Last week I got the news that a much loved member of Salt Lake City’s dance music community passed away. This news was particularly troubling for me, not because I first met him over ten years ago, and his music and passion helped to shape the foundations of what I consider to be my second family, but because Stephen Santoro took his own life. For the first couple days I felt confused, guilty, angry with myself. I struggled with the memories of similar events in the past. I felt helpless.
Mostly, I was shocked.
I didn’t know Bam Bam as well as I would have liked. I saw him mostly in the clubs, and never got to spend a lot of time with him away from the decks. Stephen and I shared a love of music which drew us together for a few hours at a time. What I did know about him was his sincere friendliness and generosity. His spirit of love and celebration that he shared freely behind the turntables and on the dance floor. I have many photos of him, and in every one of them, his infectious smile lights up the frame.
Those few hours we spent celebrating life together are some of my fondest memories. I never knew Stephen was troubled, because every time I saw him, he was listening to the music he loved.
Music heals. Music keeps us sane. Thank you all for sharing your love of music with us. RIP, Bam Bam. I will miss you.
For friends of Stephen “Bam Bam” Santoro, here are some resources you might find helpful:
Get Your Flash off Your Camera
There are many ways to do that. For the basics, head over to the Strobist.com. Nikon shooters can use Nikon CLS. You’ll need SB-600, 800, 900 flashes and a D80 or better. Check your manual for “commander mode”.
Canon and other shooters, there are a range of external solutions, ranging from Cactus V2 triggers to PocketWizards. Each solution really needs its own tutorial, so I won’t go into setup details here.
Shoot With An Assistant
Many wedding photographers employ assistants who do everything from help keep track of important guests to holding reflectors for posed portraits. Why shouldn’t you have an assistant at a nightlife event? I am very grateful for the dedicated help of Tania on this shoot. She held the second flash, which let me capture multiple light angles. Most of the edge highlights above were lit by Tania, standing behind and to one side of the subject. In some cases, she provided the off-axis key light that helped me light part of the subject’s face, instead of even all-over lighting you get from the camera angle. The band photos are good examples of that technique. Tania lit most of those from camera left while I shot from the right side of the stage.
Use Multiple Light Sources
In most of these shots, I used two flashes – a key light (a flash that I held in my left hand), and a second flash held by an assistant (see above). In several shots, the ambient light also contributed in some ways to the subject exposure. You can see hints of that in some of the blurrier photos. I was using long shutter speeds to let some of the ambient light into the exposure. Employing multiple light angles serves to create more three dimensional images, which is why these photos tend to pop a little more than the average point-and-shoot shot. Multiple light angles sculpt and define curves, angles, and dimensions, adding loads of depth to a photograph.
When you drag the shutter long enough to create a color wash in the background, you can even flatten the background while your flashes sculpt the image in the foreground. This creates separation by placing your 3d-looking subject on a flat-looking backdrop. Talk about POP…
Drag the Shutter
I’ve said it many times before – when you’re out in a club, it’s fun to capture the colored lighting all around you. In these shots, the washes of red, orange, yellow, and blue are only visible because of the slow shutter speeds, ranging anywhere from 1/25th to a full second in length. This technique is called dragging the shutter. When you’re shooting with flash, think of the flash as the key light – your primary exposure. You control that with the flash power and aperture. Your background exposure comes from ambient light, and you control that with shutter speed.
With really long shutter speeds, you can even create light paintings by dragging the shutter and moving the camera while there are light sources in the frame. See the light streaks in a few of the DJ photos here for examples.
Drown out Ambient Light
Set your shutter speed to at least 1/250. For most indoor lighting, 1/250 will do the trick. However, you may have to shoot faster if the light is bright, or there is sunlight coming through windows. Most flashes will finish firing before your shutter closes, so you can use your shutter speed to control the ambient exposure without interfering too much with your flash exposure settings.
Here are the settings used for some of these photos:
Shutter Speed: 1/250
Set up External Flashes
On-camera flash will not work, because no matter what you do, it’s always going to be pointed directly at the background. The key to this trick is to keep the light off the background. Aim your flashes so that they point either parallel with the background, or angled slightly toward the camera position. In this example, I used flashes set close to the toy, creating light mostly from the sides.
Control the Light
If there’s unwanted light spill happening, get creative. If you’re using an umbrella, make sure you’re bouncing, and aim the umbrella carefully. If you’re using a softbox, make sure there’s a good lip that extends beyond the light panel to prevent light from going wherever it wants to. Setup flags, snoots, gobos, barndoors, whatever you need to block the light from going where it’s not wanted (the background).
Watch out for mirrors, white shirts, anything that might reflect light in the wrong direction.
Create Distance from the Background
It’s a lot easier to keep light off your background if your subject is several feet away from it.
Just Say NO to Photoshop!
It may be tempting when you’re just starting to play with this trick to get “almost there” and then fix the rest in Photoshop. It may seem like the “lazy” way. But believe me – when you do a shoot with 260 images, and you have to deliver a bunch of them to a client (say, for a product catalog), getting it right on camera is the easy way.
I used three flashes and a reflector for these shots. I actually took these photos in my kitchen. No black backdrop (too lazy), and no background editing in Photoshop. I used fast shutter speeds and careful light control to make the background appear black.