How To: Backlighting Portfolio Subjects
Portland photographer Brian Fitzgerlad battled a dark venue and nasty illumination with some clever background lighting. The result? A daunting team of roller derby skaters that nearly pop off the screen.
To showcase his considerable lighting skills, [Brian Fitzgerald](http://www.fitzgerald/ photo.com), a commercial, editorial, and portrait photographer from Portland, ME, produced this portfolio piece spotlighting the Maine Roller Derby League’s all-star team, known to fans far and wide as the Port Authorities. His main lighting challenge: popping his subjects cleanly off a cluttered, horribly lit background. “I was working in a very large space with only three lights,” says Fitzgerald. “It was very dark and the gym had nasty sodium-vapor lighting that I couldn’t turn off and would have to somehow minimize.”
His solution? He set a relatively small working aperture (f/13) that dimmed most of the background to pitch black. While this tamed the ghoulish sodium-vapor color temperature and background clutter, it also caused parts of his black-clad amazons to fade into the shadows beyond.
To bring them back, he cleverly aimed a backlight onto the gym flooring behind his subjects in order to better define their figures.
To accent the skaters even more, he added a second backlight that subtly etched the edges of their figures. Often photographers do this with plain white light, but for additional contrast, Fitzgerald gelled this backlight a cool blue. It subtly popped his subjects even more off the warm-toned flooring.
Other strategies Fitzgerald suggests for this type of scene:
•Preset your lighting. “Before your subjects arrive, set up and test your lights using stand-ins. You can’t fiddle with lights when subjects are standing there expecting direction,” he says.
•Use small apertures. This will not only dim a cluttered background, but the deeper depth of field it provides will let you stagger the players without worrying about anyone falling out of focus.
Kris Holland/Mafic Studios
For this daunting team of roller derby skaters, Brian Fitzgerald chose Paul C. Buff strobes for their road-ready reliability. His main light (A) was a White Lightning Ultra Zap 1600 monolight bounced into a 60-inch Photoflex convertible (diffused) umbrella ** (B)** . “It was soft—large enough to light the whole group—yet directional enough to leave some dramatic shadows,” he says. Fitzgerald lit his background (i.e., the floor) with an unmodified Ultra Zap 1660 ** (C)** inside a 7-inch reflector. This pool of light separated the team from the all-black background and added a much-needed splash of color. Last, Fitzgerald set up a White Lightning X800 monolight ** (D)** with grid spot to serve as a subtle rim light, gelling it a cool blue for contrast against the warm-toned flooring. “Members of this team were in Shanghai last year, where they visited a roller-derby-themed bar and found this photo [sans permission] filling an entire wall!” says Fitzgerald.