Process: Building Shot, Step One

This photo of a sofa is the beginning of a hopefully cool architectural landscape I am planning to make this fall.

If that makes no sense at all, hit the jump for the full version.

I am always messing around with long-term ideas in the back of my head. And I will frequently play around with techniques at home during a few minutes' free time as nothing more than a proof-of-concept photo.

Example: Before I did the book club illustration that was featured in an On Assignment post, I wanted to see if the stroboscopic mode on my SB-800 was powerful enough to be used as a highly controllable "continuous" light source for painting.

I tested it on an old sneaker in my darkened hall and determined that it would work just fine. I had originally wanted to use the light painting technique for this beer shot. But light painting on that reflective subject failed miserably, so I went with double diffusion there. Live and learn.

The technique was sound, but just not suited for the highly reflective and dark bottles. In the end I think it worked well for the book shot, and I was glad I had pre-solved some of the problems with a trial run on the sneaker.

The sofa in the photo at top is the stand-in sneaker for the building I hope to shoot this fall. The technique is a time-based hard flash/lens diffusion combo that is a little bit similar to that used in the book club photo, minus the light painting.

The effect I want to get in my final image is one of a highly diffused scene, underexposed, shifted to blue, with hard, sharp-lit warmed up edges on the building. With this is my test, I think it will work. Here's how I did it.

I used a darkened room with a long exposure (2.5 secs at f/8, if memory serves) to allow myself some time to play during the ambient portion of the exposure. Camera was locked down on a tripod.

There were three flashes used, with the addition of warm fluorescent light coming from the kitchen and hall in the background. There are basically three exposures being made during two and a half seconds.

At the start of the exposure, eight folded layers of plastic wrap are placed in front of the lens. Room lights are off, background lights on. The shutter opens, tripping a speedlight on 1/2 power aimed at the ceiling. This will light the room to about 2 stops under instantly, but everything that happens (including the background ambient that builds over the next 2.5 secs) will build through the layers of plastic wrap diffusing the lens.

There are two more speedlights in the shot -- one on each side of the frame aimed at the opposite sides of the sofa. These, I fire remotely by hand with a Pocket Wizard. But just before I fire them, I remove the plastic wrap. So those flashes fire tack sharp, defining just the texture of the couch.

I like the hard light in the soft-focus environment, (kinda hard to see small -- click here for bigger) and I think I could do a really cool building landscape using this setup. Especially if the diffused light is bluish (late evening) and the hard flash pops are warmed up. You'll have angular lighting contrast, hard-vs-soft contrast and cool-vs-warm contrast, all working to create tension and beauty in the scene.

All done in camera, too.

I still do not yet know if I can create the building scene I see in my mind's eye. But I have proven that I can execute the basic technique of the shot, so I am optimistic.

And I have a neat photo of my sofa and messy coffee table.


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