So there I was, all alone for the night in a back country hut. I had a fire for company, and thought a nice firelight picture would be good to try and do. I love to light, but in this case, using flash was just going to result in ugly shots with absolutely no atmosphere, like this:
With limited control over the on-board flash on my little Canon G12, I was going to have to work with available light, namely the fire. I love a lighting challenge, so started experimenting with subject and exposure. The bare hut was a little boring, so setting aside my mild aversion to self portraits, I decided I was going to have to be in the picture. After a little bit of experimenting, I realised that I had all I needed for three point lighting if I used the two candles that were handy. I had a little control over the brightness of the fire: namely add fuel, and as for the candles, I could change their position to adjust the light they put on the scene. All I really needed to do was set up for a nice long exposure. After a few experiments at different shutter speeds, I settled on a self-timer shot of 10 seconds duration. The hardest part was sitting absolutely still for that long.
I love the quality of this light. The flicker of the flames adds a very soft quality to it and I'm sure that's what makes a lot of old masters paintings so distinctive - candle light. Definitely something to work with in future and add to my photographer's tool kit.
Next I checked the sky. It had cleared - a good sign for my walk out the next day, and better yet, the Southern Cross was shining above the chimney of the hut. The steep terrain and long grass meant vantage points for my little Gorillapod were limited, so I had to content myself with a low angle shot of one half of the hut. To light it without overpowering the stars, I got out my head lamp, and painted the hut with light over the 10 seconds needed to expose for the sky, concentrating a little extra light on the chimney. Luckily the fire and candles inside balanced the starlight fairly well without any adjustment.
I've always been aware of light painting, in the Egyptian artifact pictures by Brian Brake for instance, but since I've put all of my time into mastering strobe and flash, never tried it myself. Another new technique ticked off the list, and definitely one to put to further use.
Far from having an early, boring night all alone, I was having a ball experimenting with my limited resources. So much so that it was soon midnight and time to turn in. I planned to explore some of the ruins of the Phoenix gold mine the next day before walking back down the stream. I got into my sleeping bag, and as the firelight faded, drifted off to sleep wondering what I'd find, and of course, what the light would be like.
More in the next post.