Thursday, 16 October 2008

Business Brain: Part 2

Last month, I posted the introduction to an assignment I was asked to undertake recently. The premise was to illustrate 'the business brain', with an emphasis on telephonic communication. If you missed the intro (Part 1), you can check it out here. As for Part 2... keep reading to find out how our initial thoughts developed into the resulting image.

OK, so having finalised the envisaged look of the picture, the next thing to do was make sure all the props were in place. As I said in Part 1, the 'brain' itself came courtesy of Ebay, but the question was - would it look right? How to decide.... hmm....? Obviously, we met up in a neutral place - in the car park of a local hotel on this occasion - to find out. Picture the scene then, as two cars roll up (under the watchful gaze of the hotel's surveillance cameras, no doubt)... Man 1 gets out of his car, greets Man 2 and partner, before producing brain out of a nondescript carrier bag and plonking it (technical term) on the rear of Man 2's car. Oh, how we would love to see the fuzzy grey camera footage from those few minutes - fame at last, eh John?!

Back at base, the only 'physical' things left to sort were the background and the spiral cabling which would be fixed directly onto the brain. The picture on the left here shows some early contenders - but none of them were quite right, and it was agreed that only a true 'spiral' cable (such as that found on telephones) would do. Sounds kinda obvious, but you have to try these things. As it happens, we actually decided to use the lead from an electric guitar, as this was nice and chunky (another technical term!) - an important factor to make sure it stood out in the picture.

With props sorted, then, it was time to think about the background. In order to create an infinity curve (a background with no 'horizon'), we went with a simple piece of A1 (24"x30" approx.) blue card which would offer a nice range of tones - from 'highlight' to shadow - dictated by the lighting. I already had this card to hand, and it turned out to be the perfect shade for our purposes. (I always keep a stock of backgrounds for small table-top arrangements such as these).

Now we're getting to the 'fun' bit - how to go about attaching the cable to the brain. In this picture, you can see the brain, cable, background card, wire cutters and... hair clips! Ironically, I have no other use for such items as hair clips (as colleagues testify all too regularly!), but these little pieces of metal did a great job of holding the cable in position. The process involved cutting off the rounded tips and pushing the clips into the foam-filled brain.

Here's a little 3-minute time-lapse video (shot on the G9, naturally) showing the somewhat labourious task:

Well done if you watched that all the way through - it really was that exciting in real life, too! But it's the result that counts so... you know...

Having put everything together, here is what the finished object looked like. Again, the G9 was used to take this quick snap to send off for approval (the picture also acted as a reference during the main shoot itself). Of course, the hair clips are clearly visible here; we got around this, ultimately, by using contrasty lighting and good old Photoshop to remove them at the post-production stage.

You'll also notice that the plugs are not shown in the picture. Nothing as drastic as cutting them off - they were simply cropped out of frame.

As for the lighting, we kept this really simple too. Ridiculously so, in fact - just one Nikon SB-800 mounted directly above the set-up on a Super Clamp, firing through a 2ft Bowens soft box (for a more diffused effect) and angled forward slightly. This gave a pleasing shadow underneath the brain, as well as a nicely graded fall-off effect on the background. Oh, and the flash was triggered wirelessly using a couple of Pocket Wizards. And yes, in answer to all you Strobist techies out there, I could just as easily have used the SU-4 function for this purpose.

Here's another time-lapse (somewhat more visually interesting, I hope!), showing how it all looked. Again, note the really simple arrangement - why complicate things?!

And the final result? Well, you've just seen the image itself (supplied in both colour and black & white), at the end of the video. As for the brochure - with text and bordering put in place, and a couple of final tweaks at the design studio, the final cover looked like this. Again, very simple, allowing the image and text to convey the message.

There is often a great misconception that 'studio' shots require grand set-ups, excessive lighting and high production costs. While this may be the case with larger projects, it does not have to be the case a lot of the time. Sure, on this outing the shoot location may not be the most glamorous - but so what? It is, after all, the resulting images that count. You'd be amazed how many 'high profile' assignments for large companies and corporates are actually shot in less-than-thrilling surroundings - but again, who's to know? And working on-site with our clients, using improvised studios, is a great way to get to know the way their businesses work, too.

If you have any thoughts or questions relating to this post, the shoot, technicalities or the way we work in various 'studio' arrangements, please feel free to air them in the comments section by clicking on the link below. Remember, it's all about sharing information and spreading the word - so it'd be great to get some discussion going!

Oh, and for more behind-the-scenes GBP videos, check out us out on YouTube.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Thinking outside the box... literally

One of my favourite types of location to photograph in is a factory or warehouse. There's just something about the lighting that really lends itself to potentially atmospheric images; I love the softness of their overhead illumination, and by working simply with the available light we can get a real sense of the subject matter in its simplicity. One of my assignments this week was in just such a place.

On arriving at the warehouse, however, the conditions appeared less than favourable - a very dimly lit building with no windows, and what light there was fell to the ground in patches. First up, then, we had to stop and re-think how best to illustrate the primary elements we were trying to get across given these conditions - specifically, the overall space, capacity, professional methodology and organisation of the client. Thankfully, there was a saving grace in the form of the key subject matter itself - bright yellow storage boxes - so we ditched the idea of using our SB-800 flashes in favour of the ambient light. Exposures, therefore, were in the region of 1-4 seconds - and for this we brought out the tripod and grip equipment.

This picture, shot on the G9, gives a good indication of the working conditions. Dark corners at the ends of the shelving, ranging through to highlight areas nearer the roof. This particular 'scene' was actually one of the brighter areas. Incidentally, all ground-level static shots were taken with a tripod-mounted Nikon D200 at ISO 100. Lens choice varied between the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ultrawide and the Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 AFS IF-ED DX Nikkor.

Ground-level stuff is all very well but, you know, sometimes you just need something extra... And that's where the crane came in, taking me up to a height of aroun 26 metres - near enough to the very top of the building. Still working with the available light, I switched from the tripod to a Super Clamp/Magic Arm combo, which was attached to the basket of the crane. Given that there was no cross-wind(!) and that I was able to stand perfectly still, this arrangement was perfectly adequate for getting sharpe, blur-free pictures. It even did a great job at supporting the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AFS telephoto, which was used for isolating staff from their surroundings.

With any shoot like this, what we are trying to produce is a varied set of images which informs would-be customers
not just about the product, but about the process, too. Multiple tools such as clamps, lenses and lighting enable us to do this. Accordingly, we shot a number of supporting photographs showing specific details of the filing system as well as portraits of other members of staff carrying out their specific roles within the operation.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The glamour of 20-hour work days

Sometimes, my week just runs away from from me, taking each 24 hours – and, by default, my plans – with it. I've alluded to this before, and it is something which, with hands held aloft in surrender, is simply the way my work pattern can go over the course of seven days. Anyway, I had just such a week recently...

The Monday in question was spent editing wedding pictures shot at the end of the previous week, along with taking care of emails and phone messages left over the weekend. Then in the evening, it was off to a long-standing local corporate client to photograph their board members' meeting.

The following morning, having had 3 hours' sleep, I attended one of my regular early-morning networking meetings, before heading to the office to crack on with editing those informal portraits from the night before. For all you budding photographers out there, here's a top tip: Never underestimate the powers of a good cup of hot tea to get you though a bout of sleep deprivation!

It was at this point that I received the phone call that would dictate the remainder of the week. Of course, I already had plans, but thankfully on this occasion there was nothing that couldn't be switched to another day or taken care of during the evenings. And the call?... A very last-minute request to carry out assignments in Glasgow on the Wednesday, Northern Ireland on the Thursday and Wales the following Monday! Duly, I obliged. Which in itself caused an initial 'challenge'.

The Glasgow shoot required me to be at the airport for a 7am check-in. Given my weary state, I just couldn't face a 2-3 hour drive in the early hours, so the sensible option was to take the train. Problem was, in order to be at the airport on time, the only possible train I could take set off at 11:30pm on the Tuesday night – meaning a 3-change, 7-hour journey and... yes, you've guessed it, no sleep.

So, with thoughts of... er... 'forget that' in my mind, I arranged to travel up to London that night and stay at a hotel, so as to make an early start on Wednesday morning. This would also mean another early start (4am)... but at least is was a shorter onward journey consisting of taxi ride and connecting train.

Without naming and shaming, I have to say that hotel was possibly the worst one it has ever been my misfortune to stay in. Which didn't help matters. Waking up several times during the night and sneaking out through an empty reception because – I conclude – the duty staff had forgotten to set his alarm, I really wasn't set up all that well for the day ahead. But the flight to Glasgow passed without drama, too.

The Glasgow shoot itself went well, photographing the interior of a retail store. Rather than simply recording the overall department views, we also picked out unusual angles and details, making use of a range of lenses including two of my favourites – the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ultrawide and the slightly aged Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 AFS telephoto. The brief was typically tight, but with a pleasing degree of flexibility to enable my creativity to show through (remember, we photographers are not paid simply to 'press the button' – it's also that lateral thinking around ideas and the ability to visualise the end results and, ultimately, the output).

Speaking of which - the subsequent images from that day will initially be used in-house and at a conference in the coming weeks. As another shoot for the same client was scheduled in for Friday, a selection of those images were emailed to the Creative Director's office the following morning, to make sure we were all on track for the second shoot on Friday...

... which was an altogether more reasonable affair. The train to Cardiff meant that I could get a decent amount of sleep the night before and the shoot was set for 11am-3pm, and I was back in the office by around 7pm, to back up all the images, follow up phone message and prepare for the following day.

The Northern Ireland shoot was postponed for a few weeks; time, to allow completion of the next shop's refit ahead of the photography.

Last but not least, that Saturday saw me photographing another wedding - thankfully very local and, all said and done, I was finished by around 2:30pm, which enabled me to edit the pictures before uploading them to the GBP website that evening. As such, the couple in question will find an email waiting for them just as soon as they can get to a computer – meaning that, potentially they can view their pictures whilst still on honeymoon. You know, sometimes I just love this modern technology!

So there you have it – a typical week in the glamorous world of professional photography. I wonder what the next 7 days holds in store for me...?!