Playing a Stratocaster didn’t make me sound like Jimi Hendrix, and spending a day with David Hobby didn’t make my images look as good as his. Yet.
The day after I attended Joe McNally and David Hobby’s FlashBus Tour in Los Angeles, a young actor contacted me to arrange a headshot session. Improvising with my own lighting tools (umbrellas and grids – no softboxes), I tried to replicate some of the techniques I learned in LA, to the extent I could get away with it. Generally speaking, actors’ headshots cannot be too dramatic – the image should present the actor’s true appearance and not call attention to the photography.
I’m pleased with my fill and key lights, but the really exciting development for this shoot was the accent light – in this case a background light. The blue background in these images was created by firing a flash with a blue gel at a black backdrop! I’d been trying for months to get this effect by firing gelled flashes at white backdrops. It doesn’t work, because the white surface reflects the light, whereas black or grey surfaces absorb light. It also worked better because I moved the subject very far away from the background, and kept the key and fill lights very close to the subject. This way, the key and fill light did not spill onto the background. I had read about the technique, but seeing Joe McNally do it live helped me understand the actual distances required.
I feel like this session was a photographic rebirth, because, however I feel about my ability to elicit poses and expressions, I definitely feel dramatic progress in my control of light. The key, fill and accent lights are pretty much exactly as I wanted them in each image. I can barely wait for the next session.