I’m a huge, huge fan of strobes. You could probably tell that. It really took meeting Elliot Erwitt in person to convince me that natural light was equally as awesome. Natural light is a fickle mistress. It’s there, or it’s not. There’s things you can do to seduce her into coming out with you. The right windows in your studio, checking the weather, knowing how the light hits at certain times of the year, buying chocolates and flowers. Ok, maybe that last one doesn’t work with natural light, but I live in Shinjuku, and that gives us a huge, totally awesome third alternative – available light.
I know that I’ve heard some of you gush about the awesome light that the ubiquitous Japanese vending machine throws out. Heck, I know I have some awesome shots with it. Kabuki-cho is… Kabuki-cho, and the bright side of that is that the Higashi-Shinjuku Shotengai has mad security cameras in order to keep that undesirable element restricted to the other side of the street. What’s so great about security cameras? The spotlights they installed along with the security cameras. If you don’t begrudge some security guard maybe watching you shoot, then those lights are gorgeous.
The lighting in my neighborhood is largely academic to most of you. Of course, I know that some of you out there care. But the fact that it exists is not. The huge advantage of all of this available, but not natural, light is that it’s the same, all the time. Well… sometimes a store closes, or the ground shakes a little, and some cup somewhere up north cracks, and then everyone’s turning off all the lights, but other than that, it’s predictable. You can go out every night and learn those lights. You can keep a location scouting log if you want, or just live and breath your neighborhood until you know it’s foibles. Once you know it, you can own it. You’ve got a model who wants a certain kind of atmosphere? Bang. You’ve got a spot lined up, and you know what the available light will be, and how much strobe, if any, you need to pack. You know what the white balance issues will be, because you’ve shot there already, and you know what gels you’ll want to bring. You probably know what the traffic flow is like, and how to shoot there without making anyone angry.
Lately, there’s been a particular sort of available artificial light that’s less predictable, but awesome when you can capitalize on it, and that’s a lot, because we’re all addicts. I’m talking about phones, about iPods, and iPads. (Not Kindles though. They’re awesome, but not for this.) All of your models are bringing their own softboxes. It’s brilliant. As a street photographer, it’s a blast. As a portrait photographer, it’s another tool in your toolbox without even bringing anything extra with you. And if you’re in love with grainy film, it’s perfect.