by Jaco vermaak

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Lighting on location

Using studio lighting on location shoots for creative effect


Jaco Vermaak

October 23, 2017

I was recently commissioned by Kaigan Aikido in Walmer Port Elizabeth to do a location photoshoot for images to go on their website. The first set of images they wanted was posed images to visually display the name of the different techniques for students to easily recognise the form and see the correct execution thereof. The second set of images they requested was action shots of various Aikido techniques.

During our consultation prior to the shoot we established that I would bring my studio lights on location to combat the low ambient light levels in the Dojo. We decided that the posed images would be straight forward posed images with simple lighting to showcase the techniques. I suggested that the action shots be done in a high contrast lighting environment to provide the "Yin and Yang" feel that is synonymous with the Eastern Martial Arts. My concept for the action sequences was to create dramatic light and dark scenes in the images by using high contrast lighting.

We did the posed images first on the day and I set up my lights with Softboxes and diffuser panels in the standard 45 degree position to create soft wrap around light. I wanted to include some of the ambient lighting in the dojo to light the background and subjects without to much light falloff due the inverse square law. After doing some meter readings and tweaking the camera settings and positioning of the lights we were able to start. We rattled off around 90 poses in a little over an hour. The beauty of having the lights metered and controlled precisely was that all the images had the same exposure and it really cuts down the processing time.

A behind the scenes look showing lighting setup.

One of the images from the posed series using studio lighting on location.

TIP: I used my flash meter in various spots in an area of around 2m². I then angled the lights and adjusted power output on the lights to give me an even illumination of the working area.

Next up was the action shots, which took around 15min setup time for the lights to provide the desired effect. I wanted to illuminate from 2 directions similar to my previous lighting, the major difference being that i wanted to remove the ambient light and create harder more contrasty light with rapid falloff. Not wanting the whole Dojo illuminated, I positioned my Softboxes - sans diffuser panels in a side lighting position and slightly behind the subjects and feathered slightly forward and upward to contain the light spill to a smaller area on the floor. I wanted to freeze the action, but at the same time have a little bit of motion blur to create movement in the images. It was a balancing act between output power, shutter speed and ISO to achieve the desired look.

A behind the scenes look at my lighting position for the action shots.

This is one of the images from the series of contrasty action shots.

TIP: I positioned the lights and subjects closer to the front of the Dojo to reap maximum benefit from light falloff to darken the background. Flash lighting whether they be small strobes or studio lights have their fastest (most brief) flash duration at lower power settings. I had to bump my ISO a bit to be able stop the aperture down enough to cut ambient light and still have enough light on my subjects. I was shooting around 1/160th of a second with fairly short flash duration to effectively freeze the action and also create a little motion blur to emphasise movement. Always use a lens hood when shooting into the light to minimise lens flair.

I feel that one of the most important aspects of a shoot like this is pre-visualisation of the images you are wanting to create and then understanding light and how to control and modify it to create your desired effect.

Till next time



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