Well! It's been a long time since I've done one of these but I have decided I need to catch up on a few things! For example, I have not even mentioned that I became the joint owner of a studio over two years ago now! If you want to know a bit more about that though head over to the studio's website Rochester Studios.
What having a studio has done though is given me a much greater opportunity to learn more about using studio flash systems. Having the extra space to play around with lighting setups has been an absolute blessing and it does not matter how much you read and watch, in books and online, there is no substitute for doing. I have even had the nerve to do a few one to one tutorials which seem to have been well received. I do not claim to be an expert but I can cover the aspects of different types of strobes and modifiers, the pros and cons of using a light meter, and some basic lighting setups ranging from a single strobe for simple portraits up to as many as five for high key beauty work. I try to demystify some of the terms like key lights, fill lights, and effects lights as well as things like understanding hard and soft lighting and dizzying things like inverse square rules. I usually suggest an hour or two to understand these basics and then maybe another hour or two with a model to actually put the techniques into practice. If it is something that interests you drop me a line. The price is strongly driven by your choice of model!
For a while the studio took on a second floor which, unlike our main studio, consisted of a large open plan space. We decided that from a business point of view the additional floor was costing more to run than we really wanted so let the lease expire and did not renew it. As a final swan song though we wrecked it by doing a flour shoot! If you do not know what this is, it basically involves getting a model or two, giving them some flour, and letting them throw it about. Variations include putting it in their hair and allowing them to flick it out, or have somebody out of shot throwing flour back at them. All of this may sound a little puerile but believe me it is good fun (and strangely afterwards the models said their hair never felt so soft!)
Photographically speaking though there are a couple of challenges.
The first one is not a technical one but hinges on timing. To get the best shot you need to take it at just the right time. It is no good shooting before the model has started to flick their head back and throw the flour out. Likewise you do not want to be so late taking the shot the dust has quite literally stopped settling! The high tech approach to solving this problem is usually making sure that you and the model can count - normally to about 3 - and maybe a little trial and error.
Why not hold your finger on the shutter, cameras have amazing burst rates these days? Well, that brings us onto the second and more technical aspect of flour shoots - lighting.
Flour shoots without using some kind of strobe flash would probably be a pretty lack lustre affair. Whilst the camera may have a good burst rate, even the best strobes take a brief moment to cycle. Using flash achieves two important aspects to this style of photography. Firstly, the flash gives nice specular highlights to the flour particles making them stands out. Secondly, the flash is used to freeze the motion.
Let's talks about this second point. Without getting into the realms of high speed sync most cameras have a flash sync speed of around 1/200-1/250th of a second. If you set your shutter speed to faster than that, the chances are you will experience some kind of banding where the shutter curtain is already starting to close before the flash has illuminated the whole of the sensor (or film obviously). Even 1/250th of a second might not be enough to freeze the motion of a model flicking flour from their hair so how do we overcome this problem? Well we use the flash to freeze the motion. A flash has a very short duration. Just how short depends on how good the flash is and the power it is firing at. The lower the power setting the shorter the flash duration lasts. On the particular flash heads I was using for this shoot you could get the duration down to just 1/10,000th of a second - more than enough to freeze the motion. By setting the camera aperture and shutter speed to a combination that all but eliminates the ambient light in the room (for example around f16 at 1/250th) you only record the action during that brief spell the flash illuminates the scene for. There is a slight trade off between what aperture and flash power setting you use to get the exposure right which can increase the flash duration.
Typically flour shoots are lit with a strobe either side fitted with a gridded strip soft box, slightly behind and facing towards the model to illuminate the flour but such lighting can cause the model to be in shadow. To overcome this you can use what is effectively a fill light facing the model but care must be taken not to light the background too much. Typically a black background would be used. I used a soft box with a grid, set high and angled down steeply towards the model to keep light from spilling onto the background.
Once you have finished tinkering with the lighting setup the carnage can begin!
Of course the fun does not need to stop during the shoot. Playing around in post-production I used a gradient fill layer and masked out the areas that overlaid the model to produce this fabulous rainbow effect (even a few years lighting experience has not afforded me the chance to use gels that cleverly yet!)