Sunday, March 16, 2014

Laundrette... the idea, the space, the light.

'Laundrette' by Bill Gekas

I've had many requests for the breakdown of this image since putting it up and it was about time I did another one of these image breakdowns anyway, so here it is, besides... sharing is caring, right? ;)

Late last year I had an idea for a shoot that was inspired by Vermeer's famous painting the 'Milk Maid'. Now for me Vermeer is probably my favourite golden era painter, his use of colour, light, composition and the level of detail we see in his scenes you'd think he used a camera. Basically I learn a lot from studying his works and I still get those lightbulb "Ahaaa..." moments when it finally hits me why something works so well.

One of my main problems when shooting in an indoor studio type environment for me has always been space. I seem to constantly run out of it to be able to pull off the shots I envision and because of it many concepts I have badly sketched in my sketchpad haven't yet taken place. Having a small home studio shooting space definitely has it's advantages but equally it's drawbacks too and these days I usually hit those drawbacks very quickly!
Now i'm also one that believes that photography is a lot about compromises and problem solving so there's always a way of pulling the shot off but sometimes it just isn't going to happen as it may change the end concept more than my tolerance of compromise allows. Fortunately I now have limited part time access to a larger shooting space, it's a factory warehouse with a dusty concrete floor, some walls and a degree of atmosphere! It's not ideal but it's another option at my disposal and the important thing is that I have options!

Shooting space

(That large roller door to the right can be opened, covered with a large diffusion silk and there's my mammoth 9ft x 9ft softbox with wraparound awesomeness of light powered by the sun! A natural light option!)

This photo 'Laundrette' is my second photo in this new shooting space. The first photo I took here was the portrait of my grandmother 'Gran Toula' a month earlier. (notice the same wall?)
I stuck some 3mm MDF boards onto the wall to have the option of painting it as well as using my usual backdrop stands with papers and muslins. The paint for this new wall was a quick splash with the roller of white and the bottom third a dull green. It works well and if I can shoot two to three images with it before painting over it with another colour for something else it's all good. One thing to remember is that the creativity doesn't just start and stop at the camera end, it's the whole process!

The available ambient light in this place with that roller door to the right hand side when closed is very low. Considering I usually shoot base iso and want total control in lighting everything the way I want, the low light levels are a good thing. In an indoor studio controlled environment I generally don't want ambient influencing any part of my exposure at the shutters and apertures I work at. However in an outdoor location shoot I work with it and usually favour the available ambient as my fill whilst using the strobe as my key.

So for the lighting here I placed two speedlights in my Westcott Apollo 50" softbox camera left and connected one to an rf trigger and the other speedlight was set to optical slave, both speedlights on a tri-flash bracket.
I've used other soft/octaboxes in the past and I always go back to my Westcott Apollos. I don't know what it is about them but I can only put it down to any type of box where the light first fires back before deflecting forward just does something really nice to the quality of diffused light. That internal light bounce may cost me a stop of light but for that type of light quality... I think it's a fair deal!

Laundrette lighting diagram
The reason I used two speedlights in the softbox was that I sort of knew beforehand i'll need about full power with a single speedlight due to the size of the softbox and the distance I was going to have it from the subject coupled with the aperture/iso I wanted to work at. So two speedlights at 1/2 pwr each is like using one speedlight at full power but with two it'll be easier on the batteries, the speedlights, and the recycle time would keep up with the other speedlight I was going to use firing through the cookolaris to the wall behind. I also placed a 1/4 CTO gel over each of the speedlights for a touch of warmth to the light.

The other light source was another speedlight also camera left and next to the softbox set to optical slave firing through a cookolaris to the wall behind. Again it was gelled with a 1/4 CTO gel and I had placed a gridspot over it which acted as a spill kill. The reason for the grid was that the cookolaris which was just a cardboard window cut-out was just a couple of meters in front of it and I had to control the light making sure the beam hits only the cookie cardboard and doesn't spill around it onto the wall behind. The placement of this gridded speedlight and cookie is not something you can really be bothered trying to quantify with numbers but more a set it all up first, fine tune the distances, try different grid beam angles etc.

And that's the setup to this photo. The rest was some post work which I have no set formula to. Each image I treat differently based on what I want, it's a season to taste type thing and there are many ways at arriving to the same result when it comes to the post processing side of things.