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A Silk in the Sky «Joe McNally Photography


Summer is upon us, pretty awesome, bringing beach time, vacations and barbecues. For photographers, it also means battling white skies, harsh shadows, blinding spots and uncompromisingly hot orbs in erratic, unforgiving skies and all. both are strong. How do we make friends with the light that does not seek shelter and does not take prisoners?

Above, the banner photo simply follows the flow. Raw sun, raw flash. Match the quality of what’s out there and hopefully the gesture of the photo gives you a free card out of jail for harsh light quality.

But there is another way. It is perhaps hard to believe that a simple silk, the photograph equivalent of a bed sheet, could tame the sun and turn the summer sun’s shrill screams into the softest whispers. But it has.

Above of the model and talented muralist, Fefa, in Lima, Peru was shot in the worst lighting conditions. But, the freight train with intense sunlight intersects with a 12′ long silk, making it a soothing photon bath. Give away? Look in the upper left corner where you can see the shadow of the silk frame. I can edit it, but it really doesn’t bother me. I increased the quality of the light under the silk by shooting through the umbrella and the Profoto B1X, which is just a pop track, and Fefa and her artwork are quite luminous.

I used the same tactic to photograph Winona Ryder, years ago. She was in News in the end, say that the directors found her unattractive. I have a different opinion. On a farm in Maryland, many years ago, with the summer sun beating a loud drum, I simply leaned a 12-inch silken frame against the wall of the barn.

Before change….

Or, the naturopathic doctor, Andrew Weill, out there in the blazing Southwest sun. I drove the rental van to where I wanted to shoot, and tied a 12-minute silken to the luggage rack. Tilt it to an easy angle for a portrait, support the rest of the frame with a couple of kickstands, and we’re done.

For a slightly brighter treatment? Sun Silk, add 4 ′ Profoto Octa.

Now, one silk is a lot to manage, to be sure. I’ve been working on the 6 min frame and script myself, but with 12 min you need help. For an extra splash of light, you can throw in a low bounce, creating a sparkling sun, overhead fill-in windows, and under-lighting. Sigh. The list goes on and on. But…..

Without dragging a caravan and a truck, a large umbrella can work well out there in the heat and light of summer. Used with caution, with a well-placed subject and a relatively fast shutter speed, you can do things simply and well. Absolutely beautiful Francesca Vilogron going from the soft light (above) to the splendor of the desert highway. Different scene, different light, different feeling.

On this highway, a great silk is heralded. Above is an umbrella on a pole, with three Speedlights on at full power, filling the courtyard with soft but directional light. A fast, movable light for infrequent traffic flows. The quality of the umbrella’s light was also enough to reach the brim of her hat.

Summer sunshine. It’s a game we’ll be playing over the next few months.

More tk….





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