If our life giving neighbouring star aligns itself just so, at the perfect time of day in ideal weather conditions... Magic happens. It sculpts shadows into intricate works of art, sprinkles our subject with warm fairy dust and elevates the banal into something grandiose. IF, that is, it feels like cooperating.
The title of Robert Boyer's new ebook in his ongoing Pocket Lighting Guide series is quite clear: Simulating Sunlight I. And it's a fascinating subject.
The problem with sunlight is its absolute unpredictability: there's nothing less dependable or fleeting than a sunlit scene. It can be gone in seconds or morph into something so different, so quickly, that any plans might completely fall apart. The trick of course is to bring your own speedy lil' sun with you and learn to produce that light on demand, wherever you are; as McNally once famously said: available light is any light that's available. You may not be able to light an entire city or valley, but you can certainly control a small subset of your universe. How much of it will depend on the power you bring to the table but the fundamentals always remain the same.
This release is the first part of what's intended to become a two part guide on this topic. It focuses on the basics, on learning to identify the properties of sunlight in various contexts and on recreating it using very simple setups and minimal gear. Everything in this book is done with a single speedlight and believe me, the depth of what can be achieved is quite impressive. Just goes to show how much you can accomplish once you've mastered the primary concepts.
Robert possesses an almost encyclopedic knowledge of light and isn't afraid to share. He covers everything from lighting ratios to controlling spill, simulating windows, controlling the edge of shadows, creating patterns... This goes well beyond just learning to aim a gelled speedlight from the right angle. It's an extensive study of all aspects of sunlight, how it wraps, how it bounces around a space and interacts with surrounding obstacles or objects big or small within a scene. It effectively teaches how to achieve an extremely naturalistic look using nothing but strobe lighting, a few handmade props and the proper mindset.
The book is filled with beautiful portraits that illustrate every concept and includes hand-drawn diagrams that help to better understand how each image was achieved.
An important aspect of these guides that also deserves mention is what I'd call a No BS policy. Robert clearly lays out the exact post-processing recipes used on his images. There are no local adjustments added to enhance the lighting or further sculpt the scenes; everything is WYSIWYG and all original ratios are preserved as shot. Not something you see every day in this type of guide which is to be commended. None of that "big Octa and you're done".
There are a couple of broken diagram links here and there but an update should be coming eventually and will of course be freely available to those who will have purchased the current version. It certainly doesn't take anything away since all the diagrams can be browsed on their own at the end of the book.
As photographers we should be constant students of light and it can be easy, once you've mastered a couple of tricks, to stop noticing and become complacent. This book had me doing cardboard cutouts and reaching for the camera to mess with ideas before getting to the end. In fact, some of these experiments made their way to a few client shoots recently. Anything this inspiring should be required reading.
The ebook is available here for $4.99. The download includes a large PDF file and a free bonus iBooks version as well. And btw: the previous guide entitled Window Light is just as great if you're interested.
P.S. Full disclosure: Robert is a friend of mine and I was asked for feedback on the project before final release. But if it sucked I wouldn't be writing about it.