Sunday 21 April 2013

How to break through? Lighting (and other challenges) with Guinness World Records Part 2

When I embarked on my odyssey to photograph the UK's 20 most unusual Guinness world Record holders, I knew a little about lighting but not really very much.

To me this is me this is the really significant part of the series.

Yes, it did help put me on the map but perhaps more importantly the project gave me the opportunity to establish a style and hone my lighting without the whole world watching, making mistake after mistake in my own time.

Some of these mistakes were expensive.

One of the record holders on my radar was Peter Dowdeswell who held, and perhaps still holds, multiple world records for food consumption.

One of his records was for the fastest consumption of strawberries.

How to illustrate this?

I wanted a burst of colour which was almost 'acid' in appearance, beyond vivid.

I came up with an idea in my head of a 'wall' of strawberries.

How to achieve this image?

To make my vision a reality I figured that I would need some sort of set build.

Bearing in mind that my budget was extremely limited, and that I not in-fact previously built a set, it was going to have to be ingenious.

I came up with idea of using a bathtub, and fixing the strawberries to the inside of it, as it would give a rising 'wall of strawberries'

So I went down to the local municipal dump and bought for £2.

I bought it home in my big estate car and considered my next move.

When you are shooting big projects such as this, which involve set builds, large crews and lots of gear, the number one saving you can make is a car which means you can move all of this around the country, or continent, without having to hire a vehicle when you want to do a really big shoot.

I worked out that I would have to cut the bath tub in half, on its shortest side, a few calculations with the tape measure and a call to one of my neighbours who had a fine collection of power tools and the job was done.

My first tests predictably revealed that if you stack strawberries against a vertical surface that they do fall over.

So I needed to fix them to the surface, just how to do that?

I worked out that if I evenly drilled small holes which would accommodate inward facing cocktail sticks, I could skewer the strawberries.

The problem I then encountered was the gaps in the strawberries were seen very easily in a photo as the bath tub was a delightful 1980's vintage green, so I sprayed the interior of the bath with matt black paint, which worked a treat.

Shoot day loomed and I calculated that I would need to buy approx £80 of strawberries to get the coverage I required.

One does not eat strawberries with the green stalk on, so I removed every single stalk.

This was a major mistake.

Strawberries photographed on masse with the top stalk removes look very poor indeed, removed stalk reveals a large white patch which is most unappealing.

If I was smart I would have tested and realised at the beginning, but I did not.

I blew £80 and many hours removing strawberry stalks.

Worse still I went ahead with the shoot.

It looked dreadful, shabby and botched.

I could have lived with the result, just about.

But I chose not to.

I wanted this work to be better than anything that had been done previously, I wanted this project to be a calling card for me and my photography, and I was not going to achieve this by compromising.

So I bought another load of strawberries and did it again.

Peter did not have quite so much time for the reshoot and I completed it in much less than 30 mins.

The first shot was not a complete waste of time though, and apart from a freezer full of strawberries, I noticed that his face was too clean so for the reshoot I pureed some strawberries and applied them to Peter's face with a turkey baster.

The lighting was very straight forward.

I used a pair of Elinchrom Style heads, one as the key light at camera right with an Elinchrom beauty dish, one as a backlight with a kill spill and grid pointing high and over the back of the bathtub.

I used a California Sunbounce reflector camera left to fill in Peter's face.

I was using film for the project and shot the image on a Mamiya RZ67 ProII with a 140mm macro lens I exposed the shot at something like F11.

When you are undertaking a 'breakthorough' project one should not be afraid of reshooting an image.

This is the time to learn, develop a style and impress.

'Good enough' photography just does not cut it.

1 comment:

Libby said...

Correction like this in midstream is not for the timid ;-) You said you could have maybe lived with the first shot result. No, you couldn't have. There would always be that constant underlying dread when seeing it. For a signature work, you have to get what you want, and that's that. No compromises, even if they are on;y apparent in your own mind.

Leftover strawberries good for lots of pies ;-)