Using Darkness to Paint with Light - two Nokton shots

Started Apr 15, 2013 | Discussions thread
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RoelHendrickx Forum Pro • Posts: 25,635
Using Darkness to Paint with Light - two Nokton shots

A few days ago I shared my first clown portrait shot with the Voigtländer 17.5mm Nokton:

But that image was shot in pretty normal lighting conditions : a small trailer in daylight, with some light from the windows and a fluorescent light fixture above.  Nothing really special.

Today I want to show two more shots made in more extreme conditions, i.e. in the deep darkness of the Circus tent backstage.

The point I want to make is that it helps to have a lot of darkness in order to paint with light, in the most immediate sense of the word photography.  The experience has heightened my determination to be an available light photographer, especially for documentary photography.   Fast lenses are really invaluable for that.  They are the only way to work with speed and flexibility, and maintain atmosphere together with spontaneity.

Using flash, even off-camera, could never have resulted in the same overall lighting effect, and would probably even have obliterated the particular phenomenon in the second photo.

Oh sure, effects like these could probably also be created with a wide range of diverse and complicated studio lighting tools in a controlled situation.  But I lack those skills, and moreover : it would take posing and directing and lots of time, to create a staged shot.  Even if one could make it pass for real life, the maker would still know it is fake.

The ability to just use available light on the split second it occurs, injects the images with a freshness and authenticity impossible to recreate.

At least that is my idea.  But judge for yourself.

The above shot was taken when clown Lionel Chaves was powdering his face and head.  I had made a few previous shots of him in front of the largish make-up mirror with fluorescent light (behind him) and had positioned myself close to him in order to catch his eye (sharp in focus) in the smaller hand mirror, while his bigger reflection would be out-of-focus in the larger mirror (and the back of his head out of focus near me.  But then he turned around to see if he was covering the whole back of his head with powder.  Light bounced off the smaller mirror in his hand and danced everywhere with his movements.  I quickly refocused and shot off a burst of three-four photos.  And I caught a break, because in one of them, the reflected light throws a nice soft glow on his face and eye.

The second image exploits a light phenomenon I had witnessed during my first visit on the previous day (this is an image from my second day of backstage shooting).  I had seen that there was a small hole in the roof of the tent.  Not a big deal, except during a period of roughly 15 minutes when the sun is straight in front of that small hole and projects a ray of light into the interior of the tent.  The ray of light first hits the floor frontstage, but with the turning of the sun, it travels higher and more to the left, and finally, for one or two minutes, the ray clears the top of the frontstage backdrop and travels into the backstage area.  I knew this moment would come and kept an eye on the ray of light.  When it was about to enter the backstage, I positioned myself there in order to see what would happen and if photo opportunities would arise.  I caught this image almost immediately.  Clown Jeannot is on the left, and he is mainly lit by the fluorescent light above the board with electrical circuits, that he is operating for his wife's on stage performance.  The person on the right is one of the stage hands, dressed in black.  The ray of sun divides them, lighting his face.  I felt this could work as a metaphor of the many lives in the circus.  There is the glamour frontstage, but even backstage there is a kind of division between the stars in their concentration, and the anonymous extra workforce that helps make the magic happen.

Need I say that I am happy with the Voigtländer Nokton?

Once I master it, I hope to deliver good work with it.

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Roel Hendrickx
lots of images:
my E-3 user field report from Tunisian Sahara:

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