I think there is a time and place for flash and supplemental lighting, really I do. I have seen some marvelous pictures done with some crazy lighting set- ups. Just this month in Popular Photography there is an article about how to take pictures of very dark/black objects. Their phenomenal picture was of a black and chrome motorcycle against a black background. A TON of work went into a seemingly simple picture. Their biggest tip was to light the dark object with a source that is at least as big as the subject, in the case of the motorcycle a box light that was a bit longer than the bike mounted above the subject with some soft side lighting. It’s a great shot and really emphasizes the chrome and shiny aspects of the subject rather than illuminating the entire bike, a concept that is very interesting and that I can dig. But, DAMN! There is no way I could pull that off! My ‘studio light kit’ includes 4 clip on lights with the silver cones that I purchased from Home Depot about 5 years ago. I got them when a friend asked me to shoot her wedding pictures and (thank GOD) didn’t end up using them. Instead I found it physically easier to use the ambient light. At the time I was shooting with my Nikon D60 on color and black & white film and had it set to fully automatic mode. I love the shots that I got and so did my friend. I really think natural light gives a glow to your subjects that can be attained using flash, but not without a LOT of prep time and accoutrements.
Since shooting with lo-fi instruments my light meter has become my best friend. It is an absolute essential for lo-fi stuff and once again, I can thank my friend Harry for that recommendation. When I first got it I took it with me everywhere to see if I could guess the correct exposure time in a given situation. I was sooooo off in the beginning and way underestimated exposure times but my little game proved quite useful and I’m starting to feel confident shooting without my light meter, but only some of the time.
One thing about crappy cams is that most of them love bright sunlight and film with iso of 100-400. That means no good indoor shots can be had unless you can control the shutter speed, at least in a rudimentary fashion. My Holga is a great example. When I want to use it in low light situations I bust out the light meter, set the camera to it’s bulb setting and try to hold open the shutter for the appropriate time. I’d rather have a little too much light coming in than not enough so I tend to err on the side of a longer exposure. This has proved very useful. I’ve had my greatest success with my Fed 2, which being a lomographic camera actually has f 2.8 to 22 and shutter speeds from 1/500th to bulb setting (almost too much control for someone used to controlling only the speed of the film she puts in the camera)! Between the light meter and the knowledge I’ve gleaned playing my little guess-the-exposure-time game I’m starting to get the hang of things. It is truly more of an art than a science, something that can’t be said about the flash. Once you set up all those light sources you know exactly what you’re going to get and it’s usually something fantastic. For me, ambient light is part of the charm and joy of shooting lo-fi. I can use the light meter all I want and think I’m exposing the film enough, but if my plastic lens bends the light the wrong way or I aim the camera too close to the sun or the film is expired and can’t stand bright light….well, you get the picture (hee-hee, pun intended). I love the unpredictability of it all and the naturalness that I get without flash. Another bonus? No red eyes!