot a commission with him. Bruce is the custodian of the most beautiful chateau near Bordeaux and we chose that as the venue… well he is older than me ;0)
The models, mua and assistant were coming in from Paris, we’d planned the looks and new the outfits we were shooting, being prepared really can make all the difference. At this point I’d been in work mode so long that I was in an artistic slump so Bruce being Bruce had the perfect kick in the arse I needed when he challenged me to put my trusted flash away and just shoot fast and loose with natural light.
There is a misapprehension that this makes things easy, that’s only true if you are a bit of a shutter monkey and are happy just to click away… as ever my quest is quality!
Now whether it’s natural light, continuous light, or flash, light is light, only the source changes and the way that you can control it. With natural light you have to reverse your thinking and compromise just a little. Why so, I hear you say, its quite simple – with flash we can create anything we want contrast, brightness and most of all direction. We control all the elements and most of all where the said elements go!
Try as I might my Jedi mind powers aren’t developed enough to control the sun and “think” it into place, so I have to compromise and allow the prevailing direction of the light to determine things like background choice.
What I mean is its better to choose the nicest light to flatter the subjects face and maybe compromise on the background choice, we work with what we have. Yes of course we can use diffusers, scrim and reflectors to alter the direction and quality of the light to some extent but it is far more limited or lets say less easy to impose your complete will and desires, have you tried turning the suns power up, when compared to lighting the whole set where you personally get to play God with all the lights.
So in my opinion because of this lack of “compromise” in using natural light most people get it wrong, just snapping away without thinking about brightness, colour, contrast or direction. Bruce Smith is an absolute master at using and manipulating natural light he really is a joy to watch and I believe going back to using natural light is not only beautiful but a great way of refreshing ones skills and truly getting to understand light.
So, in short, challenge accepted Bruce baby!
I shot with both the EM-1 mk 2 and the Pen F mated to the 12-40 f2.8 Pro or my old stand by favourite the 45mm f1.8. You may ask why not the f1.2, the answer is simple, weight shaving, this trip was all about keeping the weight down and every ounce counted.
So all my lighting was dictated by the direction of the ambient light and I used a combination of sympathetically placing the subject in the scene to maximise the direction and effect of the light I wanted, reflectors, flags and diffusers but my main “tool in the kit bag” which is simplifying by shooting in aperture priority and using exposure compensation to dial in the effect I was after. It sounds almost too simplistic but like all things you have to know how it works and its limits to get the best out of it.
I’ll try and explain, take the shot below. My model Kiki was placed in the set I’d created with the dominant light source, a window behind her and to camera left. The light floods in, bounces about the room. I use the exposure compensation dial on my Pen F to brighten her face, its probably plus 2 stops to get this effect but I HAVE to accept that the primary light source (the window) and the objects its light touches first blow out then over exposure and I have to compose with this in mind to make it PART of the image and not dominant in the image. The by product is it looks like sun streaming in through the window, which it was, we just have to control how much of the effect is allowed to be influential in the frame. I didn’t use a reflector but relied on the light coloured limestone walls to act as a reflector in bouncing the light about for me.
Windows and doorways are great friends when it comes to this style of photography as the become natural “light sources”, they can almost be used as big soft boxes, doors and shutters can make them even ,more directional, acting as large “barn doors” flagging and directing the light.
Sometimes the light quality can be too harsh and that can be controlled either by moving the subject away from the window letting the inverse square law take care of the contrast or softening the light by way of diffusion material over the source window or door. This is exactly what I’ve done in this image to lower the contrast to the desired quality I wanted for my image.
Its safe to say I felt invigorated by the challenge and Bruce woke a new passion in me to shoot a little “Freer” where possible, I don’t mean become that shutter monkey just snap, snap, snapping away but observing, thinking using and manipulating if necessary the natural light and creating something fresh. It is a very obvious skill and is often underestimated and that is why its far from easy to master.
Bruce and I are hatching some plans to share our combined 1000 year old knowledge and bring people out to France for long weekends for fun, education and great image making opportunities, so most defiantly “Watch this space” as all good teaser advertising says.
The interesting thing for me was Bruce has long been a Nikon man and like many he was amused and then interested by the “little” camera I use. I left him with a trusty Oly for him to play with. His initial reports are very positive and I’m keen to see how he likes it and what he creates after a few months of use with it… I think he will consign his Nikons to history but only time will tell! However, he did choose to use it over his Nikon with Frank Doorhof at a large stage demonstration in the Netherlands so my prediction may very well come true ;0)
Any way thats it till next time, here are a few more of the images I enjoyed making I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did shooting them, many thanks to all involved.
till next time