Tuesday's Tips: Lighting Science at MIT

As a photojournalist based in Boston,  I spend a lot of my time at great colleges and universities photographing professors, scientists and doctors.  I find this genre of photography absolutely fascinating.  It feels like I have received my college education one hour at a time from the greatest minds in the world.  One of the challenges on each assignment is, how to make a unique photograph each time.  

When I was given this assignment to photograph Professor Alan Guth of the MIT Physics Department, as is the case with most assignments, I was given the subjects name and a very brief bit of information about the professor,  that was the only instruction I received from my editor. 

The rest is up to me to learn about my subject; what he/she does and to come up with the idea for the portrait.  Professor Guth was one of the physicists to hypothesize the theory of "Inflation," explaining how the universe was formed a spit second after the Big Bang.  How's that for a major discovery!  Much of the research done on his theory was conducted using a telescope at the South Pole, (which is just a bit too far from of the assignment location!) so we used a telescope on the MIT Campus as a symbol of his research. 

This photograph was on the cover of the International New York Times, in Der Spiegel Magazine and many others.  I also photographed his fellow scientist on the team, Professor John Kovac for Nature Magazine. (You can see how the photo of John Kovac was created on my previous blog post).

This photograph is a mixture of ambient light, strobe, long exposure and camera rotation.  The lighting was one Dynalite Uni strobe run off a battery held by my assistant on the left side of the image.  That was the only light I added to this photograph. The strobe was triggered with a Pocket Wizard Plus lll.  The image was shot with a Nikon D800, a 16mm Fisheye lens shot at f8 with a shutter speed of 1/13 of a second.  The camera is hand held, not on a tripod. I made the exposure slowly as I turned the camera to get the slight feeling of movement.

To determine my exposure, I started by using the camera meter to expose for the sky, slightly underexposing, so the blue sky will be a bit darker.  Once I have determined the f stop for the sky, I used a Sekonic L478 handheld light meter to get the corresponding f stop from my strobe.

On a photograph like this where you are mixing ambient light and strobe light, always start your exposure with the element of the exposure you can not control.  In this case it is the sky.  Other things to consider were how much depth of field do I want and what shutter speed do I need to get the movement effect.  

I love shooting in those last few seconds of daylight, just before we get to f nothing.