Don’t Fight the Light

© Matthew Jonas 2011/Evergreen Newspapers 2011

“Don’t fight the light,” was a phrase that I heard many times from my photojournalism instructors in college. It is a constant battle for photojournalists. We are forced to make pictures in situations that send CCDs scrambling for brighter fields. The picture above is from a situation many will face. Go to the local rec center and make pictures of a high school swimmer for a sports feature. Seems like a simple assignment. However, it quickly turns from simple to complicated.

Just before I arrive, I get a call from the reporter who says that the subject is very shy so shooting an environmental portrait is pretty much out of the question (she had a hard time with the interview alone). The portrait was the safe shot. Maybe I can try the “action” shot. I use “action” loosely because this was swim practice not a swim meet. If you haven’t been inside a rec center pool, let me tell you how “good” the lighting is: ISO 1600-3200, f2.8 at about 1/125th-1/250th of second under lights that cycle from red to blue at around 60hrz. In simple terms, NOT GOOD. I would go as far as saying the light was shit.

I shoot a few laps under available darkness and work the angles as much as I can. Shoot it with a long lens, wide angle and try to get a few quiet moments for variety. Out of the corner of my eye I notice a small sliver of sunlight, maybe 1 foot wide by 4 feet long, cutting across the pool. Bingo. Run to the opposite side of the pool, lay down on the deck of the pool and wait for the subject to swim through it. The difference in overall color and intensity was great. It was also about 5 stops different than the ambient light. I could drop my ISO and boost my shutter speed. I only got about 5 minutes before the sun set but I managed to get a couple of really nice frames.

© Matthew Jonas 2011/Evergreen Newspapers 2011

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