Loving the clear winter sky’s recently! Snapped this beauty at Queen Elizabeth Country Park in Horndean earlier this week.
As part of an ongoing exploration of the non-place I am closing in on several categories of space. The view is to create a typology of non-place. A photographic record of the world around us. A world which we frequent on a regular basis but rarely think of as anything special.
In this particular instance I visited a 24 hour car park in the city of Portsmouth. Car parks at night have always been photographically attractive to me and I’ve often referred to them as ‘playgrounds of light’.
The car park in question has motion activated lighting, so as to save on energy bills. This feeds directly in to the notion of place and space. This mundane of structures stands in the darkness while disused but springs to life when the motion lights are triggered. This illumination converts that place in to a space with the presence of humans. The presence of a purpose.
Recently after a load of ‘Smoke Photography’ images I said I would write a blog post of a guide to what I had done and how I had done it. Below is an image of the whole set up and I will discuss this in detail.
My set up is possibly overkill but it’s kit that I own and use so why the heck not. One of the most important parts (apart from the incense stick to make the smoke) is the black backdrop. Creating the negative space behind the image enables use to be very flexible in post production. All I use is a black piece of material bought from a fabric store and then tailored to hang from a backdrop stand kit.
The incense I have used is very cheap, 60 sticks for £1 at Poundland, and does the trick perfectly!
I used my camera on a tripod, this isn’t essential as the settings used can make fast speed shooting very easy and dramatically reduce shake and blur. However I found it very useful for having a spare hand to manipulate the smoke.
A light source is very important, I used a Nikon SB700 speedlight but a simple desk lamp can be sufficient. This was fired using a basic radio remote trigger.
I used a reflector to balance out the light in the image, this isn’t needed but it’s what I wanted.
For my images I used the flashgun at 1/16th power and had the camera set to:
The f 8 helped to keep the depth of field enough to not get massively out of focus areas of the smoke. Focussing can be a big issue, I framed the shot so the tip of the incense was just visible in the bottom of the viewfinder and manually focused on that. Cropping this out in post is simple.
To take it a step up I added coloured filters to the flashgun to change the cast of the light. This colours the smoke and gives us more possibilities when we edit.
The editing I’ve kept really simple for the most part where I’ve cropped out the tip of the incense stick, deepened the black and raised the shadows on the a tonal curve. With a colour filter over the flashgun we can also adjust the hue to create entirely different sets of colours! If we wanted to take it a step further we could invert the colours to make the background white, the smoke negative and adjust the hue. Below are a couple of my examples…
Recently when working for a new client I was quite privileged to photograph two Regimental Sergeant Major ‘Dine Outs’ in a row. To the uninformed these are basically retirement parties for individuals who have spent a very large portion of their life serving in the army, the first was 23 years of service and the most recent was retiring after 25 years!
Amongst the formalities of the evening there were several speeches which I was there to photograph. Halfway through shooting it dawned on me that I was the only person with a camera / photographing. The closest thing I can compare it to would be the speeches after a wedding breakfast, in this scenario there would be several other people in the room either filming a video on their phone or taking pictures using a personal digital camera, but in this room I was the only one. This level of exclusivity was quite humbling and the weight of responsibility came with it.
The lighting conditions were by far the most difficult I’ve ever had to shoot in with candles on the tables kicking out warm light and the fluorescent tubes lighting the paintings of famous sea battles on the walls pushing out cold light.
Asides from these aspects I also considered the importance of being able to photograph in this place. A non-place which has been stood here for over 100 years and so rarely gets seen by all but an exclusive group of people. Not like ‘joe public’ can wander in to have a look around. In the same way that I have photographed in prison cells, or other rarely seen worlds, it is photography’s responsibility to document even the most mundane of things.