I’ve found the research on Crewdson et al interesting, particularly the single-image aspect, so I decided to tackle this assignment in that form rather than a series, which felt too much like a photo essay.
I knew I wanted to emulate the lighting styles I’d seen from the various photographers I looked at for the Crewdson research post . First I thought I’d set something up as an interior but immediately ran into problems with space. The interior setting I had available was a bit small so I wondered if I could do it with a panorama, stitching two or three files together like this:
The stitching worked surprisingly well with a program called Kolor Autopano Giga (catchy name) and all the edges lined up pretty well.
Immediately some problems were apparent:
- I had included a lot of space in which any figures would look small.
- There was a mixture of tungsten and daylight which would need correcting
- The practical lights were burnt out
- There was a lot of foreground
Reducing exposure to prevent the burnt out lights meant that the other areas were underexposed, so I considered putting ND’s over the fittings, which probably would have worked. I could have reduced the panorama to cut out some foreground and the lighting could have been balanced a but better with half-CT gels (putting it mid way between tungsten and daylight). But then I had the idea of doing an exterior at dusk a la Crewdson; ambitious ideas were beginning.
Quite close by our house is a small enclosed green by two bridges, a pretty good spot to install some ‘actors’ in a psychological setting:
The dusk was looking quite good with the streetlights and an interesting ‘pool’ of light could hit the bench and the mid-ground. I wanted the bridge and water lit too:
I only have four battery flash units and although I have a couple of mains units it would require a little generator… which I do have, but I was becoming wary of handling the lighting, camera stuff and the talent all at the same time. It was bound to rain and there was quite a short window where the sky would be right, in balance with the artificial light. So I checked out a small public area right next to our house, which looks like this:
It’s all a bit ‘layered’, front to back – too much depth to it and I wanted something a bit flatter, so I brought out a tall stepladder which gave more of a top-down look. It also had the advantage of altering the plane of view so that the possibilities for concealing lighting were greater.
I wasn’t entirely sure how to light it, so I decided to start with one small area and add lights one at a time in different areas, then adjust exposure (shutter speed, since the flash duration is very short) to bring up the background. Here’s the foreground bench:
All the sodium light is underexposed, but that can come up later. I had this earmarked as the main action area. I had some kind of confrontation in mind, involving some young people and a couple of adults – that would be me, my partner and our four youngsters, present for just a day over Christmas. I thought I could persuade them to stand in for half an hour, especially if the props involved alcohol. There’s a handy ‘pagoda’ too:
It’s beginning to take shape as I bring the ambient lighting up and add another flash for the pagoda. I make the acquaintance of a couple of homeless people who can just be seen against the wooden posts behind the bike. I takes me a while to explain what I’m up to, but surprisingly it gives me a bit more confidence. I don’t need to be up and down the stepladder so much since the flashes are controlled (for output and coverage) by a remote controller on a ribbon round my neck.
After a while my new pals get bored and slope off, leaving me to faff about hiding another flash unit in the eaves. It starts to look viable and I decide to give it a rest and continue nearer the day, weather permitting.
In the meantime I hit a bit of a snag. I do frequent the OCA Photography forum and value the advice to be found there. On this occasion, though, the advice appeared to emphatically contradict the approach I have adopted, warning against lots of planning, organisation and previsualisation. It was also a clear copy of other photographers’ style, a strategy which was roundly condemned in another post by a tutor on the same thread.
I lost impetus on the assignment and missed the opportunity to corral the offspring to their constructed photography debut.
I did give the matter a good deal of thought though. Probably rather more thought than it warranted. Having argued with myself over the foregoing points, along with several weightier issues that arose from them, I concluded that I should see the idea through in the form which pleased me the most and was possible with the resources I had available.
I decided to do a simple interior with three figures. There’s a ‘moment’ apparent in the picture but the specifics are not really relevant.
There is no natural ambient light – it’s dark outside, but the window to the right is lit by a flash perched on an extended stand, horizontal, lashed to the balcony. It’s raining a bit so it has a freezer bag zipped around it to keep it dry. I left it as a daylight flash, no CT gel, to look a bit like moonlight.
I quite like the streak effect from the drapes. I wanted to start balancing the ‘practicals’ so made a few test exposures to bring the table lamp up:
The shadow from the shade was distracting so I placed some black foil (I can’t remember what it’s called, it’s black and resembles very thick aluminium foil) over the bulb to flag the light off the ceiling:
The figures were to appear at the table (2) and on the landing (1). I had to light all three without the sources being in shot. This is a significant problem in a setting without overhead lighting support so I had to hide the flash units, one behind the door, one behind the fruit (hurrah for the fruit) and one on the landing just out of sight.
The patchy marks on the back wall are really there – flaky landlord. I have cloned out a few spots where stray flash was visible.
Some observations – I ran out of lighting so the central figure is a bit underlit. I would have added a source on the chair to the right below table height with a tight snoot to just catch her face. There is too much space between the landing figure and the rest of the action – I should have moved the table more to the left. It would have been good to add something intriguing to the foreground and light that too.
I have realised some key pointers through this assignment:
- As Arnold Newman observed, photography is 10% creative and 90% moving furniture (I paraphrase him)
- You can’t have too many lights.
- You can’t have too many clamps
- It’s quite demanding keeping the talent happy and lighting it and getting balance right.
- Contrary to opinion expressed elsewhere, planning is vital and so is visualising. It gets you to a starting point, where you can begin to tune and adjust things. If you’re faffing about with the big stuff you can’t see the fine things. Which matter, a lot.
- Some things are visible only as a photograph. I didn’t notice them live, but they stuck out like a sore thumb on review.
- I have a good Sekonic flash/ambient meter but didn’t use it. I should have, rather than rely on in-camera indicators, which are good but play safe.
- You need more clamps (did I say that already?)
- Being able to fine tune flash power and coverage remotely is a joy. Being able to see the result instantly is digital.
- Still on the subject of flash, the modern remotely controlled speedlite units are powerful, versatile, portable and cheap. With Lithium rechargeable batteries they go on…and on.
To avoid boring the talent I sat in myself for the setup, using the 12s self timer. If you click through the contacts you’ll see the stages I went through to set up the shots and balance the lighting