Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Good fortune

This photo could also be subtitled, “Happy Accident.” I can imagine that the first high-key photograph was produced by a photographer who accidentally set the flash too bright and once the photos were processed, didn’t have enough time to reset and try again. The pics were presented to the client as “avant garde” and the client bought it. Photographers have been dialing up the lights ever since.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t exactly the way it happened, but who knows? I started out trying to shoot a straight up still life featuring a message I got from a fortune cookie in my last Chinese take out order. I grabbed a few Oriental-looking items from the kitchen and set this up on a tabletop. I used a 50mm f1.8 lens with a +4 close up filter to get some really shallow depth of field and framed up the shot, focusing on the top line of print on the strip of paper.

You have to understand that my main light is a small 26-year-old flash unit with no automatic anything. It puts out one level of light and that’s it. You either have to adjust the camera’s ISO or aperture according to a scale on the back of the flash or move the flash closer or farther from the subject to adjust. I’ve added an additional control – covering the flash with a neutral density filter, or placing one, two or three fingers over the light to cut it. Very ghetto, but it works. Yes, I could go out and buy a smart flash, but for one, I’m cheap, and secondly, where would the fun be in that?

I’m also too cheap (or lazy) to buy a flash synch cord, so I set the camera to ½ second in a totally dark room and set the self timer to trip the shutter. As soon as I hear the shutter trip after the timer counts down, I fire the flash manually. Works like a charm.

This was a two-fingers-over-the-flash-head shot, bounced off the ceiling. A DVD propped on edge just outside the frame threw some colored light back onto the objects. That was also an accident. I was looking for a reflective surface to fill in some of the shadow areas and picked up the DVD, thinking it would throw some white light into the picture. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it threw an entire color spectrum into the picture. Cool.

Yeah, I gave it too much light, but after looking at it for a while, decided that it was avant garde enough to keep. I think I may be on to something with the DVD reflector.

Photograph © 2008 James Jordan.


Dave said...

Great still life photo. I like the idea of using the DVD as a reflector. I'll be stealing that from you -- thanks!

Wanda said...

I like the photo, but the narative is way over my technical brain.

Merry Christmas