When you first take a camera in hand, this black box with a lens on it can seem to be a glaze inducing riot of numbers, symbology, and menu options. 2.8, 4, 5.6, plus or minus 2 EV……..if you’re not numerically inclined, there is, to say the least, potential for confusion. The shutter speed dial has more logic, right? Twice or half, depending on which way you turn it. Initial forays in making f-stops and shutter speeds work together like a seamless duo, to produce dependably predictable results, can induce one to look shiftily around the room, making sure nobody is watching, and quietly dialing the camera over to “P” mode. Just go and shoot. Let the camera do the math.
But that’s like not voting on election day, and then complaining about the result. The camera’s brain can average things out, at least most of the time, reasonably well. But what it can’t do is interpret the numbers and see potential for those numbers, working together, to produce a different look, or looks. It’s like asking an adding machine to write an essay.
The three pictures below were all shot in the same hallway. The location is the same, but the math of each picture is different.
I saw a wonderful splash of light in the hospital hallway, and simply asked a nurse to check her charts in that spot. I dropped my single servo, single point of focus on her face, and shot the above combination, purposely limiting my DOF. I got lucky with the crossing wheelchair in the back.
But I loved the graphics of the buildings out the window, too. So I drug out a flash, and Cali held it for me, hidden in the turn of the hall, and I triggered it with an on camera commander.
Shorter lens, flash pop, big f-stop. Stayed within the bounds of “normal sync” as you can see, at 1/250th. This combo makes the outside saturated and discernible, with a blue sky, which fortuitously matches the surgical scrubs. This type of shot in NYC is mightily dependent on time of day, as in the canyons of Manhattan, strong sunlight only hits the faces of the north-south avenues for a short period of time, as it travels through the sky.
Still wasn’t done with the hallway. I put the camera on a tripod, and shot this.
This f-stop, shutter speed combo now gives me a blown out background, and the lack of flash makes for silhouettes, while the slow shutter lets the subjects blur through the frame, just a bit. That’s Cali, by the way, our first assistant, on the gurney. He’s being whisked into the OR for much needed repairs:-)
Good picture editors I have worked for over the years have often used the phrase, “peel the onion,” in reference to approaching a story. In other words, keep working at it, peeling back the layers of a situation, keep drilling, keep going to find the core, something pictorially meaningful.
The same thought can be applied to locations. Don’t shoot one look and move on. Try different lenses and looks of the light. Move around. (Per Jay Maisel: “Move yer ass!”) Parse out the location into different pictures. The art director will love you for it. The client used all three of the above pix, one for the back cover of the book project, and the others as two page spreads inside.
If I can get three different looks out of one location, and the client likes and uses them all, that’s a good day in the field.