Before I owned a studio full of lighting gear and travelled with assistants, I spent years as a photojournalist who owned little more than a Domke F-2 bag with two camera bodies. When you boil things down, I’m a location photographer who happens to have a studio.
When on location, I often have to travel quickly, adjust on the fly and create visual gold out of thin air. When it comes to using light, I’ve learned to work fast and to think in opposites. More on that in a moment. The advantages of also having a studio means that I can test and experiment with my lighting before going on scene, which is a huge plus.
A recent collaboration with Virginia, a local actress looking for theatrical images, demonstrates the idea of “opposites” well. The challenge was to create a series of distinct looks in the studio in a relatively short period of time, relying only on lighting and a few key elements. As a mental exercise, I try to challenge myself to create looks that are visual “opposites”–i.e., if I photograph a scene heavily lit, then I’ll try one completely using natural light. If something is very dark toned, I’ll try one scenario that is all light or white tones. It’s a way of expressing something completely different even with the same subject and location.
My favorite image of the day was of Virginia wrapped in a flowing red scarf, blowing in the breeze. In the absence of the background, the red scarf gives life and movement to the image and I love how it turned out. Then there’s the quiet moment of Virginia, looking dark with warm, low-contrast tones. Contrast these with images where she is looks unflinchingly at the frame, a study in bright tones.
One space, a few elements, and deliberate lighting to help convey a different mood. Virginia knocked it out of the park.