Failed Execution, Stunning Results. Attempting to use V Flats as a Gobo.

During the thick of the pandemic shut down, I began going through a creative drought with studio work. I had just signed the lease to my first self-owned studio when the economy closed down. Although I was finding other ways to stay creative and fresh mainly with food photography projects, creating my art in the studio wasn’t possible. That was until towards the end, when we started to see dates on the opening phases here in Kentucky. I started planning a couple of ideas with my creative wingmate, Shirin where we could both make use of the studio space and new ideas. One of my ideas was a monochromatic high fashion look with moody or dramatic lighting. I wanted to create a 3/4 portrait using the “slice of hard light” technique, something that I’ve never tried.

After mulling over how I could possibly achieve this with my existing gear, I looked at my foldable V-Flats from V-Flat World. I remembered that where they Velcro together you can leave a gap where light could escape. In theory I thought this would create the results I envisioned. So I set up the studio using two Profoto B1Xs, 1 V-Flat and 1 shitty snoot made out of black cine foil. On camera left I had snoot for a tight pop of hair light, and on camera right I had the other strobe firing into the V-Flat’s gap I left open.

Once I had everything set up and Shirin in position, I fired off my first shot . It was like when Han told Chewie to “punch it” and the hyper drive stalled out. It was a fail on execution. I tried adjusting the light and the V-Flat in relation to each other as well as in relation to where Shirin was standing, but still, no luck. However, to my surprise I noticed that there was a nice soft diffused glow of light going across her face. After reviewing the first test shots in Capture One, I did a little fine tuning with the lights and settled on what you see in the final shot. We ended up liking this lighting result far better than what I had originally envisioned.

To me, it was a welcomed creative result that complimented the overall image. Her attire styling was contrasting with her black jumpsuit, fair skin and jet-black hair. Then having a darker gray background, I knew she would pop off it. So you have these two elements that are contrasts, but with the right lighting, it was soft and diffused yet still defined to where you could see a strip of brighter exposure. We photographed for maybe 5 or 10 minutes overall, but once we had both seen the final lighting, we knew we had gotten our final images. Her pose and expressions were striking and the image was stunning.

This exercise reminded me of two things, firstly if you’re not failing, you’re not learning or expanding, and that sometimes failure can bring home a welcomed result. When I first bought the V-Flats, I never imagined I would use them as a gobo, but V-Flats are indeed many things and I’m glad I did! I haven’t done monochromatic portraits in a very long time, so this was quite a refreshing reintroduction to this enchanting style.

Gary Barragan is a Louisville headshot and portrait photographer with a passion for fine art still life. His guilty pleasure is photographing food that he and his creative wingmate prepare. This has lead to a Curb to Table project where they photograph purchased curb side meals to support the local dining scene during the pandemic.

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