“… ready … GO!” a voice yells out of the darkness, echoed by the metallic clunk of a shutter slamming into action. That’s my cue to begin a chaotic five second dance for a subterranean light experiment. No I’m not an extra in a new Josef Fritzl musical, I’m in the basement of Temple Works in Holbeck by choice.

Two flash guns in front of a poster on a wall which reads "Rules for tools"

Flash guns: the tools of a strobist

It’s late evening on Tuesday 7th September. My head is shrouded by a hoody, face partially covered by a dust mask and I’m throwing shapes in front of a camera in near pitch black while two fellow photographers fire flash guns at me.

Through a door in a distant corner of the room I can just about make out a dramatic golden orange sunset and the intermittent electric white flash of other similar experiments in the strobist field of study. This is the art (or science?) of manipulating artificial off-camera light from flash guns (‘strobes’) and balancing it with ambient light.

This is my first outing with Exposure Leeds, an open community made up of professionals, amateurs and all those in-between with the common aim of developing better photography skills and experience for its members. Personally, my motivation for joining probably isn’t too different from the majority of members: I want to push myself further beyond the abilities I’ve managed to accumulate so far on my own.

Plus it’s one thing to see a devastatingly impressive photograph on Flickr and want to copy it, but it’s another to get opportunities to meet guest speakers who create photographs of the same calibre and be around people who want to strive for that next level too.

Awimbawe, awimbawe!

Beneath Temple Works an impromptu basement jungle had sprung up, with strobist monkeys swinging from light stand trees: toying with speedlights, wireless triggers and umbrellas suspended like fruits in the canopy above. Exposure Leeds members were volunteering to model while others tinkered with settings, lighting positions and took test shots. People were friendly and of all abilities, explaining things for the benefit of others or making creative suggestions to develop an idea.

Inside view of a beauty dish, the photographer is in a reflection at the centre

Expensive equipment

Women in costume modelled for photographs, props appeared from nowhere and graffiti daubed walls were being put to good effect as backdrops for more adventurous shots. Like one group in the midst of capturing a member performing flying kicks, jumping into an arena of four lights, freezing him as he sailed energetically through mid-air. Another member was seducing a robot sculpted from scrap metal as a friend preserved the moment for posterity using a staggering array of very expensive looking equipment.

“Don’t worry, we all wing it too”

The meet-up was a good chance to cement the knowledge I’ve accumulated from religiously studying the teachings of strobist godfather David Hobby. It was a chance to test the theory, put it into practice and watch others do the same. Perhaps more importantly though, it was reassuring to know that I’m not the only one who ‘plays it by ear’ when working out lighting ratios and flash exposures – all that maths takes the fun out of it when I’d rather be experimenting through creative trial and error. And an Exposure Leeds meet-up is a perfect environment to do just that.

You can view some photographs from the evening’s event at the Exposure Leeds Flickr group or view their diary of upcoming events. This article was written as a guest blog post for Exposure Leeds.