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Category Archives: Photo Shoot
With the help of 3 very lovely and talented dancers I was shooting our monthly assignment for Insidious Tomatoes – May Flowers. I decided to use a Lois Greenfield shoot that I have seen as inspiration; she used shredded paper, I used flower petals. At least it’s part of a flower. I am one for brevity.
As documented in my last post, I wanted a very bright set, with lots of light to catch the petals as they flew around. And, like the Dumbo ride at Disney, the cycle time for each shot was long: gather petals, throw into fan, jump, lather, rinse, repeat.
Although we did not take as many frames as usual, we did come away with many shots, a representative 3 below:
Although I am equally fond of all of them, I’m not sure what the select will be (a consequence of a successful shoot). I’m leaning to the first, or another not pictured here, although the second here (as well as yet another not pictured) is strong, also. Decisions, decisions.
I love tone-on-tone images. Black-on-black. White-on-white.
We were in studio shooting a project theme for Insidious Tomatoes. I had solicited the help of 3 young, talented dancers, all proper, highly skilled professionals:
Prima ballerinas, they.
I think we succeeded in getting what we were after. And then some (as the above illustrates). It was a long shoot, due to shot logistics and props, but fun.
I think I have returned to an “umbrella phase” of studio shooting. This time no parabolic, but a return to that simple, humble lighting mod which throws light
all over the place in a semi-controlled manner: the reflective umbrella. Just what you need for dancers on the go.
The reflective umbrella is where nearly everyone starts in lighting; here I used 3: 2 to light the background and a third as warm fill (it was gold). My key was a simple rigid reflector. What I was after was very “wrappy” light, meaning very soft transitions between highlight and shadow. I wanted lots of light, but without a “flash” look to it. And just a bit of punch courtesy of that key.
I also wanted plenty of wrap coming from the studio’s white cyc. We could make it come and go, on demand, by varying the distance the dancers were from it.
Although the primary image was not tone-on-tone (and you’ll see why I chose the setup I did in a future post), when I learned that Addie, one of the dancers, had brought a white platter and white top, I couldn’t resist. Given her skin tone and golden hair, and with all that light, the following emerged:
I could have chosen B&W in post, but I think color, in bringing out her skin tones and red lipstick, added just enough to offset all that white, and in fact to turn it up a notch.
I confess I do get tired of shooting on white. But there are times that an image demands that simplicity. I haven’t done it in a while, and, like the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder. So now was the perfect time.
You’ll notice that I did not bring the background to paper white, otherwise the platter would be totally lost. I do love the translucent nature of the platter, though, with only a hint of its outline. It blends into the background behind her, barely discernable. A hint of the delicacy of her costume and that dichotomy that is the ballerina: muscle and power harnessed to a very graceful art.
And though the ballerina is the hero of the shot, it is that infinity wall that makes it. It provides negative space to balance the image to complete the story. Its power lies in its subtlety. This is, after all, a story of tones. And the grace and power of our dancer.
Inspiration can come from many sources. Before most sessions, I generally plan the shoot loosely based on images that I see in magazines or on the web. I don’t go for replication; there is a difference between being inspired by an image and trying to copy it. I go for the former.
Doing this also serves as a communication vehicle between myself and the talent. It is much easier to show someone the look and feel I am after than trying to describe what are generally very non-precise concepts.
For the JCA shoot, I didn’t take this approach. This was after all images for client needs. Posing etc. was not under my control (other than minor adjustments).
However, this didn’t necessarily mean I went in with a clean slate in terms of planning. While my plan dealt with technical details – how I was going to light it, how the space was to be used, etc. – somewhere in the back of my mind must have been images I had seen of Lois Greenfield’s. In fact, the lighting design was loosely based on what my perception is of how she lit the ones that I had studied.
It’s interesting to me that in post production the images became heavily influenced by Irving Penn’s Small Trades. Again, not intentional, but when I saw my post processing materialize it seemed suited to how these were shot. The simplicity and “honesty” of the space seemed to demand this look.
So I suppose you can summarize the style of these images as Lois Greenfield meets Irving Penn.
This image from the shoot features Larris and Addie; it is a striking pose, one of those power/beauty dichotomies so prevalent in dance. It is what maekes the image and the experience of photographing it so compelling.
Jay Maisel has been credited with saying “Light, color, gesture: pick 2″ as ingredients for a successful image.
Sometimes, however, one of these is so dominant as to render the others, well, like the backup band for Adele. Except there’s only the piano player. He’s good. Really good. Now back to Adele.
This image is definitely all about gesture. Light plays a role (the piano player in this case), but Natalie doing a straddle into the upper atmosphere of the studio where the thin air lies, while Larris folds himself in half below, is what this image is about.
I see a fine art book project coming our of this shoot at Jacksonville Center of the Arts. The dancers were incredible and we got plenty of gesture, as you can see.
More to come.
I was in a bad place yesterday.
Then I went to a scheduled shoot at Jacksonville Center of the Arts (JCA). 250 or so exposures later I left a changed man.
I often blog about what photography means to other people, generally the recipients of a photograph. Yesterday’s experience reinforced what photography means to me.
Don’t get me wrong – one of the allures of this endeavor is making other people happy through the imagery that is created. And this photograph did not fully emerge until well after I had left, when the photographic process is completed through post processing. But the act itself of photographing – of setting the lights, the process of taking the pictures and watching them as they materialize on my laptop, and, perhaps most of all, the opportunity of working with such wonderful and talented people, can be very uplifting in and of itself. And served this day as needed medicine.
I left feeling privileged to be a photographer. My aching back and sore knees let me know it was work. But it was joy, too.
Some of the people responsible for my attitude change are pictured below: David, Willie, and Dominiq (from left to right).
I eschewed bringing a background and used a wall of the dance studio we shot in (this was a location shoot. My back will tell you that). To me, this brought an honesty to the images reminiscent of Lois Greenfield’s work.
The images will be featured in promotional material for the studio. As such, a graphic designer will probably extract the dancers and place them in other contexts. I knew this going into the shoot and designed the lighting to make it easier to do the selections. I wasn’t concerned with the background knowing this, but some inner voice must have told me that not using seamless or another background was the way to go. There are practical reasons for not using these with dancers – the seamless, if used on the floor as well, will not survive long, and if not you’ll see the floor joint anyway, and the muslin or canvas will wrinkle – but, again, there is also an honesty that comes with a marked dance floor. The wall we can make anything we want. I used a gradient to highlight them on what was a yellow wall, although my decisions for this image in post went more to a simpler white background which made this effect very subtle.
Driving home I was exhausted, to be sure. Tired and hungry. But I left a changed man. For the better, I think.
Besides the obvious, albeit undeniably cute, image posted here, these are thoughts on equipment size, and the ramifications thereof.
Sometimes bigger is better. The camera system I normally shoot with is rather large; large body, grip, and large lenses that let lots of light in. The larger body makes using those lenses much more comfortable. The larger body also tends to make things more stable: more mass to better absorb movement.
As someone who tends to light things, (in general) the larger that light source, the softer the light. I have all sorts of modifiers that are not exactly compact, including a 7′ source that produces some of the most beautiful light you have ever seen.
Sometimes, however, smaller has its advantages as well.
A smaller camera is more approachable – there is less of a barrier between subject and camera. Logistics are also much easier.
What about image quality? I won’t lie to you and say they are the same. There is a reason for using larger systems, and the primary one is image quality. However, while not as good, photographic technology has progressed to the point where on many small systems – such as the pocket sized camera I used for this image – quality is still, well, good. The history of photography – as has the rest of the technology sphere – been the history of miniaturization.
This pocket camera approaches the quality of most consumer-grade DSLRs. In fact, it uses an updated version of the sensor found in a very popular mirror-less system. The fact that this camera ia also capable of large aperture exposures means depth of field (or the lack thereof) can give that “professional” look of selective focus. It is also capable of shooting raw images, meaning straight, unprocessed sensor data can be used for further processing; this means that I have the maximum amount of information available to work with.
Having a high quality small camera means it is always with me. And less intimidating than the larger camera (note that in a planned session this isn’t much of a factor – the subject expects and is ready for the fact that they are being photographed).
In terms of lighting, rarely is smaller better, although there are times when a small, “hard” light source is appropriate. Not for babies, though. So I eschewed supplemental lighting and let the ambient do its thing.
Back to our hero. This is Leo. You, know, the lion. I don’t think Leo cared one way or the other how large my camera was, but logistically it was the way to go. I chose B&W to simplify; often, I ask myself the question “Does color contribute significantly to the image?” If the answer is “No” then I generally prefer B&W.
This was shot with available light, meaning high ISO (6400 in this case). I did have to noise reduce, which in a sharpened image will appear somewhat grainy. I don’t see this as necessarily bad – it imparts a film feeling to the image, a captured moment. Which, of course, it was. The challenge with this type of shooting is also the use of slow shutter speeds (there is not a whole lot of light), handheld, and that noise. I much prefer this to the harshness of attached, direct flash, though.
In the end it was the unobtrusive size of the equipment which allowed me to get the images. Horses for courses, as the English say.
I belong to the church of electronic strobe, studio sect. I am here to confess that I have strayed.
It was only once, and I had reason. Or excuses. For that I am
not really deeply sorry. And I did, after all, start the day with my beloved strobes. It was only afterwards that I fell into temptation.
You see, I went into my project wanting to simplify. Control. So it was studio and my strobes.
My subject was 3. And a half.
And then we headed to the beach for some informal portraits.
There must have been an inner voice telling me not to bring lights. Call it intuition Call it laziness. Call it luck. Call it reality.
You see my subject, Nathan, as soon as he hit the beach started behaving like, well, a 3 year old. And a half. There was no way I was going to pose him or get him to stay in the light. I even resorted to continuous focus and 5 fps on the shutter. For the most part, he was a blur.
I shot him with a 70-200 wide open. My mentor, Don Giannatti, once quipped to students at his workshop: “I don’t understand you guys with fast lenses who come in here and shoot f/8″. There are times I do shoot f/8, but wide aperture is definitely my style – lights or not – particularly with this lens.
I am happy with the results.
That focus falloff – really rapid at 200mm – is the allure of the wide aperture. I strive for it even with strobe outside (using a variable ND filter to cut the light to meet my shutter speed limitations).
The light is flat, to be sure, but I think this works well for a child his age. On adults I prefer more of a direction to the light. These images are also much more high key – again fitting for the subject. Sprinkle in a little of the Fadel post processing and, well, there you have it.
I may have to stray again, and there is an opportunity coming up for me to do so.
For my penance I will clean my camera’s sensor and say ‘Joe McNally” 50 times while checking the batteries in my Pocket Wizards.
No, this is not calculus.
I was struggling with concepts for an assignment entitled ‘speed’. An image stuck in mind of a young child holding balloons and watching biplanes go by. It was a period piece.
I shot a backup image loosely based on the concept, but which may end up illustrating the concept better.
However, I was able to locate talent and this materialized:
It wasn’t quite the vintage piece I had envisioned, but it has nonetheless the look and feel of what I was after. I’m just not sure if it is an illustration of the concept. Details.
This was the first time I have really shot children, and I learned quite a bit. The image is a composite of 5 different images, with the hero shot in studio. I did that to control lighting and to ensure I had the shots (accounting for weather). It ended up controlling my subject as well. Lesson one. We went to the beach afterwards to shoot some informal portraits for his mom (sans lights), and as soon as he hit the beach I lost all control. Controlling him, the balloons, and the lighting would have been impossible. I would not have got the shot.
The informal portraits I will blog on later because they stretched me just a bit. Shot without strobe, they were successful, I think, and a departure from what I normally do. Interestingly, the experience led me out of my comfort zone, produced successful images, yet validated not only this approach but to my general preference for supplemental lighting. The later point is multi-dimensional, and I’ll touch more on it later.
More to come.
Tools have always, it seems, been a part of my life. Maybe it’s a guy thing – or just this guy’s thing – but I’ve been fascinated by them, admired them, enjoyed having them, and used them for as long as I can remember. I’ve never regretted buying a good tool.
There is something about the feel of a tool in the hands. The better the tool, the better they feel. It’s almost a privilege to use a good tool.
I realize the gadget nature of photography plays into this as well. I get the same feeling from my camera and lenses. Even the software that I use. They are all tools.
The ability to create and use tools is after all what makes us human. Perhaps it is my primal connection.
This image I’ve used before. To me it sums up the love affair my hands have had with tools. It must resonate with a lot of people because I get a lot of comments on it:
I was shooting something totally unrelated in my garage recently. I was inspired by some frozen food (if you can believe it) still life’s by Irving Penn (if you can believe that). Although inspired my shots were not exactly inspiring. Proving yet again that I fall far short of Mr. Penn.
But since I was in the garage, and I had a still life setup, I grabbed some tools and made a quick composition.
Tools always seem to make good subjects. Their surfaces allow playing with light – the family of angles. The ruler is made of steel and is shiny. It’s direct reflection of the light source overhead tells you that. But the chisel lying on top of it is also steel and is also shiny. It appears black because it is lying at an angle to the light source. It does not directly reflect the light. It’s beveled business end, however, lies at the same angle as the ruler so it appears shiny. Fun with specular reflections.
The light, and the family of angles, also allow us to see their patina as well. From hours of use (and abuse) it tells something of a story of what they helped to accomplish. Yes, the chisel is nicked. It needs to be sharpened. And the ruler needs to be cleaned. They will complain – that cut will not be as precise, and some of the markings will be obscured. But they will do the work nonetheless.
I’m back to shooting human subjects this week. But every now and then I take solace with the inanimate object. A still life periodically is good for the soul. Especially if it is tools.