Au Voleur*

It was a great relief to finally be on the last session of the week-long One Frame Movie series, when I met up with fellow photographer Tilman Jentzsch on the university campus in Bern a couple of weeks ago. The week-long series of evening photo sessions was organized at very short notice and as the season was turning ever more wintry, I wanted to be sure and have the last shot in the bag. I don’t mind working in the cold, but the lowering temperatures were making conditions tougher on the models and leading to visible effects: from pink cheeks to watering eyes.

As it turned out, this last session was one of my favourites: not just because of the fact that Tilman is a successful photographer himself, but that he’s also an avid student of lighting technique. After a less than satisfactory shot out on the lawn, we worked our way around to the rear entrance and found that the building was still open. Drawn inside by the prospect of a stained glass window, we ended up on the staircase of the main building, which is where the shot of the evening played out. (Without featuring the window, as it turned out.)

The ambient lighting in the building was sufficient for normal tripod-mounted photography but in order to extend the set I’m working on, something extra was needed. After making several test shots, I elected to make life easy for myself and effectively remove almost all of the ambient light from the shot, by using a fast shutter speed. By then selectively adding artificial illumination as needed, I could more precisely control the scene.

In the end, there were four flash guns contributing to the picture. The main light on Tilman is a snooted SB26, fired using a Cactus trigger (as it was out if sight, up in the stairwell). A second SB26 was positioned at camera right, firing upwards at the white ceiling to provide a weak fill light for the foreground. The reflected light from this flash fired an SB24 located behind the lower banister, illuminating the lower hallway. The fourth and final flash was fired optically; pointed at a white umbrella out of shot to the left, to fill in the shadows of the staircase.

The colour balance was the last, tricky problem to overcome. While much of the ambient light was removed, there was sufficient to cause a colour cast in conflict with the flashes. The colour balance was slightly orange because of the tungsten lighting, so I added matching gels to the flashes. Once back at the computer, I made the usual adjustments to tone and balance, and shifted the colours into a cooler range.

* “Au Voleur” is French for “stop thief” and the name of one of my junior school textbooks when I first began learning French.

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