“Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.”
~ Shine on, you crazy diamond – Pink Floyd
Common sense sometimes yields the best results when it comes to people photography.
When photographing a person, the eyes truly are the window to the soul. When we are attracted to person, their eyes are a key drawing point. We remember a person’s eye color. It is an identifying characteristic on our driver’s license. We write songs about it. Why don’t we photograph it properly?
In controlling light, we often forget about the subtle consequences of our actions. Many people paint the walls of their studio black and turn down the ambient light so that the color of the light of their strobes will be pristine and predictable. Irises contract in bright light and open in dim light. When a studio is too dark, the strobes fire and an enormous black pupil is the result. This shot was taken with the ambient off and the strobes firing out of darkness. Black holes in the sky?
This shot was taken with the modeling lights on the Speedotron strobe set illuminating the scene. The low-wattage modeling lights help a little, driving the pupil down in size but still not natural-looking. If I am going to make that eye sparkle, I want more iris.
My studio has fluorescent tube lighting at 5000° Kelvin with a 95 CRI. With the ambient lights turned on providing near perfect color temperature with my strobes, the pupil contracts to a workable level. I would love the have the tiny pupil of a full shade situation but my studio (basement-level) doesn’t allow for that.
Bottom line is that if you want to have amazing eyes in your people pictures you have to shrink the pupil to an acceptable level. That means cranking the ambient or using some sort of mechanism that tricks the eye into restricting light. I chose to match my strobes with a near-temperature ambient fluorescent. Note that all of these pictures were taken with identical settings: 1/200th second, F13, ISO 100. Regardless of my ambient, my exposure is still based upon the power of my flash.
F-stop controls the strobe light. Shutter speed controls the ambient. ISO controls both. The subtle combination means that ambient doesn’t affect exposure-no matter the ambient, but it sure affects the eye’s vitality.
Rikk Flohr © 2009