Jimmy's blog

Haptics Open House

April 30th, 2009

I’ve been trying to master the art of lighting using flash for quite a while now. Flash is great not just to provide more oomph for situations with low light but even in situations with enough light you can use it to add more depth to the image. A common technique is to light for the ambient, drop about two stops down (letting less light onto your film), then aim your flash at the subject. Now you have two sources of light that you can independently manipulate: your background which you made darker by lowering your exposure by two stops, the foreground which is lighter due to your flash. This way your subjects will really pop off the background.

Working with flash is a whole ‘nother ball park in terms of dealing with white balance. Different light sources have different color temperatures and your whites will look different under each light. For example tungsten is warmer and white will appear more orange, while fluorescent light is colder and tends to be more green. Your flash has another color temperature so you have to correct for that if you want all your whites to really show up as white. Although your eye is very good at balancing all these different color temperatures, your camera isn’t. So when shooting under fluorescent light I put a green gel in front of my flash to make it match the color temperature of fluorescent and set the white balance on my camera to fluorescent.

Simple right? Of course it can’t be that easy. It turns out they now make fluorescent lights in all kinds of color temperatures some even close to tungsten. Also fluorescent light runs at 60Hz and depending on where on that sine wave you take your picture your color shift on you too. What a headache!

Today I got to practice this technique at a shoot I did for an open house at the Upenn Haptics Lab headed by the wonderful Dr. Katherine Kuchenbecker. In the picture below there are three light sources. The fluorescent overhead lights provide the ambient, there’s a little lamp that lights the CNC milling machine in the background and I’m holding a flash dialed down at 1/32 in my left hand to light Will and Joe. So all three of these light sources can be manipulated independently. I exposed for my background two stops down which is why the background is darker, my flash lights the two handsome young men, and the little lamp lights my other subject (the CNC milling machine).

I’m pretty happy with this picture as the difference in light creates a lot of depth to the picture and really pops the subjects off the background.


Other pictures of the haptics open house after the jump:

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