Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A mix of exposures

I'm always trying to find new things to try, technically. The experimentation part is one that I really enjoy about making a picture.

Unseen by Jacob Åberg (jacke)) on
Unseen by Jacob Åberg

 Some lighting info first, I had two Speedlights on each side of the subject, slightly in front of her turned inwards towards the wall. The (camera) left one was behind the central character, and the (camera) right was just out of frame. And then one Speedlight behind her aimed at her back.

I don't remember exactly when I came across the story about violinist Joshua Bell doing a secret performance in the L'Enfant Plaza metro station, but it resonated with me in a strong way, and eventually I found myself wanting to do a visual interpretation of it. I have a bad habit of not really documenting my process, but eventually I came onto the idea of mixed exposures, using both flash and long exposure for light-painting.

Now, light-painting takes some time, so unless you're in a controlled environment you will easily over-expose the image, and I wanted to do it outside. The darkness of evening will get you part of the way, but I still didn't want to risk running out of time, so I got the idea of using a neutral density-filter to get a longer exposure time. Of course when you use an ND-filter then will also need to increase flash power, which will be difficult with the 9-stop ND-filter I wanted to use. So you could take the easy way out of doing it in two exposures and combining it in Photoshop, or... add the ND-filter mid exposure.

By hanging a black t-shirt on a stand in front of the lens I could easily block off the light coming in after the initial flash exposure. I didn't do any documented comparisons how long shutter time it would be the equivalent of before I got the blockage in place, but I knew it was faster than 1/2 second, which according to my estimations still was in the "safe zone". Then while the t-shirt was blocking the lens I screwed in the ND-filter, then pull away the t-shirt and get to work with the flashlights!

I'm satisfied with how it came out, even though it doesn't completely match the image I had in my head. The concept worked, the technical aspect worked (aside from some wonky flash misfirings). Things I could have done better:
  • using a weaker ND-filter; with such a strong one the flashlights lost a lot of their power
  • better concealing of lightstands; as it turned out I had to take some out in post-production
  • cleaner light-trails; with more practice it would have looked a bit less "messy" than it ended up as.
These are however not show-stoppers. The one thing that bothers me most is the clumsy placement of the lightstands that ended up showing in the picture. Without those I could honestly say that this image is not photoshopped. Of course the main elements in the picture are not photoshopped, we really did go out, set up lights and run around with flashlights. But it's not "not photoshopped".

And in case there are doubters here is also a Lightroom capture so you can see how much I changed.

Just as every picture is, it was a learning experience.