Light and Leather… and a Hamburger…

OK, what can I say?  The experiment with the silver jewelry hooked me big time.  I went online to look at other photographers using the “Painting with Light” techniques and came across two practitioners of the arcane art:  Harold Ross and Eric Curry.  If you have any interest in the technique or what can be done with it in both a commercial and fine art sense, you owe it to yourself to look them up online and see their websites.  And I would really be remiss not to mention San Diego pro shooter Nick Nacca who does stunning commercial work using his own variation of the approach.

Meantime I devoured all I could find and read.  And as might have been anticipated, I found myself falling headlong into the middle of aesthetic and technical controversy.  I’ve never fully understood how someone who can ardently argue that this is an art can, at the same time, argue that there is but one proper way to do something.  Or how individuals doing essentially the same things can see each other as doing very different things…

As I mentioned last time, this technique, broadly defined, has been around for a very long time, nearly since the first photographer realized they needed more light on a subject but no one had yet invented electronic flash units.  Some that I read, insisted on trying to approach the technique the exact same way when using digital equipment as they did with film and others insist that it is all completely different.  In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, “It is to laugh!”

Clearly with so many different “experts” doing things so differently, the only option was to experiment further.  My ultimate goal is to do some landscape and still life images as well as translate the techniques to the food imagery we have been doing.  The result  of this lighting seem to be so much “richer” in tones and sometimes even colors than shots lit for a single frame capture.

I’ve heard some say you could simply create a standard lighting setup to achieve the same effect but I don’t think so.  The look is unique… similar to careful atmospheric lighting,true, but yet different in feel somehow.  Perhaps as I play with it I will find a way to better articulate how it looks to me contrasted with normal lighting.

So, casting about for something to shoot I settled on my saddles and leather .  Here was a complex composition that might yield an interesting result.  I gathered the parts and set it up to look like gear just piled on a post in a barn, did a little re-arranging and was ready to grab the camera.  Following the approach of Eric Curry I decided to shoot with a wide angle lens.  He feels that for this type of subject it gives a view more like the way we see with our central vision and peripheral sight.  Also, since the first shot in the studio from the previous post was made using a hand held studio flash unit, I decided this time to try a simple flashlight.

I took about 20 frames.  Each frame was shot at an 8 second duration since more time, even at f22, gave me too much of the ambient light in my house.  With 8 seconds at f22 the actual pile of stuff was in silhouette although a wall and window behind was clearly illuminated.  I decided I did not want to wait until dark so would deal with the background later.  I used a Cree LED flashlight with the camera white balance set to “cloudy” because of the blue case of the Cree LEDs.

I’m documenting all of these experiments and when I’m satisfied with a good, workable set of approaches I’ll do a handout on it.

I selected about 10 of the frames to use in the final version, stacked them in Photoshop as layers, aligned them and then set to work.   I would love to have set this up in an old barn somewhere since that was how I envisioned it, but since I was not near an old barn and  could not bring the stuff to the school studios, my dining room was all that was available.  So a modified shot of the decking timbers of an old pier near the Maritime Museum was called into play as a more rustic background.

Here is the final result:

Painting with Light shot of saddles, sixguns and other gear ready for action.  Shot with Canon 5D Mk II and Canon f4L 17-40mm at 17mm.  Light was a Cree T6 LED flashlight.

Painting with Light shot of saddles, sixguns and other gear ready for action. Shot with Canon 5D Mk II and Canon f4L 17-40mm at 17mm. Light was a Cree T6 LED flashlight.  You can click on the image to enlarge it.

Now on to business.  A week ago Cynthia and I shot another cover at a hamburger place in Chula Vista.  They had GREAT hamburgers!  Here is the resulting cover shot from that project.  This was lit normally with electronic flash units.

Cover shot for Halphen Red Hamburgers in Chula vista, CA.  Shot with Canon 5D Mk III.

Cover shot for Halphen Red Hamburgers in Chula vista, CA. Shot with Canon 5D Mk III.

Now, I’ve a pile of grading to do so need to get after it.


About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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