The final word
Joe brings all his flash skills to bear on location in a puppeteer’s fascinating workshop
So, what do you do when you walk into a modernday, real-life version of Geppetto’s
workshop? Hopefully, light it reasonably well. Your efforts should be energised by this rare opportunity. And that would be the opportunity to visit the workshop of the famed Lambert Puppet Theatre in Ireland, with your subject being Liam Lambert, who continues this fabled tradition of puppet theatre, handed down to him by his father. What could be more fun with a camera in hand?
Move fast. Time is limited. Position the camera, and use a tripod. Bleeding some ambient light into this scene may require playing with shutter speeds, but your frame of reference, what you are seeing through the lens, should remain a constant. One of your missions as a location shooter is to eliminate variables, and the tripod, in this instance a heavy-duty Gitzo, helps you do that. The camera, a Nikon D5 with a 14-24mm f/2.8 lens, is at rest. The world you are about to light remains finite and defined.
Start propping – within the limits of your subject’s patience. Liam remained ever-calm and agreeable, even as we moved his masterpieces around the shop, hooked them on shelves and placed them where he would never put them.
Main light first. In this case a Lastolite Ezybox soft box, the one with the white interior. No silvery, fashion-y, bouncy light needed here. Just simple, smooth, rounded light. That annoying sliver of sunlight crackling full bore through the skylight, creating a hot zone, a four-stop disparity of exposure right across where you want to shoot? It’s easy to fix with a 3×3 diffuser panel, which flags and softens that hard slash of sun.
Light in the darkness
Then identify the black holes in the picture. Why move all those lovely puppets in there and not see them? Use radio-controlled wireless SB-5000 Speedlights, all gelled warm with full CTO gels, to pop some light here and there in the background. For instance, one was helpful putting a glimmer on a vintage baby basket behind Liam.
This is where the Justin Clamp, otherwise known as the Manfrotto 175F1, is invaluable. You can hang flashes all over the place in discreet fashion.
All told, we used a total of five flashes, just to splash some light on the background and the various amazing puppets in the picture. None had shapers. We had to move fast and just pull some detail out of the scene.
It is your obligation at the camera to manage foreground, middleground and background for the enjoyment of your viewer. To let something go black in the background is to cheat people out of some measure of the special nature of the visit. So, however quickly you need to move, throw some light around. There’s a main light for Liam, a bounce fill for the rack of puppets over his shoulder, a key kicker on the puppets hanging on his shelves to camera left, the aforementioned baby carriage light, and a spritz of warm light on the background. Finals at camera: 1/20 sec, f/5, ISO100.
To let something go black in the background is to cheat people out of some measure of the special nature of the visit