Archive for the ‘On Location’ Category
When you first take a camera in hand, this black box with a lens on it can seem to be a glaze inducing riot of numbers, symbology, and menu options. 2.8, 4, 5.6, plus or minus 2 EV……..if you’re not numerically inclined, there is, to say the least, potential for confusion. The shutter speed dial has more logic, right? Twice or half, depending on which way you turn it. Initial forays in making f-stops and shutter speeds work together like a seamless duo, to produce dependably predictable results, can induce one to look shiftily around the room, making sure nobody is watching, and quietly dialing the camera over to “P” mode. Just go and shoot. Let the camera do the math.
But that’s like not voting on election day, and then complaining about the result. The camera’s brain can average things out, at least most of the time, reasonably well. But what it can’t do is interpret the numbers and see potential for those numbers, working together, to produce a different look, or looks. It’s like asking an adding machine to write an essay.
The three pictures below were all shot in the same hallway. The location is the same, but the math of each picture is different.
So how do you shoot a medical marvel that is an absolute tech wonder, producing and providing highly detailed maps of the interior of the human body, but, on the outside, sort of looks like a big refrigerator with a hole in it?
The only sexy thing about this machine, visually speaking, were the blessedly intense, focused red beams that created the cross hairs used by the technicians to “aim” the scanner. The patient slides into the machine, and the device is aligned with assist of these beams. Turn the lights off in the room, which is one of the first things I often do when I walk into an environment, and you basically have the picture below.
Once again, up pops the irony of being a “flash photographer.” At any given moment, the most important light you deal with is the ambient light. What exists, is the first question you grapple with. Then, and only then, after you wrangle what exists and what role (dominant, background, fill) that light will play in the photo, can you mess with flash.
So in the darkness, with a D800E set at f5.6 at ISO 400, I sorted out a shutter speed of 4 seconds. Which was fine, as my “patient” wasn’t going anywhere. Of course, in this iteration, I’ve got a red light and no context, or information. Luckily, I had a wall behind me, flat and white. I turned the head of my SB 910 backwards into the wall, and shifted my color balance to incandescent. That flat wash of light off the wall, un-gelled, and plain white, defined the machine, and the tungsten WB gave it a bluish cast, which I felt would work better than dead bang white. One flash, on camera, re-directed, gave me color, tone, context and editorial content.
Still couldn’t turn on the overhead fluorescents to provide the background illumination, as their overall, blah quality of light, filling the room (which is what they are supposed to do) bleached out the intensity of the red aiming beams, and those red beams were the anchor for the picture. So, I kept the room dark, and flashed the background of the photograph with two SB units, each slightly warmed with a CTO (color temperature orange) gels. I believe the gels were fairly mild, maybe a quarter cut, or 25% of the truly warm tone a full conversion gel would have presented. They are placed, TTL, in Group C, which is always the group I use for the background lights in any photo. I switched my on camera flash to double duty, acting as a TTL main light, and the commander for the background fills. Done.
But, was I really done in the darkness? As is said in The Game of Thrones, the night is dark and full of terrors. I was moving fast, needing to clear the room of my gear so they could get back to scanning. I had a nice picture, one I knew the client would be happy with. So I plunged ahead.
Now, I love Manfrotto stacker stands. I just don’t love them when they’re actually in my picture. Doh! They had to be retouched out in the final TIFF sent in for the book. As I always say, whenever you are feeling lock solid and dialed in, think again, and check again.
In the darkened hallways of my mind, the ghost of Numnuts is cavorting about and laughing, and that laughter echoes, as it has for my entire career.
The first time I came to Beijing, in 1987, I traveled in with my assistant at the time, Gabe Palacio, and somewhere around 18-20 heavy cases filled with Sports Illustrated Speedotron units, and the accompanying paraphernalia. (Not the least of which were a couple cases filled with step down transformers. It was like traveling with a pair of anchors. Ah, the good old days! There was lots of stuff about them that, trust me, weren’t all that much fun.)
This time, it’s just me, a couple cameras, a few basic lenses, three speed lights, two Justin clamps, and, thankfully, a couple Pocket Wizard PlusX units. Threw those in at the last minute, just in case. No tripod, bigger light shapers, or stands. Some cards and batteries. Speed light small light shaper or two. Done. Backpack, a roller and suitcase. Suitable pack for many jobs, especially if you have to move fast, as you often do over here. But, I got here, and, several production meetings later, I’ve been shooting stuff like this.
Yowza! I got wind my assignment was shifting away from light hearted run and gun to production just as I left. Made some recommendations, and jumped on the plane. While I was en route, my client, which is essentially the city of Beijing, went out and bought various bits and pieces of lighting gear, not all of which, you know, sort of, kind of, work together. Making all this stuff get happy on location has been a bit of a parable in itself, which I’ll take up in another blog, but man, it’s been a wonderful, exuberant education in how to get some stuff done in this huge and complex city.
(As a for instance, they bought a super boom, which is really a studio piece of gear. I put this thing together in my hotel room, and it looks like a metallic praying mantis, which I think scared off the cleaning lady for a couple days. It’s a hoot trundling this wheeled monster through the streets of Beijing. It’s handy, though, I have to admit.)
It’s honor, really, to interface with several of the top fashion designers in China, and place their magnificent work in the context of significant Chinese landmarks. The pics in this blog are all from the first day in the field, working in and around “The Egg,” which is the National Center for Performing Arts, nearby Tiananmen.
We’ve often got 20 people out there on the streets, shepherding six foot tall Chinese models, kitted out in seven inch stilettos, through the crowds. We’ve, uh, received our share of attention. The gown below, for instance, weighs over 100 pounds. Seriously. Beautiful? Yes. But not what you would reach for when you want to “slip on something more comfortable.”
My thanks to Ariane, Dukes, and the crew at Vision Beijing. I’ve built up a welcome six year history with them, and they are always gracious hosts. We are back in the field tomorrow, and I’ll do more blogging as the project progresses. But, I’ll close with a quiz. Look below. Which one is the fashion model, and which one is the dork?
Oh, and by the way, it’s raining.
Power lines in Saudi Arabia, shot yesterday, disappear into the vastness of the desert.
When I went to the Philippines earlier this year, my friend and fellow shooter JoJo Mamangun contacted me. Would I like to work with his wife, Kris, a ballerina and Cirque du Soleil dancer? I think I simply wrote back something like, “En route.” As luck would have it, she was rehearsing for the role of Titania in Midsummer Night’s Dream for Ballet Philippines. Read the rest of this entry »