Most of the time, I’m waiting for the light or accepting the light I have been given when I photograph landscapes. On one memorable occasion I used flash to enhance a foreground object, and I have some other pictures in my head that would use a similar technique, but the vast majority of my landscape and nature photography uses only the natural light in the scene.
Portraits are a different story; I’m almost always adding or modifying light when I stick a person in front of my lens. It can be as simple as sitting in front of a nice window, or as complex as my strobes, stands, and modifiers will allow. Environmental portraits add even more variables, but if you’re careful, or lucky, you can find clever solutions that solve several problems at once. Take this picture of my wife, for instance:
She had just finished playing a recital on this lovely early-20th-Century organ, and I wanted a portrait of her at the console. Not only was I not feeling imaginative, I was working under pressure from my two kids, who were bored with Daddy taking pictures. In such circumstances you lean on what you’ve tried before, so I dug into my bag of standard combinations and pulled out the box labeled “Soft Key/Hard Rim.” I started with the rim light, placed behind my wife frame left, and was pleasantly surprised by my first test exposure.
I should not have been surprised, though; a couple seconds’ calm thought would have reminded me that the rim would do double duty, providing separation on my wife’s head and back as well as illuminating the facade of the organ. The mirror above the music stand would even kick a little extra fill on my wife’s left side. All that remained was to pose her and shoot.
If I ever have to take another picture of an organist at the keyboard, this will be on my short list of possible lighting setups. It’s simple, quick, good-looking, and satisfies the need to light the environment as well as the musician.