When I first saw the light.

 A cautionary tale by filmmaker Raza  Mallal.

Since comics were my main inspiration for making movies, “lighting” wasn't really something I took seriously until that wedding day...................!

At the age of 13 I volunteered to take the photographs at an uncles wedding. The sun was high in the sky when I strode on to the scene, like the fastest young gun in the west. Around my neck hung my gleaming new, state of the art, Russian, Zenith SLR. With it's hot shoe mounted flash I was ready to beat the f.stops off all-comers and especially George, the lumbering so-called "professional" photographer the wedding couple had hired. I remember his face..... , it seemed to have been pieced together out of the remnants of the faded brown tweed he was wearing. I surveyed the scene, the hustle and bustle meant nothing, I gave George a confident and cocky teenage leer. I watched George with scepticism as took ages unpacking cables and yellowing reflectors, odd shaped bulbs and all sorts of ancient pieces of equipment.

He tried to gather some people together to take his first picture but with me about he didn't stand a chance. He kept fiddling with his "photofloods",  "white umbrella" and constantly irritated me with his to-ing and froing with a handheld light meter. Ha! I gloated, mine’s a TTL system with a nifty exposure indicator mounted on top corner of the camera.  Stand aside for the new generation of creative genius and of course state of the art technology!

I literally started running rings around George. Proudly, confidently and perhaps somewhat cockily snapping away, capturing the right moments and all the important looking guests.

 I was composing a shot with the best man a la “Captain America” when a sudden purposeful elbow in the head from George with an annoying "Out of the way you pest!” made me realize this conflict was not going to be as easy as it first appeared. “How dare he?” Creativity would win. I'd prove to this sorry excuse of a photographer that I was a “master in the making”, no correct that, “The master had already arrived!

They would clamour for my pictures. The angles, the framing, the composition, it came so naturally it was almost too easy..

Hmm, I contemplated-- in this battle the time had arrived, there would be no mercy, no prisoners! I reloaded with my secret weapon.  One I'd been treasuring for so long that it was perilously close to it's expiry date; my Kodakolor 36 exposure! George was going to be hit with more than a puff of air from a lens cleaner.

In fact I got so determined and confident that I wouldn't entertain requests from my parents to take photographs with George’s "complicated" lighting set-ups.  “I'll wait till he's finished.” “Don't want him copying my angles and composition”. On hearing this George surprisingly seemed more at ease.

 I darted off and easily stayed several frames ahead of him. Then the coup d’grace: Taking advantage of the age difference between George and myself I went right up to the bride and whispered in a most innocent and sweet voice as to whether I could be the first to take a picture of the two of them together in the sitting room. Behind me, I could sense George’s anxious glare. I sneered back, ”You try getting this close to her mate and they’ll wrap that cranky tripod around your neck.”

I timed it perfectly. Just as George spent what seemed like an eternity setting up for his two shot of the bride and groom I grabbed the brides hand and led the two of them away to the sitting room. 

I spent the rest of the evening on auto,   shooting things ahead of George and leaving him “tut-tutting” with each set-up he attempted.

The next day I sent off my 3 precious rolls of film for processing and awaited the results anxiously - a week, 10 days. The photographs looked great: Wonderful framing, the right head room, nothing poking out from behind anyone’s head, and a quite apparent religious regard for the “rule of thirds”. I artistically  mounted them in an album and with more recoil than a well abused Bolex bounded off to seek approval of  my masterpieces.  

 The bride and groom having enjoyed their brief honeymoon at.... number 14, 2 doors along  were now back at their own house number 12.

 I gleefully began demonstrating each tantalizingly  page of the album. Strange, I immediately detected a distinct lack of appreciation for my efforts. I examined their faces for some clue. The expressions were clearly of bemusement.

Yes, when one is aspiring to great heights, yes one has enough maturity to determine the real meaning of comments such as “Yeah yeah, that’s a good one”. “Look at Auntie Najma, doesn't she look funny,” “Oh yeah that’s fine” "Well I never knew Rahila wore that outfit.” “Is that how big Uncle Javed’s moustache is or is that a beard?"

Yeah that’s all very well but what about the “Bad Boy” style direction by yours truly. The…the amazing staging, the framing, the composition,.Were these people totally oblivious to the craft of creative photography?

Sensing my growing frustration, Uncle Arif, the bride’s father, interrupted politely and drawing me to one side said. “Look you’ve taken some very good pictures.... in many ways. However have a look at this”. He placed a velour-covered album in my hands.

On the first page was a full-size enlargement of the photo of the bride and groom I had taken in the sitting room but ......it was so crisp, so sharp, the colours, like they were alive. I was stunned. The skin of the bride and groom glowed. And that background?  It was really in the background! Quick mental comparison with the similar photo in my album ......Yes my mantelpiece was right beside them, in this photograph there was depth, there was dimension. When did George take this photo? The old codger had just got in a lucky one while my back was turned. That’s why he’s put it on the front page of his album. The rest were probably not worth the paper they were printed on. With some hesitancy I turned the page. Smack!!!!. Yes indeed, it felt like George’s elbow in my face. All the photos were stunning, vivid, vibrant, a profusion of beauty.

Needless to say I was heartbroken, my pride had taken a serious beating.

It was akin to shooting the best take, of the most important scene in your make or bust movie, with the last piece of film stock and on checking the gate finding somebody’s beard in there.

 I ran back and grabbed my album. Yes, the evidence could not be destroyed. My photos seemed properly exposed, bright enough but compared to George’s, they were flat, uninteresting and the   colours, well it seemed they were all just one dull colour!.

It slowly dawned on me. I had used a single front mounted flash whereas George had used a series of lights of different intensities and angles, together with diffusers and filters.

I didn't have the decency nor the maturity I guess to confront George. I was embarrassed. But I guess it was a crucial lesson that I learned very early in life.

 When it comes to composing pictures, drawn, still or moving, give due consideration and proper respect to correct lighting. 

Good lighting is essential to creating realism, atmosphere and depth.  

When considering lighting for film, TV and video we generally use the basic three/four light set-up

Involving the key light, fill light, rim or back light and sometimes a background light. However, this general rule can become restrictive and perhaps not quite suitable to the genre, mood or atmosphere you are trying to create and you'll soon want your lights to have a more profound contribution to the overall scenes within your film.

In the next issue I’ll deal with ways of using light to improve the look of your film.