Strobism, Winterthur, Switzerland

So, yeah. Quiet here. I’m working like a demon and I can’t tell you about my main private project – still – for fear that the information will leak into the wrong hands and spoil. Nothing bad at all, rather exciting, in fact, as many people who are in the know will be able to tell you. It’s all going well and… no, can’t tell you that next bit either. Just trust me. I’ll tell you all about it later, when it’s sorted out. In more detail than you probably expect or require.

Slave Driving, Winterthur, Switzerland

I was in Winterthur last weekend for the day with the lovely northern Flickr people (and the equally lovely wife, of course) to take part in the first proper workshop we’ve organized. We all turned up, wrapped up against the cold, with rucksacks full of equipment and lots of ideas for hanging around in a big empty warehouse. That all sounds rather odd, until you look at the photos we took and realize that the idea was to help each other out and learn/teach more about flash and portrait photography, according to expertise and mood. I took a few shots myself and came home with two great photographs, one of which I took and one of which I directed, taking a leading role as one of the subjects. As you can see, they both turned out rather well.

The simple moment of seeing a wagon standing idle in the corner of a yard inspired this shot, which was pretty simple to make. We did use unobtrusive flash illumination, though you’d be hard pushed to see where without looking at the unedited original image. The whip in Jo’s hand is actually a belt (we should’ve brought props, which will be a useful learning experience for next time) and the idea for her to stand on the wagon – as opposed to lying on it, which was my idea – has worked very well indeed. Nick actually took the photograph whilst Ian and Eloisa helped us out by holding the remote-controlled flash units, out of shot to right and left, accordingly.

The Final Shot, Winterthur, Switzerland

This, the second of the two shots, for which Jo provided the idea and Beat the lights, was one of the most thrilling and rewarding images I’ve created for a very long time. It’s been my goal for years to use studio lighting equipment in non-studio locations and through the help of several experienced guys – mainly slapping my forehead until I realized what a dolt I’ve been – I achieved my first proper, theatrical, studio-illuminated photograph. I’d been bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have portable studio flash units with a power supply, but realized very quickly – through the workshop – that regular speedlight flashguns are more than powerful enough to use off-camera to create a studio lighting effect.

The idea behind the shot was that of a sniper photographer shooting a subject in the back: firstly a great metaphor and secondly, a play on words. I’d like to say that it was an insightful look at how media intrusion can be so destructive, but I only just thought of that.

(Warning, geeky photographic stuff coming up.)

The shot was illuminated pretty simply. First, I set the camera aperture to match the two flash units positioned above and to the left, and below and to the right, so that the (what I’ll call) “actors” (Bruno and Beat) would be correctly illuminated. Then I deliberately underexposed the ambient light by setting a higher shutter speed than was required, to make sure that the flash illumination separated the actors from the background. Finally, at home in Photoshop, I created a semi-transparent duplicate layer of the original photograph, set the mode to “Overlay”, desaturated the upper layer slightly and then burned in selected areas to achieve a dark and moody look.

(OK, non-geeks can continue reading now.)

Taking photos like this – achieving a goal which I’ve had for years – is a fantastic feeling. I’m positively itching to get out and take more photographs; Jo and I are continually coming up with new ideas for staged photographs and we can’t wait until we can give them a go. If the weather holds out, we’ll be in Bern this weekend to try our luck in the land around the Paul Klee Centre, an architecturally unusual gallery. If you’d like to join us, you can find more information in the new Swiss Strobist group at Flickr.

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