This is an age-old question for photographers in all disciplines of our profession. We all have our favorites, whether we are talking about cameras, lighting, grip, software, or any of the other gear we carry. Some of us can get quite passionate at times, professing the superiority of one thing over another. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of this from time to time. The bottom line is we use what we are comfortable with and what works for us. This is a good thing to a point, but it can also be a hindrance to advancement and growth.
Over the past several years our profession has seen radical change with the introduction and incredible advances of digital technology. I feel this has been mostly positive, but it has had an effect on the craft of photography. I’m not professing the superiority of my education back in the olden days of film, but I will say that what I learned is a craft.
Too many modern photographers rely on post-production fixes to get what was once accomplished in the camera. The art of lighting or seeing light seems to be fading into a tool in Photoshop.
So let’s talk a bit about lighting and what’s in the kit. As I mentioned, I came from the old school and learned how to use and control light in all forms. My kit includes hot lights, strobes and a boatload of modifiers. The brands you use and or like are irrelevant to this discussion as long as you know how each works and their features and limitations.
Light is light, whether it comes from the sun or a cord plugged into the wall. The key is to see it and learn how to manipulate it to your will. This is where the light modifiers come in to play. In my kit this is where I have spent most of my time and money. The soft boxes I have serve a dual purpose in that I can use them for both strobe and hot lights. They have silver interiors and are designed to handle heat. My personal preference is PhotoFlex as they offer a ton of sizes and shapes and stand behind their products. I also have several diffusion panels that I use with all of my lights as well as on location outdoors to control the sun. Many of these are homemade and range in size from 20 X 20 feet down to small sections of Plexiglas.
Next are reflectors. I have just about every size and type you can imagine, and, again, many are homemade, although I do own quite a few LiteDiscs that pack very well and are great for locations and travel. One of the indulgences I made a few years ago was a Matthews Dots & Fingers Survival Kit. This set me back a bit but was well worth the cost as I use these all the time.
Last is a collection of other strange and interesting devices that I use to manipulate light. These include glass blocks, screens, graders, strains, colanders, different kinds of textured glass and so on. Most of these have been found in second hand stores or at garage sales, and are used to play with the light.
I cannot emphasize the word “play” enough. We all need to apply this to all of our work by pushing the envelope of the gear we use and our comfort zone. One of the best things to come from the digital revolution is the instant feedback we get. Today we know instantly how a lighting treatment is working. The term “happy accident” is one I have embraced throughout my career, and I’ve always sought new ways to solve problems on set. Testing is the key to growth as a photographer, though it’s not always practical to try new things during a job. If time allows, shooting extras once you get the shot the client wants is always a good thing. I can’t count the number of time I presented a “test” shot that ultimately was used by the client.
I hope the thing you take away from is this that what’s in your lighting kit is not as important as what is in your imagination. The only limits on you, your growth, and your success are how far and how much you stretch it.
As always, I look forward to you thought and comments.