AN UNCONVENTIONAL LIGHT
Light is always around us in one form or another. As discussed in many of my other articles, we often overlook every-day light sources because they are virtually omni-present. For many beginner photographers, light either comes from the Sun, or purpose bought sources like flashes or CFL units, which are adapted with various modifiers. Little, if any thought is given to things like lamps, torches, candles, TVs, Ipads or other common household sources.
Of course, absolutely any light source can be utilized successfully, depending upon the application. Indeed, many of these widely available items can provide the best "mood lighting", because they generate it automatically, rather than a person having to emulate it with a flash, gel and/or softbox. There will always be limitations, like inability to control the power output, action-stopping ability, light angle or shape but, that's part of the challenge of good photography - problem solving.
Whilst at my sister's house the other day, I was sat in the living room watching TVwith my 4 year old niece. The ceiling lights were off and the room was dimly lit by the Christmas tree and some decorative gift boxes near the fireplace, which contain similar bulbs that adorn the tree. It was very atmospheric and cosy and I loved the ambiance that was created. I had hoped to photograph my niece but she was a bit poorly and thoroughly engrossed in a Disney movie, so I gave up on the idea.
After a while, Dave, the family dog, had decided to slope off the couch and lie on the wooden floor to cool off. He was positioned close to the light-up gift boxes which cast a nice warm glow upon him. Being relatively small, they were quite high contrast but as there were 3 of them, they were acting as a soft fill too. I grabbed my camera out the bag and crawled across to Dave to photograph him. My presence disturbed his slumber and intially he wouldn't co-operate. He kept standing up and wandering off. Typical!
I opted to take some of his dried food from the kitchen and lure him back to the light boxes. Being hand fed, Dave thought he was getting something special and obediently sat awaiting his "treat". I would then grab shots as quickly as I could using my Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 VC, before he lost interest and attempted to walk away. I will just add that this lens has been an absolute god-send to me of late. As I suffer with a benign essential tremor in my hands and arms, photography is more challenging and handheld, low-light shots are not even something I normally contemplate as the resulting photos are always ruined by motion blur.
I wanted to capture a festive scene and so elected to shoot at 24mm to take in as much of the room as possible. This allowed me to shoot at a slow shutter speed without having to ramp up the ISO sky high. It also added to the cuteness factor, due to the distorting effects of the lens. I framed the shot to place the tree with bokeh highlights in the background, to add depth and interest to the image. I also altered the position of the light boxes which were just to the right of the camera. I wanted them as close as possible to increase the exposure on Dave and ensure I had a nice catch-light in the eye.
After some colour grading inside Photoshop and introducing some addition background bokeh on the righthand side to break up the dark area, "Footsteps On The Roof" was the resulting image, from an impromptu photo shoot.
By simply identifying, utilizing and adapting light that was readily available to me, I was able to create a picture with a great deal of festive atmosphere. Dave could be sat by the hearth, lit by the smoldering embers of a log fire. The LED boxes were a similar size, hue and brightness, which lends to the feel of the shot.
With so many of these types of small, colourful light sources available this time of year, why not attempt something similar yourself ? They create an ambiance that is often very difficult to replicate with flashes, without additional modifiers and colour gels. Be sure to turn off all other lights, as being constant sources, they will get recorded onto the sensor and ruin the mood. If you have an uncooperative subject, vary your approach and be sure to have some treats ready to hand, to entice them with!