I walked into St Mary’s Church, Batsford this week. The walls were set with candelabra, each one sporting three candle sticks. I found one I liked, near a window, in front of a pew covered by a carved wooden canopy.
This was a corner of the building with extremes of light and shade. There was too much range for the camera to record in one frame, so I decided to add a little lighting control, to help the camera capture the image I could already see in my head. I used two accessories: a cigarette lighter to bring the candles to life, and a small, remotely triggered flash gun to light the dark panelling. The process went like this:
1) I found out what the camera was already giving me. As the wide shot shows, the soft light from the north side of the church washed in from the right, catching the white wax, the wrought metalwork and the dogtooth pattern of the wooden arch, gently revealing their shape and form. Inside the canopy, the panelling and pews are in deep shadow, without detail.
2) I wanted to force the flames a warmer yellow, so I white-balanced the camera to “cloudy”. The glow from the three flames brought out more of the carving.
3) I needed to show the texture of the carved woodwork behind the pew, so I put a radio-triggered flash gun out of sight, on the seating, setting it to manual exposure. I also wanted this new light source to add a few highlights and bright edges to the ironwork, so I stood by the wall bracket and looked into the pew, to make sure I could see the flash. I could, which guaranteed that the light from it would hit the metal from behind and to the side (as the lens would see it). Back at the camera, the flash unit was still hidden from view, so I knew I wouldn’t get any unwanted lens flares from stray, uncontrolled light. I made this one light source do as much work as possible; I like to keep my lights simple and efficient.
4) A test shot showed the flash was too strong, so I dialed it down in power a couple of stops (it was set on manual, remember), covered it with a clean, white handkerchief, to smooth out the harsh, focussed look which the raw head has, then made the picture I’d first imagined.
I reviewed the image, checked the histograms, and zoomed in on the sharp shadow of the candle holder thrown onto the wall under the window. I could accept it might have been coming from the candles, (it’s really from the small flash source, far away, so it has hard edges) so I chose to live with it. I could have spent more time repositioning the flash, but there’s a fine dividing line between having pure fun with my ongoing series of “threes”, and getting bored with the impossible quest for perfection: life is way too short, and anyway, outside there was a patch of sunshine breaking through, just crying out for different pictures to be made.