The same subject, the same angle, but two completely different images
Donut shops wake up early, and Ralph’s, that emporium of deep fried dough in Cookeville, Tennessee, is no
exception. We got there one morning this past summer about 3am, which is roughly when the bakers get your apple fritters ready to roll. Oil bubbles, dough gets swirled in big buckets, icing gets spread, and trays of delights make their way to the front counter to brighten the day of working folks who stop by. After a pitstop at Ralph’s, they either hit the workplace with a glazedcruller-fuelled determination accompanied by a frenzied burst of efficiency, or they curl up on a packing blanket under their desk to sleep off a sugar coma, hoping no one else notices. (Or hoping everybody else also went to Ralph’s.)
Regardless, life at Ralph’s starts in the wee hours. So, how do you light up something to convey a sense of darkness? One Speedlight in the street is a potential approach. Street lights are nasty, right? Hard, edgy, off-colour. So, make your light look like that. I put one SB-910 out in the street on a Manfrotto stand. No shaper. Zoomed to 200mm. Hard light, designed to create shadows. Specifically, the shadow of the name of this establishment, cast up on the wall. A hot-shoed master flash fires through the window and triggers the Speedlight outside. Thank goodness there’s no traffic in Cookeville at 3am, ’cause my stand was smack in the middle of the street. You want distance, as the further a light like this is from your subject, the more it behaves like a real, distant street light.
I placed two gels, green and warm, vertically arrayed on the flash head. Street light colours are a nasty mix of warmish, greenish, and God knows what else. I literally tried to make my light look off-colour. Splattered with the uneven hardness of a single light beaming through windows, doors, and signs, Thomas Rodriguez, one of the bakers, mops up the store (left).
But, later in the day, the store is inflected with the steamy, full, vaporous light of summertime Tennessee. So, I decided to chuck the hard light approach, and make the Speedlights not so much light the scene but blend with it in soft, virtually unnoticeable ways. This approach is not lighting, really. It’s just mixing a couple of hotshoe flashes into the mix of what exists and letting them clean up the colour and direct the action a bit – the ‘action’ being peerless fiddler Nathan Stoops serenading the obviously enchanted Kiren and Koby (above).
I used a Lastolite tri-flash, but populated it with only two flashes. I figured I already had strong light coming from camera left, through the windows. So, again, experiment. Maybe I don’t need that left side flash, and I’ll just have two of them push a little light towards the right and deeper into the shop. The shaper is a Lastolite four-in-one umbrella. Seemed to work okay. First exposure on TTL was the right mix, so I went with it. Kids perched on the counter, working fast.
Same angle on the same shop. Couple of Speedlights. Night ’n’ day.
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Thank goodness there’s no traffic in Cookeville, Tennesse at 3am, ’cause my stand was smack in the middle of the street
Shot on a D810 and 20mm lens, at 1/250 sec, f/5 and ISO800 – plus that all-important flash outside, modified to look warmish, greenish and God knows what else
Same shop, same angle, same number of Speedlights – but a totally different feel