Owning up to some bad habits

“It’s all about light”. That’s a message that I hope everyone who visited the technique pages on my web site will take away. When you are the one who controls that light, you have a large number of options open to you. This month I have been trying a new toy and I thought that I’d use that as an excuse to write about how and why I choose the quality of the light.

©Neil Turner/TSL | London | December 2004

The first thing I have to do is own up to some fairly bad habits:

The first is that I go through personal fashions in the way I light and in the kit that I carry with me. One month I’ll use softboxes and then the next month I’ll use umbrellas. One week I will keep the flash as only one element of the scene and the next the flash will overwhelm the ambient light.

My second bad habit is that I will light women in a different way to men. 99% of the time I will use a much softer set up for female subjects than I would for males.

Thirdly, I’m aware that I tend to use a harder light on older skin (especially men). Older people seem to have a lot less moisture in their skin and so their faces have a lot less shine.

I’m much more likely to direct a spectacles wearer about the angle of their head, simply to avoid getting bad reflections in their glasses. I also try to find out if people wear contact lenses and get them to look more squarely at me to avoid getting any strange shapes in their eyes.

So far I’m painting myself as a bit of a lazy photographer. I like to think that it’s not laziness – more a realistic attitude towards getting the shot right. When you are shooting people, you often end up shooting a very different picture than the one that you first envisaged so my bad habits are there to simply give me an easy starting point. Getting on with the shoot is part of my style. I rarely spend very much time wandering around formulating ideas, largely because I am regularly expected to set up, shoot and break down in a matter of minutes. Having the “safe shot” in the bag is something of a religion to me and I find that giving in to my “bad habits” makes my practice a lot easier.

Many photographers use the same technique day in and day out. I cannot claim to do everything differently every day, and sometimes I feel like a chef who has a limited range of ingredients that I can select, mix and adapt to create new and interesting combinations. Every once in a while a new ingredient becomes available, a new toy to play with. Does that make me gadget boy? Or does it simply help to keep my work fresh?

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