A Studio Kind of Day

· Reading Time: 7 minutes

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

As you are looking at the description on this website you are seeing “Landscape and Decay Photographer.”  For those who have been here for a while, you are quite familiar with my typical subject matter which consists of mountain scenes, rural scenes and rusty junk.  For the most part, that pretty much covers what I do with a camera with the occasional exception of some portrait work, or maybe a few glamour shots of some less than rusty vehicles.  I used to pigeon hole myself as a photographer when I first started out.  I thought that the only way to be a landscape photographer was to avoid anything man made in my compositions.  How limiting was that for me?  Well, it wasn’t long before I branched out to including the occasional fence, or maybe a barn.  Of course, in time that grew into other subjects until eventually, the landscape became a background element for the subjects of the photographs in many cases.  While that has opened up an infinite amount of possibilities for photographs that I could shoot, it still didn’t represent everything that I found which could be considered beautiful or worthy of a photograph.  To restrict my subjects in any way is just another way of stunting my growth as a photographer.

For several weeks now, I’ve been looking at this sculpture which we have in the living room.  It is not one that either Toni or I picked out.  It happens to be one from my Mother’s collection of home décor.  After her passing in 2018, Toni and I went through the very difficult task of dealing with her property.  Of course, there was no way to keep everything and at the time I didn’t want to keep anything at all.  That was where Toni came in and she made the executive decisions on most of the things that we kept which worked out very well.  This particular sculpture was one of the items that she wanted to keep and I didn’t argue with her at all.

You see, this one has a lot of special memories for me which I can now think about.  She bought it back when I was in high school and had it on display in the living room.  As it turned out, I was one of those typical 18 year olds that liked to annoy my Mother and one of things that I did was to take a part of the sculpture and hide it throughout the house on a regular basis. Of course, my friends also got in on the jokes and Mom got extremely upset with us because we were discoloring part of the sculpture.  At 18, I didn’t understand what the big deal was, but eventually I left it alone.  Looking back on this, I’m less than proud of how I acted because this was a piece of art that really resonated with her and I didn’t understand or respect that at the time.  Now, some 30 years later, I have a different appreciation for the art as well as the connection that Mom had with it.  I guess that was what drew me into this whole studio shoot after a couple of weeks of consideration.

Mother and Child“, Canon 5DS R, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, 600 EX RT, No Filters, Converted to B&W in Lightroom

What caused me to see this as a photograph was the way that the dining room light was hitting it one evening.  It was very directional coming from the left side.  The shadows that it caused added to the depth and the interest of the form for me.  I started to think about what I could do with some off camera flash which could be used to accentuate the shape of the sculpture.  I had been doing a lot of research on lighting techniques for a portrait shoot that I had coming up and had learned quite a bit about how to control the light in ways that I would have never guessed.  I wasn’t quite sure how to get it all sorted out as I am not really set up for any kind of studio shoot…at least not in a professional sense.

I knew that I wanted to have some harsh light on the sculpture from the same side as what I had seen from the dining room.  That would be easy enough to accomplish with my speedlite mounted off camera to the side.  I don’t have a stand for the light as I have it rigged up to mount to my Acratech Ballhead for portrait shoots since I am hand holding the camera for those sessions.  This time though, I was wanting to have the camera mounted to the tripod so that I could dial in the composition and keep it while I adjusted the location of the light source.  I was going to have to get creative in getting all of this set up.  I didn’t even have a backdrop to use for this.

Here you see the situation that I found myself in to make this work.  I used a TV tray in front of my gear shelf which had a blanket draped from one to another.  The shelf didn’t go quite high enough so I put a box on the top shelf with the lid opened which held the blanket in place and allowed for a natural drape.  I mounted the flash to another TV tray off to the side and realized that it was too low so I added a box to raise the flash.  That still didn’t get it so I flipped the box on the side and placed the flash as you see on the side of the box propped to angle it down slightly.  I only used the diffuser panel on the flash head to soften the light as I wanted it to be a little more dramatic in how it lit the subject.  The camera was placed on the tripod along with the flash controller, and a lens hood was added to the lens to keep any stray light from affecting the lens element.

I got the composition dialed in with the camera and locked the focus on the sculpture.  From here, it was just a matter of adjusting the flash power and location to get the lighting where I wanted it.  The exposure of f/5.6 at 1/160th of a second was constant through the process.  It took about 20 frames before I had covered about all of the options that I was thinking about.  I even added a reflector on the right side towards the end to soften the shadows a bit.  In the end though, I didn’t care for the softened shadows nearly as much.  This was all about the shapes and the interactions between the pieces of the sculpture.

When I reached the point where I didn’t know what else to try I brought the images into Lightroom and started to look at them to see what I had.  It was my sixth exposure in the series that I thought had the most potential to convey my impression of the story.  I went through the process of processing it and started out as a color image.  My thought was to give the image a warm feeling through the use of a warm color balance.  That didn’t really suit my vision though and I found that I was liking the more neutral tones to the sculpture.  I went over to convert it to Black and White and that was when it landed for me.  That was how I wanted it to be.  It was now a study in shape and depth which was my intention all along.  The color was going to get in the way of that message.

There are several things about the lighting that I really like about this image right down to the “point” of light just above the baby’s head showing the one direct connection between Mother and child while the “light” of the Mother surrounds the baby without coming in contact.  This is the protection that the Mother offers her child while all of the life lessons are directed at the brain.  That might be a little heavy handed of an explanation, but that was my interpretation of the lighting choices that I chose here.  The subsequent ones didn’t have that same message, and just didn’t quite land with me.

I don’t know if anyone else will like this one or not, and I even debated on writing a blog entry about it.  This one was one for me and I’m thrilled with it.  I’m sure it will never make up for me hiding the baby so many times as a teen, but I do have a newfound respect for this treasure of Mom’s.  I’m also very glad that Toni decided to keep this for us to enjoy and stay linked to Mom in a way.

Until next time….

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