The first week of November I was heading to Arizona to shoot for Velovie, State Bicycle’s sister company that makes road and time trial bikes, and was told one of the locations I would photographing at would be a wind tunnel at a facility called Faster. Immediately the first thing that came to mind when I thought of a cyclist in a wind tunnel was the one located here in San Diego that Lance Armstrong was photographed in but was told this one was much different as it was made specifically for cycling.
I began researching the tunnel before hand as I knew I wouldn’t be able to check it out until the day of the shoot, so I needed to know as much as I could about it to try and discover any obstacles as well as map out a lighting strategy. I scouted around the facility’s website and videos trying to get an idea of the size and shape of the area we would be working in, but things weren’t looking to good from everything I came across. The room looked pretty tight, without much space to setup lights for the dramatic feel I wanted the pictures to have.
On the day of the shoot we started things off with a safety briefing with the engineer before he gave me a quick tour around the place, and just as I dreaded there wasn’t nearly enough space to setup the five lights I had hoped to be able to use. It was tight so I would have to shoot wide, and any sort of kicker lights would definitely come out in the shot and flare out the picture.
There were alot of dos and don’ts the engineer told us about, further cutting down on what I would be able to do inside the facility. Safety was very important, as you can see by the lock kept on the on/off switch for the wind tunnel at all times.
As the engineer continued the tour I could see the place was a large circular corridor with a section cut out for where the cyclist pedals on a platform located in front of the control room. We were taken back inside the corridors closer to the fan and I found a good spot for my main light source. The corridor could act as a flag to cut down on flare and keep my light out of the shot.
Your main light source is the light that will have the most active voice in the shot, every other strobe will compliment the main. Generally the further left, right, or behind subject your main light is, the more dramatic the image as it casts longer shadows which is exactly what I hoped to happen from where I positioned the strobe. Unfortunately for my main light it would have to fire through a 6 foot tall honey comb grid screen situated back inside the tunnel. My guess was that the grid would act just as the light modifier grids we use in studio lighting: tighten down the spread of the beam while cutting down on the output.
Sure enough to get through the grid I had to bump up my watt seconds and pull the strobe back far enough for it to spread out on the entire grid. I knew to catch the cyclists’ movement tac-sharp I would need a high shutter in my exposure which would unfortunately knock out the ambient light in the room. After a test shot I discovered the lighting had the dramatic feel I needed, but unfortunately from the lack of ambient there were too many heavy shadows to put emphasis on the product itself. To try and fix this problem and put a little more attention on the bike itself I setup a strobe fitted with a softbox to act as a fill light for the shot.
The best way to describe the purpose of a fill light in a studio setup is that it functions much like the fill light slider in camera raw, just much better as you’re adjusting the picture through your exposure and not in post. A light turned down significantly less then your main light source will open up shadows, while still allowing your main light source to do it’s job of sculpting and shaping the subject.
Walking into a location cold is always tricky as you have alot of planning to do on the fly such as light placement and modifiers, while dealing with unforeseen obstacles such as tight rooms or facility rules/regulations, but when the end result is how you originally envisioned the picture before setting foot out the door that morning it’s satisfying.