I had this narrative image in my head for some time – a beautiful young woman in a boat, deep in a Florida swamp at dusk. She’s holding a lantern, peering out into the darkness, searching for something. But what?
I enlisted McKenzie Burleigh, a model with whom I’ve worked several times in the past, to pose for me as the beauty in a cypress swamp outside of Tallahassee. Accompanying her was Ed Tiley, a local actor, posing as a drunkard with her in the boat.
I positioned them in the boat among the trees in the evening and shot beyond sunset, dragging the shutter to draw out the fading ambient light. The problem with shooting people with a slow shutter speed is that even slight movements of their bodies will cause motion blur. I needed to light them with flashes to not only add fill light on them in the backlit scene but to prevent blur. The other problem is I’m out in the swamp, in the water, so setting up lights on stands would be difficult.
Instead, I used speedlights (small, hotshoe flashes) hidden inside the lanterns in the scene, triggered with radio slaves. The short flash duration of the strobes froze the models in place despite the slow shutter speed of about 1/5 second. (Tip: You can hide flashes in other lights in typical scenes, such as in lamp shades, for greater control of your shot, and to provide natural-inspired lighting).
I made the lanterns from home exterior lights by gutting the electrical innards and modifying them to hold the flashes. The speedlights are gelled with 1/2 cut CTO (Color Temperature Orange – a full cut converts daylight to tungsten) for warmth and are aimed straight up. I lined the top of lanterns with aluminum foil for bounce and taped copy paper to the sides of the lanterns on the inside to diffuse the light like a small softbox and to hide the flashes. This setup was not very efficient when it come to output, but it was just enough to work. The flashes were on manual at very near full power.
My talented videographer friend, Carlin Trammel, made this two-minute behind-the-scenes video of the shoot.