Any shows at the National Exhibition Centre are notoriously difficult to shoot. Orange overhead lights, red carpet, messy backgrounds and crowds of people make it hard to come away with anything other than snapshots.
I like the challenge though. It makes me think about my composition more, keep an eye out for moments and think about what I can do with a cheeky bit of off-camera lighting.
In this case I thought I’d do something a bit different with the star of the British Drift Championship stand at this years Autosport International – the new Driftworks AE86. This car was getting a lot of attention and the stand was crowded all day, compounded by the presence of Maxxis girls Holly and Michelle.
My idea was pretty simple – I wanted to light the car so my shot looked different from the thousands of others taken over the course of the 4 day show but there was no chance of closing the stand or even keeping people back so I had to work fast
With no time or space for lightstands, I’d typically set the camera up on a tripod and walk around the car holding a flash and remotely fire the shutter to capture a range of images to combine in Photoshop later… But I had no tripod.
This is where Holly and Michelle came in handy. Not only were they my Voice Activated Lightstands, but they added a bit of colour co-ordinated glamour to the shot.
I fired a few test shots holding the flash about one meter from the car to get my exposure and flash power dialed in then briefed the girls on what I needed them to do. I was going to be stuck in position at the front of the car staying as steady as possible to make aligning the images easier so I wouldn’t be able to coach them.
Then it was time to shoot. The girls got into position holding my speedlights and triggers, I convinced the gathered crowd to move back a couple of meters and 20 seconds and 7 frames later we were done.
Then it was over to Photoshop. Because the component images were shot in such a rush and in difficult conditions, this needed a little more work with curves than I’d have liked. I’m a big exponent of getting it right in camera but when you don’t have the opportunity to re-shoot or add a fill light you just have to rely on fixing things in post production.
As you can see, there a quite a few layers involved but they can be split into 4 main groups. There are visible layers like the background layer with the unlit car and on top of that are masked layers to add light and girls. Then there are curves adjustment layers clipped to those layers to correct exposure. Above those are more far-reaching curves adjustment layers for overall colour and exposure correction and finally there are a few layers to add a little haze to the visible light sources.
So here’s the final image – As always I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.
I recently decided I wanted to freshen up my portfolio so I gave myself a kick up the arse and arranged a studio day for myself. Living in the South West, when most of the models I want to work with live in the Midlands and the South East, is a pain when it comes to arranging and funding travel. So, in a flash of inspiration, I booked Saracen House Studio, just outside Milton Keynes for the day, lined up 3 models and even a professional make up artist. It made more sense for me to travel to the people I was working with than have them all travel to me individually. My goal was to get 6 portfolio worthy shots. I feel I came up short, but I did learn a few valuable lessons which made the whole day worthwhile.
When hiring out a studio for 8 hours my immediate thought was to shoot for 8 hours to get my money’s worth, so I arranged the arrival times of the girls to overlap. That way, when one was in hair and makeup, I was still shooting the previous model. This causes two problems; Firstly I don’t get to greet the model, sit down, have a chat over a coffee and talk thought what we are about to try. It all becomes a bit hurried and there’s no time to build a rapport before she’s in front of my camera. Secondly, and it didn’t even cross my mind when planning, there was no down time for me. I was working nonstop from 11am to 7pm. Admittedly that’s only 8 hours, a normal working day but even in the worst day job you get a lunch hour! Besides having no breaks, I was “on” constantly with no chance to freewheeling, even for a minute. I was driving the bus with everyone looking to me for what to do next. This is what really took it’s toll. It might be just me, but I can’t stay creative under those conditions. I can’t force it. I got tired, my creativity waned and I started doing safe things. Nothing new, just simple setups, things we have all seen a million times and that’s just not the sort of work I wanted to produce.
This is a simple one. I won’t use sets in a studio again, because even in a quality place like Saracen House, they still look like, well, sets in a studio. I’ll stick to a classic white/grey/black seamless. If I want to shoot in a bedroom, I’ll book a nice hotel suite and take my own lighting. The best images were the day were the ones shot against seamless.
Working with other creatives
Most models can do their own hair and makeup. In fact they’d be pretty limited if they couldn’t, but they will generally have a go-to look that they turn to. That’ll mean that most shots you see of them will be somewhat similar. That’s why I booked a make up artist (or MUA) to be on set all day. This is something I’ll definitely do again. Emma Stroud and I bounced a few messages and images of the models back and forth before the shoot and she was able to decipher my rather blokey descriptions of looks and come up with a style to suit each of the girls. Emma’s styling had a sizable impact on the shoot and led things in directions I probably would not have thought of on my own.
I went in to the day with quite a few lose ideas and concepts thinking they’d be jumping off points and things would organically evolve as the shoot went on. To some degree that worked, but you burn through more ideas in 8 hours than you’d think. I’m not sure what would have worked better. I should have either come up with more of those jumping off points or I should have taken along fewer, but more fully formed ideas. I am erring on the side of the latter as the last time I shot at Saracen House, I had a detailed concept in mind for my hour shoot and came away very happy with the results.
So next time…
I won’t shoot non-stop all day.
I won’t try and simulate locations in a studio.
I will definitely work with other creatives like MUA’s and stylists.
I will prepare more. Either more loose ideas, or a few fully formed concepts.
I’ve known Michelle Westby from the car show scene for quite a while now but it wasn’t until Autosport in January that we finally set a date to shoot together – part of my “Actions, not though” motto for 2011.
Unfortunately, the weather let us down a bit so a lot of our ideas were rained off but luckily I have a range of sheltered locations to call on. (In fact I can’t recommend building up a notebook/online list/map of local locations enough).
Michelle Westby – Lit from camera left with an Elinchrom Quadra in a 70cm Deep Octa
By the time we’d finished fitness themed set at the first location the drizzle had begun to fall so it was time to head underground. Fortunately, we had parked under a road bridge that made a nice grungy background for something a bit more of a fashion look.
Michelle does fashion! Lighting is pretty easy to work out here from the shadow.
With the rain still falling it was time to move on and shoot Michelle in something a bit sexier in a location she’d specifically requested. Those of you that have been here for a while may recognise this location from my shoot with Georgia Graham.
As well as modelling and doing promo work, Michelle is a keen drifter so she brought her Nissan 200SX S14 for a bit of light painintg. One pub lunch and a car wash later, it was time to shoot the S14. Chelle had seen the light painted test shot I did of my car and wanted the same for hers but as it was still too light to get the long shutter speeds needed we did a quick rig shot. Wolfrace Wheels have kindly donated the wheels for this car so I wanted to keep them prominent in the shot by turning them away from the camera. As the Nissan is set up to drift, it has had its differential welded making it nigh on impossible to push in a circle so the engine had to be kept on. This meant getting a sharp shot at the shutter speed needed to give enough blur was trick. The location wasn’t the most exciting either (a car park) but after a bit of Photoshoppry I am quite pleased with the result.
By now, the sun was fading fast so it was time to roll into the studio and set up the camera on a tripod. It’s widely stated that shooting a black car is harder than any other colour and I can definitely verify that! Using the same technique, I shot my white car with just 3 exposures and 3 simple layers in Photoshop.
This was a little trickier! 12 layers and 10 layer masks so I could paint in certain parts of each image to get the right reflections on the bodywork.
Masks and Layers
I (and thankfully Michelle too, after driving all way way from the South East) think the results are worth it.
Another weekend, another show at the NEC and another two days under horrific artificial lighting.
The most popular way to work around it and get some good photos is to use on camera fill flash as you run and gun. But as each hall has a different flavour of lighting, you don’t stand much chance of gelling your flash to match so everyone’s shots tend to look the same. You see ringflash adapters, variousbrackets and all manner of Tupperware to try and avoid the rabbit-in-the-headlights bare flash look but I decided to even further and make it through the weekend flash-free!
The 5DMkII is pretty happy at high ISOs so I spent most of the time at or above ISO1600, wide open on either my 50mm f1.8 or my 24-105mm f4. As the backgrounds are so varied in the NEC, I found centre-weighted metering was the best bet.
If you read this blog though, you know I can’t resist a bit off off-camera flash in a bid to get something a bit different.
This is Jen with a Nikon SB-28 on about 1/8th power in the passenger seat firing toward her head. Without that kick of light, the interior of the car was pure black and her dark blue outfit just blended in.
Then we have Michelle lit by what looks like a big softbox camera left, which in reality is a full power SB-28 bouncing off a white trailer on the neighbouring stand.
And then there’s Sara and Kirsty with Podzilla, the Santa Pod monster truck. Dozens of other people got basically the same shot, and while they did, I ran around to the back wheel, placed a flash and came back to quickly grab this. Natural light from the skylights you can see in the background acted as the main while my flash provides a bit of a kick from behind.