Day for Night in Kyoto

Photo © Bob Krist

One of the better assignments I’ve had was to shoot a story on ryokan, the traditional inns of Japan. My brother Gary was the writer, and we got to crisscross the entire country and stay at a variety of inns from the very fancy to the unelectrified rustic.

One thing the editors wanted was a sequence of shots, showing a Western couple checking in and going through the activities of a typical ryokan day (i.e. you take a bath, have tea, eat dinner, and then go to sleep…the latter three all in the same room!)

We couldn’t afford pro models, but our fixer found a very nice, attractive young couple who were teaching English nearby and were agreeable to pose…but they only had two hours on a Saturday afternoon between 3-5pm to do it!  They couldn’t stick around for the “futon” shot.

It was looking like we might have to sacrifice that night shot for a while there, but fortunately, I had a complete battery-operated flash setup with me…five units with stands, gels, radios the works.

To see how we made day into night, hit the jump.

The trick was to severely underexpose the ambient light, and make the flash primary light source. The interior exposure was about 1/15th at f/2.8 at ISO 200. So we shot at 1/250th @ f/5.6 (1/250th being the top synch speed of the camera), more or less taking the ambient light out of the picture.

Then I set up two blue-gelled speedlights at nearly full power, bounced off the ceiling. With the heavy blue gel, the best that I could get was about f/2.8…two stops under. Which is perfect to give it that deep blue twilighty look that years of TV and movie lighting have taught us is the way “night” looks.

I did the same thing with two blue-gelled lights behind the shoji screen, so that area glowed blue as well. Now, to the little shoji lamp to bring it all together. We carefully took out the little lightbulb in there, and gently worked that fifth speedlight, with a full cut CTO (a heavy orange filter used to change the WB of the light from daylight to beyond tungsten) and a diffusion dome into the lamp itself to simulate a nice warm tungsten light. I don’t recall the setting, but it was about 1/2 power I think.

I fired the main units with Pocket Wizards but for the unit in the lamp, I just used a straight optical slave (this was the generation before SB800/900s with their built in slave eyes). So we got the requisite beddy-bye shot first, and then went on to shoot the other daylight activities, like the tea shot below, without overpowering the ambient light by too much, but still using about 4 speedlights.

Photo © Bob Krist

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Hmmm… let me see if I can guess correctly.

    -1 speedlight (maybe two?) above the camera pointed down on the subjects–umbrella? white sheet?
    -2 speedlights behind the screens, one with a cto gel.
    -1 speedlight in the rafters above the art work on the left.


    I remember the first photo from your book How to Light on Location. (Highly, HIGHLY recommended people!) Reading that years ago opened a door to a world of photography I never new existed. And thanks for that.

    1. Hi Michael: Excellent! You got it. on the second picture, I have one through an umbrella, two in the back, and one over the vase on the left!

  2. Cool. Guess I learned more than I thought from your book!

  3. As always very helpful in understanding how to use light and more importantly, gels. Thanks.


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