Side by Side

What do these two photos have in common?  (Hint: the fact that neither is very good isn’t the correct answer.)  Hopefully you’re able to see the relationship; the photo on the left is a snapshot of a massage room at a medical school, while the photo on the right is a shot of my bathroom.

My bathroom?  Yep.  The massage room is one of the probable shooting locations I was shown during a tour the other day.  It’s a small room with dim, environmental lighting.  Such a small room, in fact, that I had to stand in the hall and shoot through the doorway just to fit most of it in (the G10 is many things, but it is not a particularly wide-angle P&S).  My bathroom is also a small room, and with the lights off and an amber gel on a flash (I realize that the light in the room is more orange than amber, but the color is just for visualization – slap on any gel you want, the end result will be the same).

The point here is that shooting in tiny spaces makes me nervous.  Stick yourself in a closet with two models, some lightstands, umbrellas, and a prop, and then try to make a photo that doesn’t show the equipment.  It’s hard!  I could have thrown the Speedlite onto the camera and bounced it off the ceiling, of course.  That would have lit the room, and pretty much killed that spa-like warm light.  And if I stuck the amber gel on the Speedlite and bounce it, everything would be bathed in warm light, including my model.

The solution?

Heck if I knew for sure.  Which is why I came home and setup lights in the bathtub.  Now my bathroom isn’t shaped quite the same as the massage room; the indents for the shower and washer/dryer mess with the overall lighting, and of course there’s no massage table.  But the point is, it’s similar enough to practice lighting it.  And as it turns out, bouncing an amber geled SB-25 off the ceiling – coupled with another SB-25 in a reflective umbrella aimed at the models – gets about the look I wanted.  Look at the photo on the right again.  It’s rough – very rough – but it shows that yes, I can light it that way, and it will probably work.


Now when I walk into that massage room during the shoot, I have a place to start, instead of standing there like a monkey trying to do a math problem.  Would that setup be the perfect solution?  Maybe not, but at least it’s a starting place – a logical starting place at that.

Of course, it turns out that we shot the massage part of the gig in a classroom anyway…  But it was still worth the 15 minute investment at home, to be prepared later on.  I highly suggest that you do this sort of exercise.  Any time you know you’re going to have to light a room for a gig, go home and practice on a room of similar size & shape.  It doesn’t have to be fancy – just throw some light around a few different ways and see what it looks like.  If it works, great – you know how to start when you’re on the job.  And if it doesn’t work, then you have time to come up with something else, without a client standing behind you tapping his foot.

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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