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  • Anthony Lewis

Everybody Starts Somewhere


 

Clickbait rating: Um... it's mostly not. Let's rate it at 83% not clickbait.

If that makes you squeamish, skip to the end.


THE ENDGINNING


Posers, right? Because who hasn't picked up a camera for the very first time, found they had a knack for it and became a portraitist, proudly exclaiming, " I'm a natural light photographer!"...?

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Hi, it's me. I'm posers. And I found my style, my voice, and my confidence as a portrait photographer by literally shooting in the dark.


That was when most of my experimentation and learning first happened: an editing job took my time and energy during the sun's hours and when I was finally done, the moon was out twerking in the sky.


I never wanted to shoot at night, since -- at the time -- the A7S hadn't been a thing yet. That and I didn't have the money for it once it was a thing. And try as I might, photographing in low light, aided only by fluorescents, some tungsten bulbs and the twerking moon was very limiting.

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Those months spent in the firefly garden of New York City's streets at night taught me two things:


1) Muscle memory isn't just memory. It's also muscle.


2) Sometimes, you just need more light.



I learned, slowly, that camera-wielding was neither a quickly nor easily granted gift. Not while solely using upper body strength with a heavy camera or lens. Not even while hacking some surface to make sure a photo wouldn't come out blurry during longer exposures.


It took years for me to develop those specific muscles. Years of heavy lifting, months of carrying needlessly heavy backpacks and finding stillness while my body resisted the city winds of Spring, Autumn and Winter. Summer in NYC doesn't have winds, it has hot breath.


Per my second lesson, it's self explanatory. I'd like to take this opportunity to express that ignorance, much like beauty, is subjective. Just because I didn't have an understanding of studio lighting or flashes does not mean that I was incapable or incompetent as a photographer.


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It's important for me to say this because I understand that some of my clientele and audience include people who are not just in front of the lens but also behind it. In each case, it's crucial that you not permit yourself any demeaning just because you don't know something yet.


 

WHAT'S IN A PROLOGUE?

I spent a day at a dope venue in Silver Spring, MD, called I/O Spaces. The amazing folks over at StreetMeetDC had organized a collaborative event with the venue and a lot of photographers came to photograph one another. I mean, they came to photograph models, but... who's up at 11AM on a Saturday?


Anywho, as models started rolling in to collaborate with the camera-clicking hoard, I got to work exercising my muscle. I set my lights up and slowly formed a controlled environment to the best of my ability, using three flashes, two 5-in-1 reflectors, a couple of gels and Anita, my 1DS MKii.


Let's take a look at the amazingly talented DMV model Por, from that day, below:



Semi-poorly-drawn lines here 👇🏿 help explain how we got here ☝🏿. To clarify, the "P" is where Por stood for each portraits above, the camera icon is me (wave and say hi) and the weird face-hugger looking thing is my light-stand.


Lighting Diagram

While there was a skylight above us, letting in daylight, the exposures I had dialed in basically had me shooting in the dark. The daylight was accompanied by fluorescent lights but, in effect, at an ISO of 50, a shutter speed of (usually) 200 and an aperture of anywhere from 5.6 and up, it was night time for me all over again... at 2 o'clock in the afternoon.


One Speedlite was clamped to the bookcase and another was sat on either a table or chair. I pointed both through the collapsible scrim inside the sleeve of my 5-in1, which was held up by a light stand with boom arm affixed to the top. Here's a pair of snaps from my phone, showing a slightly modified setup from earlier that same day, using the same gear:



In the vertical picture, you'll see that orange wall from the diagram above. And yes, that's my pink backpack, stuffed with odds and ends, being used as weight to prevent the stand from tipping over. In the wide picture, you'll see that I popped open another collapsible reflector with the gold side facing where I sat the subjects being photographed.


Before and After Diagram Showing Original Photo and Final Edit

THE MIDDLE


In case you missed it, tons of time passed between me only knowing how to use available light (whether that was the sun or twerking moon, a bodega window or a tall street lamp) and the final images you're seeing in this article. I'm super comfortable with using lights of almost any kind these days.


But I had to learn them. And that took a lot of failure.


I recognized that I couldn't get away with continually asking people to meet me at 1PM or later, in hopes of avoiding the harsh midday sun. I wasn't always permitted the luxury of a bright, evenly lit, overcast day: a favourite lighting condition for portraitists anywhere. And when Autumn or Winter rolled around, daylight was of course increasingly limited. The sun has places to go and bills to pay.


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I could have wallowed in discouragement, limited by not knowing how to properly use flash or pro studio strobes.


Instead, I learned as much as I could with the sun, moon and the night life of the city, bought my first set of REALLY cheap lights and took a lot of "meh" photos.



I'd be happy to share some of those. You, as readers, just need to let me know if you're into that. But, hopefully, you're probably out taking a lot of "meh" photos and getting better yourselves. In which case, I'm elated for you.


Or maybe I'm being too optimistic and you're just here for more pictures.


 

TL;DR

  1. The Sun has a whole family to feed.

  2. There's nothing actually wrong with natural light.

  3. There's nothing wrong with artificial light either.

  4. You can expand your knowledge of light to become a better photographer.

  5. I have portraits to show you. 👇🏿



Want to see the full gallery? Visit our dedicated Pixieset page for it here: StreetMeetDC - As Seen by the Owls.


 

Following me on Instagram yet? 👉🏿 @neatshinyowl

Want to book a portrait session? 👉🏿 Click Here to Get Started

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