Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Letter... and the cookie!

The Letter by Bill Gekas

Usually I don't blog the setup of every single image as in most cases it's either just a standard one or two light setup like most others. However the other week I wanted to shoot the photo above which has been nothing but a bad sketch in my sketchbook just waiting for the right time. This is one of those shots which was a bit more technically involved than any other i've shot lately so it definitely called for a small writeup!


So the mood to shoot came and one of the tasks was to turn a typical 5 year old girl's bedroom with posters, teddy bears, barbie dolls etc. into something that would resemble an 18th century dutch period style bedroom! Sounds easy and the removal of the modern items was the easy part but one of the challenges was that I had to create the illusion of a window where there was none. In the real world, the window in this bedroom is on the right side not the left, the left side is just a plain wall and the window on the right side is a modern full height type window with vertical blinds etc. So brainstorming it a bit I thought i'd create the shadow pattern of a window using a cookolaris (cookie) giving the viewer the impression that the subject is facing a window. Now the truth is i've never used a cookie before except just knowing the theory behind them and how they work. Like most of my other work this was no client shoot so what better time than the present to try some things i've learnt but never tested! Now that I knew what I was going to use, I had to make it! So after scrounging for some cardboard and using a razor blade to cut some square cut-outs to a french window type pattern had me a window cookie in little time! (See photo below)

So this is how I set up the lighting, I placed the cookie to camera left clamped to a lightstand and about one meter (~3ft) behind that a speedlight firing at/through it! The first problem I had was that I was getting quite a bit of spill around the cookie contaminating parts of the scene, so I needed a spill-kill. I didn't have one so I compromised, I used a gridspot as a spill-kill which lit just enough of the cookie to cover the square cut-outs. Spill killed, problem solved!
Now I honestly thought i'd get away with just a second light being a speedlight bounced to the ceiling lighting the rest of the scene including the subject, but it wasn't to be! The bounced light was lighting the scene filling it nicely but the subject just wasn't popping enough for me and the lighting on the face was pretty flat which didn't make the window light convincing enough. So I left that light bounced to ceiling as a general fill and made sure it was again placed camera left exposing the top left corner of the wall slightly more than the rest of the scene further adding to the viewer's belief that a window is on that side of the room.
To light the subject I set up another speedlight in my 28" softbox placed camera left just out of frame in order to get some nice light to the face further mimicking the supposed window light. Done!
So far so good but whilst looking at the first few preliminary shots I noticed the timber bedhead which is a dark timber was just blocking up completely! This called for a fourth speedlight at a higher power level with a very narrow 10 degree gridspot, just to give that dark timber a kiss of light, not too much but just enough! The reason this light was needed is a ratio thing where the timber is a lot darker than the rest of the walls etc. The bounced fill just couldn't light that, so the fourth speedlight at a higher power was the answer. Done!

The rest was just careful post work but in order for this shot to work it was most important to get the lighting correct in camera! I guess the moral of this post is that lighting scenes and photography is more about problem solving and compromises. I didn't have a spill-kill, I used a gridspot as one! I wanted a certain window pattern projected on the wall so I made a cookie using nothing more than a piece of cardboard and a razor blade! I wanted more light to the timber bedhead so I used a fourth speedlight which I found had too wide a beam so I had to use the narrowest gridspot positioned perfectly etc.
At the end of it all I succeeded in shooting a scene that may appear simple but the lighting technicalities involved had me compromising and thinking about the process one light at a time which took me from a conceptual rough sketch to a shot I successfully completed!

With this type of work i've found it's about the lighting you're not supposed to notice that makes the shot. In other words, controlling artificial lighting to have it look like natural lighting. Come to think of it, when it comes to the lighting, this will be my goal.


The home brew Cookolaris (Cookie)