Creating Raw Moments With Lighting

Creating Raw Moments With Lighting


A pop, a flash, a split second later, a photograph is made. But this photograph… it’s got some spice to it, something you can’t see with your eyes, and there is a lot more going on than you might think in order to make that photograph. Spoiler alert… it’s off-camera flash lighting. Most of us know about flash, and how it “helps” us take photos, but most don’t know what you can do with it when you know enough to control flash and manipulate your environment (photographically). I’ll spare you non-photographers the details, but this is the method I use 85% of the time I have a camera in front of my face. A literal carload of lighting equipment follows me to every shoot. It’s a giant pain in the ass, a couple hundred pounds of equipment, cords, battery packs, etc. to lug around from shoot to shoot, but in the end, all of it is worth it, well worth it. Photos with or without lighting is a night-and-day difference. To light, or not to light, it’s not really a question in my book, as I’m lighting my compositions every chance I get. After the first shoot I ever did with off-camera lighting a few years back, I was hooked, and I haven’t looked back since. These are the photos that make people stop and look, appreciate the uniqueness that otherwise couldn’t have been achieved without some kind of lighting intervention/manipulation.

Lighting lets me create the moments I want to capture, bring things to attention via lighting, hide things I don’t want attention on, freeze motion… just about anything I want. Given any environment, regardless the existing ambient lighting conditions, I can roll-in and create something completely different with my flash lighting. I’m not just dealt a hand of cards and forced to play them, I can “stack the deck” in other words to make the outcome I’d like to see. You’ll often hear photographers say that they “look at the world in photographs,” or they “look at the world through a lens.” My process, and other skillful lighting photographers, take it a few steps further. I don’t just look at the world as photographs, but photographs with the perspective after flash lighting is factored in. This is where a lot of the skill of vision and lighting knowledge really come into play. This kind of “sight” is rare and takes forever to really nail in terms of walking in and knowing your limitations and plan of action with lights. It’s learned the long, hard way, but the development of the skill rewards in abundance with every photo shoot completed, and is a bundle of knowledge and skill that will continue to grow until the last photograph you take. With this knowledge, location selection, light modifiers, times of day, and knowing how to mix in ambient light levels is much more efficient and beneficial (they are all a part of the conceptualized vision of a photograph in the mind). When I turn the camera around to show my subjects the photos, they look around the area to make sure they are not crazy, to make sure there are still lights on in the room or that the sun is still in the sky, because my images say otherwise. It’s very much a look of confusion, the usual response is something like,  “woah, how did you do that?”

At this level, it’s not “documenting” light with a camera, it’s literally “creating” these raw moments with lighting. It allows you flood an image with light, providing crisp, clear images that ambient lighting can’t provide. It can take a well-lit room and make it dark, or take a dark room and make it filled with light. The colors are more brilliant, the contrast can’t be beat. It brings an old location new life, something you never saw before even if you’ve seen that same place a thousand times. The combinations in which you can transform just one location is practically endless with the proper gear, vision, and know-how.

This was my mission when I walked into Toledo High School. A little more than a week ago, I headed back to my old high school, a place where a ton of old memories were made. The driving force for this visit can be read about here: If you are all caught up on the whole reasoning… my goal in the scheme of things was to paint a new perspective for the students, a new perspective of themselves. To show them that they should be just as active, proud, and aware of the town they live in as anyone else. The photography had to be dramatic, inspiring, eye-catching… different. The photography would turn the school and themselves into something they’ve never seen before. I can tell them they are special until I’m blue in the face, but I knew that I had to show them, not tell them.

I set out to create raw, previously unrevealed perspectives of the students. The result are the photos you see on this post. I think all of these photos have something really special to them, whether it be an action, emotion, or situation that speak for the capture. Athleticism, intelligence, passion, dedication, and many more can be found in this collection. It’s what I wanted to show the students, what they are capable of, and what they do every day without thinking about it. Freeze these things so that appreciation and pride lasts longer than just for a moment.

These photos are all taken in different parts of the school, exposing a wide spectrum of skills and talents for the students to be incredibly proud of. The goal was to capture all of these different aspects, yet give them all a similar look and feel so that in the end they were a group, a collection. All of these were photographed in one school day. The crammed schedule helped me keep consistency from concept to concept, but pushed our time for each setup to about 40 minutes from arriving to leaving a location.

Inspiration, it’s the first cog in the machine that Project Showcase is hoping forms and achieves many awesome things for the local community this coming school year. There is a gigantic resource of more than enough fuel in the town of Toledo to make things great again, and it’s in the form of the entire student body. What Project Showcase just did was light the match and tossed it in the tank. Next Fall, at the beginning of the school year, when we visit the students once more, it will be their turn to act, create, and give themselves to the town. Projects to liven up a dying community, one that shouldn’t be. We are hoping that fuel tank explodes in the form of greatness for Toledo.