Maybe I read too many Johnny Torch comics when I was a kid. But I always wanted to try a shot like this, with two oxy-acetelyne torches wielded by a wild man mechanic in a fantastical, down home garage. Would have been much harder a number of years ago, but with the technology we have now, with radio controlled strobes and the resolution of a Nikon D810, which this was shot on, it’s, well, I won’t say it’s easy, but it sure is fun.
It’s more than fun, actually. It’s a frikkin’ laugh riot when you finally get to make a picture out of a long held piece of visual flotsam sloshing in the turbulent sea of your imagination. I write proposals like crazy, trying not to sound like a photographic version of the Unabomber, shivering in a sparse shack in the wilderness, penning wild notions. And, like a notes in a bottle, set adrift upon the tides, these missives mostly sink, or wash up unnoticed on some distant shore, along with the rusted license plates, the hospital syringes, and the occasional busted propeller. Most actually deserve this fate. But this one actually got to a safe harbor.
So, thanks to Brad Moore, we found this wonderful garage in Tarpon Springs, the Sunset Auto Center. Pretty, as garages go. Kinda classic. Big windows, and lifts. In other words, perfect for a picture. Also, thanks to Brett Smitley, our over-the-top fireball of a mechanic.
Let’s go through it, bullet point by bullet point.
1) Spike the camera. Find your angle. I didn’t have move around journalism in mind. I had one spot I had to find to light up this enthusiastic mechanic who obviously approaches his job with gusto. This type of job, it’s tripod all the way, which for me, means Gitzo. This one, I believe was a GT 5542 LS. And of course, the aforementioned D810, fitted with a 14-24mm f2.8.
2) Make an available light exposure. See where the light lurks and the shadows creep. See what you have to do to spark this scene.
3) Build the light. The main light for the garage is obviously the window light, but I wanted to directionalize and maximize it, so I put two 2400ws Profoto Acutes outside the establishment, firing into the windows.
3) Curse the darkness in the background and light it up with a CTO gelled Profoto B4, bounced at a moderate power into the ceiling.
4) Play the angles. The car in question is dark, so place a somewhat broad source somewhat indiscriminately off to camera left. (Precise, huh? Kinda, sorta, put it off to the left there and see what happens. Very typical location language.) It is an umbrella, mostly used because it was the last light source placed and that particular shaper was all I had left to use. But it does its job. It produces an angle-of-incidence-angle-of-reflection highlight off the dark, near side of the car. It is also powered by a Profoto B4.
5) I’m floored by the lack of detail under the car. So I put a light there. Whacked it into the concrete, low-ish power, just to create a separating highlight. It, too, is gelled warm. This is a Profoto B1, which, at 500ws had plenty of juice to throw a sheen of separation onto the dark floor.
6) Speedlights to the rescue. Small source, inside the interior of the car. And the engine block. Bounce them up into some surface the camera can see, just to create detail. Also warm gelled. Also put an SB-910 into a Lastolite Speedlight box, low, in front of the subject, very weak power-wise, just to fill and spark the eyes.
7) Ahh, the subject. Perhaps not the obvious candidate for a beauty dish, but that’s what we used. Fitted it with a diffuser sock and a grid to control spill.
8) The tool chest needs light. Easily done with one-two punch of a Profoto B1 fitted with a grid, and a SB-910 Speedlight, fitted with a Flashpoint snooted grid. Both are warmed up, of course.
Camera settings…. Nikon D810, Nikkor 14-24mm wide angle zoom lens, set at 1/200th of a second at f11.
Then, with a little bit of smoke in the background, an energetic model, two fiery torches, it’s all over but the shouting and the flames.