Guest writer, Corey Rich is primarily an outdoor/adventure photographer, but last winter he decided to do something totally different and shoot CrossFit—the masochistic athletic craze sweeping the nation. More than anything, he was keen to experiment with heavy-duty artificial lighting in an indoor environment–not exactly what he's known for. His goals were simply to elevate his lighting skills, unlock his creativity in different ways, learn some new things, and have fun in the process.
Del Lafountain owns the local CrossFit gym here in South Lake Tahoe, where I live. I called up the hulking Del to see if I could use his facility to stage a shoot; Del agreed and we set a date. Prior to the shoot, I either rented or bought a ton of expensive lighting equipment. I even flew in a lighting tech from Southern California to assist me. Ultimately the shoot was a success—I achieved all my goals, got some great high-contrast images using our ProFoto strobes, and mos importantly, we had a lot of fun.
This shot of Del Lafountain, however, standing in front of an American flag, was ironically one of the only images I shot that day that used natural light. But it’s one of my favorites.
Here’s how I shot it:
Scout Your Location First: Prior to the shoot, I scouted the gym with a pen and pad, noting interesting backdrops and logging ideas for how to make the most of this small indoor environment. I wrote down interesting backdrops and crucial foreground objects. I identified different things the models could be doing—kettlebell swings, squats, rowing, rings, etc. This American flag was one of the standout backdrops and I knew I’d be shooting someone in front of it.
Don’t Get Attached To One Idea: I’d arrived on location, dead set on working with strobes. It was the whole point of the shoot, after all. However, it’s important to be flexible and open-minded, to see possibilities and maximize their potential. The beautiful natural light pouring through the window right in front of this striking American flag called out to me. Here was a photographic opportunity that was almost being handed to me on a silver platter. I decided I’d shoot this one without the strobes.
Get the Light Right, First: As photographers, we’re always searching for the most dramatic light possible, and that’s true whether Mother Nature creates it, or we create it ourselves. The first things to think about in any photographic situation is: What is the light doing? How can I creatively use it to my advantage?
About 10 years ago, I purchased a smoke machine from a Halloween store, and it has come in handy on many shoots over the years. To really exaggerate/enhance the natural light beaming through the gym’s window, I turned on the smoke machine. As I focused on shooting pictures, my assistant fanned the smoke into the frame with a piece of cardboard. The smoke makes the light look more “beam-like.” The shafts of light are subtle enough that they don’t look fake, but they greatly enhance the photo’s drama.
Getting the Light Right, Part 2: Now that I had a cool effect with the smoke machine, I knew I needed to work on casting some light onto my hulking model, Del. I didn’t want to blast him with the strobes, because then I’d lose the natural light beams coming through the window. But I didn’t want him completely in the shadows, either. I wanted just enough light to add definition to his physique.
At first we tried using a reflector (beauty dish) to bounce the natural light back onto Del and fill in the shadows. However, we couldn’t angle the reflector in a way that was useful, so we abandoned the reflector idea and turned on a single 1x1 Litepanel LED to fill in the shadows. The LED was variable-temperature, giving us the ability to control the warmth of the shadows. We warmed the light just ever so slightly, turning an otherwise cold shadow into a slightly warmer tint on Del.
Next, Composition: Now that I had the light dialed in exactly the way I wanted it, I turned my focus to making the most interesting composition—something that would capture the light pouring in through the window, show the American flag and, of course, show Del swing a kettlebell that I probably couldn’t even pick up. I tried a few different lenses, from wide to tight, ultimately settling on a 24-70mm f/4.0 Nikkor lens. I worked with Del, asking him to move a few steps to the right or left so that his position was exactly right in relation to the American flag. Now, I was ready for the peak action.
Finally, the Decisive Moment: What is great photography but a perfectly frozen moment in time? Now that I had the light right, the composition perfect, all that was left was to get the perfect moment. I shot about two hundred frames of Del swinging this mammoth kettlebell over his head, machine-gunning my camera to capture that peak motion of action. But after all that effort, Del inevitably became exhausted (though at first it seemed like he could swing kettlebells forever). And that was it: the perfect moment. That authentic moment when Del put his kettlebell down, assumed a natural posture and tried to catch his breath. Here, the light, composition, moment and background had finally all come together.
To learn more from Corey Rich, he'll be on creativeLIVE on August 26-28 teaching Still and Motion: on location.