Lighting By Land Cruiser
by Glen Howey
Hard and soft lighting, side lighting and backlighting… it was time to play.
It had been a cold, bleak sunless sunset out at the old miners' cribs on the wild stretch of 4x4 track much loved by adventurers and photographers known as the Nevis Valley. The light was dying, and with it, my enthusiasm. Often in these situations, my creative juices start to flow, I think mostly out of sheer stubbornness to accept I’ve come all this way to achieve a photographic fail. An idea fought its way into my mind's eye, and my latest series of images has grown.
I’m something of a photographic minimalist; after years of travelling as a backpacker and wanting to be light on my feet, I shoot with as little gear as possible. My location lighting kit consists of a head torch and a cell phone, but on this day, I thought I’d expand that dramatically.
About a hundred and fifty years ago, I did a two-year Advanced Diploma in photography at Wellington Polytechnic under the guidance of Tony Whincup, very much an icon of New Zealand photography. One of the papers I did was studio lighting, being totally focused on Landscape, Documentary and Travel. I must admit I struggled to muster much creative energy and did enough to fight my way to a B+ grade, knowing I’d never use these skills again. But oh, how wrong I was! Thankfully it all came flooding back as I watched the last light die in front of one of those old cribs.
Nevis Valley Crib - Side Lighting
Nikon D90, 35mm lens, @ F8, 30s, ISO200, 34mm
Nevis Valley Crib - Backlighting
Nikon D90, 35mm lens, @ F5, 30s, ISO200, 30mm
Hard and soft lighting, side lighting and backlighting… it was time to play. My faithful Land Cruiser still has the old school light bulbs, thankfully giving you a warm, rich colour temperature rather than the cold, sterile blue of the more modern LED bulbs. This allowed me to work with one of my favourite lighting combinations, warm and cold. The amber colour draws the viewer in, almost welcoming, while the cool hard blues from the fading natural light sends the viewer packing and wanting to retreat indoors. When the sunlight cracks over the horizon on a cold, bleak winter's day, that’s precisely what you get.
It's worth noting that my Land Cruiser has its own photographic history, being owned before me by two great landscape photographers and good friends, Mike Langford and Jackie Rankin. Perhaps I’m just getting melodramatic, but I love that the vehicle I get to explore New Zealand in has such a strong photographic past all of its own. It's a good karma kind of thing.
Anyway, back to this Lighting By Land Cruiser series of images I'm working on. The beauty of this method is that it opens up real possibilities when the natural light has all but abandoned me. It gives me something to continue shooting well into the night. It can save a shoot that has crumbled after a non-existent sunset and extend a great one.