I categorize my photography career into two distinct periods; ‘before’ learning how to use off camera lighting and ‘after.’
There's not much point talking about the 'before' part
I had enrolled in an advanced lighting course at a local college because I felt I had reached a plateau; my work had been getting stale and I desperately wanted to grow, to advance and learn. I had photographed every conceivable object under the sun at the widest aperture I could and my portfolio was beginning to look like I was obsessed with bokeh.
I was curious about how all those amazing Annie Liebowitz photos for Vanity were achieved. I was in love with her cinematic lighting and her ability to infuse drama in to her photographs. So I took a lighting course.
Much of the course was indoors; we learned how to use strobes, how shoot against a backdrop. I learned theory backed up with practical lighting scenarios…but somehow I felt that there was still something ‘missing.’
The came the fateful day; I remember it clearly. It was a cold, crisp, wintery blue sky with a spattering of puffy convective clouds spreading out over my hometown of Vancouver. Today was the day we were going to take the strobes outdoors and ‘balance’ light; essentially mixing strobe light with ambient sunlight to create an image. I had no idea what to expect.
We set up the light, a beauty dish, above the subject and the setting 3 o’clock winter sun directly behind her. We metered the ambient and metered the strobe and then came my turn to shoot…
What happened next was perhaps the biggest milestone in my career. I depressed the shutter, I heard a pop and a moment later an image appeared on my little 30d LCD.
I gasped. This was it! This is exactly what I had been looking for! It had that same drama, that same cinematic feel. The clouds in the background were underexposed, making them appear stormy, dangerous, dramatic and the model, illuminated by a perfectly balanced strobe light, her dress flaring in movement, her expression poised…it was perfect. She looked like a goddess, a Cleopatra set against an epic backdrop.
I never went back, I couldn’t, nothing was the same after that. I had done it and it was all I wanted to do…
Of course since then there’s been a lot of refining and tuning, but essentially that type of lighting is the driving force behind much of my photography and the workshops I teach. Photography is like being a singer, you have to find your voice, you need to refine it, to differentiate it. Only then will your work be recognizable.