I love a shoot where the light is sweet and nice, and you can just rattle and hum throughout the job with the sun at your back and the wind in your hair, lovely models draping the set, and the hair and makeup people folks are twiddling about. I sit in a director’s chair, latte in hand, and am only called to the set when they need to reverently place a camera in my hands, and the multiple assistants have the fill board positioned exactly right. (That’s the only piece of gear. All the lights and other heavy stuff are still in the trunk of the car, ’cause, as I mentioned, the existing light is so beautiful.)
Ah, yes, I remember a shoot like that. The French Riviera, I believe it was.
Actually, I don’t remember anything like that at all. The above is a delusional reverie that occasionally kicks in. I think I’m inclined to visit this dream world partially due to the fact that I’ve been hitting my head against the basement walls of bad locations for far too long, and maybe some damage has been done. My photographic lot in life has been to take something that doesn’t look very good to begin with, and make it look nicer. Even wonderful, or pleasing, on a good day. Which puts me in league with most of the photogs on the planet. We share a commonality of simultaneous joy, purpose and misery, and the secret phrase to gain entry to this not-so-secret society is generally worded along the lines of, “You want me to take a picture of what?”
The “what” at the heart of this story is a very expensive microscope. It looks like the picture above.
No, it doesn’t. It looks like the picture below.
Remember I mention that bit about concussing myself. I wasn’t lying.
This was a daunting task in the middle of a wonderful assignment, which was to create a coffee table book for a large hospital system in the New York area. But, as so often happens in the course of a job like this, you are shown a something or other that the client deems crucial, or noteworthy, and you have to pull out all the stops to make it look spiffy, if not downright compelling. In this case, I had to take this gray, box-like instrument and make it look like something Captain Kirk would consult as he was about to alter course. This is just part of the deal, really. If it’s important to the client, it must become important to you. You have to apply every skill you have to make a picture out of something that really isn’t a picture. It goes with the job.
First, control the room. Make it black. Easy. We were in the basement.
Next, try for color and separation in the background. An SB-910 with a theatrical green gel seemed logical for the area around the scope. A quick floor light in the background was a bit of a start. Not very promising. This is where the little floor stands that come with the SB style Speedlights are really handy. Just a little base plate, and the light sits there, at attention. The green light is behind the scope, and the wall light is on the floor behind the black draping.
Get the microscope monitor to display something of interest. Preferably with color continuity. Find other cool stuff and accent light it with another SB unit, this one fitted with a snooted grid. I’m always happy in a lab when there is a vial of red liquid. The Speedlight with the snoot is up to camera right, angled back to the test tube in the foreground.
Move the monitor to a more prominent position, and light the far wall with a purpose. Also, position the person who will be in the photo and see what kind of light she might need. Also, define the actual scope, which means lighting the front of it with a cool color.
Move the research scientist into position. Warm, small light for her face, and a separator light for her back. The facial light is tucked behind the scope, clamped back there and gridded super tight to regulate spill.
Six small flashes. All with grids, snoots or tape. Most with some sort of “science-like” color. Reality departed here before I even took the camera out of the bag. I was working for a client, and the client wanted it to look cool. I wasn’t working for the NY Times. I was presenting a glossy view relative to the excellence of the hospital as it perceives itself.
The big governing factor here was the wonderfully smart, agreeable individual we were working with. As pleasant as she was, she told us flat out she had to leave precisely at five, as she was the driver on that day of her co-worker car pool. All of them were dependent on her to get them home on time for kids, dinner and the like. So, I had three hours to do the shot. Done.
Such are the things the life of a photog spins on. Down there, in the basement, with lots of lights.