For the last four weeks, I have been visiting my family in my home country of Australia. It has been good to see the sunburnt land again, and (touch wood) avoid the bushfires so far. One of the tasks I set myself while I am here is portraits of my family. Not in the traditional sense. I want to evoke each of their personalities in the images I make.
With that in mind, I started my project by photographing my younger brother Matt at his workstation. Matt is a little bit of everything: part musician, part party goer, part electrician – an eclectic human being. I wanted this to come across in the image. This wasn’t going to be a standard Rembrandt lighting setup, and it wasn’t going to be a deadpan look into the camera.
We started simple with a blacked out room (except for his monitors – which we based the exposure on) and a CTO gelled SB800 fired into the back wall to illuminate the room to about 1.5 stops under the exposure I initially wanted. 1.5 stops under? This was my base to build on, same as you would use ambient outdoors. CTO? I wanted the key light to be really cool, but the shadows to be neutral – so I set the camera’s white balance to tungsten. On top of this we threw in my Diffuser 50 with another (non-gelled) SB800 about 10 centimetres out of the frame to camera right. Their respective powers were 1/4 and 1/32 by the time we had balanced it all out.
Now it was time to start shooting. The first few shots were to get us warmed up, so we started with Matt working at the station. Clearly, this was not going to be the final image we were going for.
We had filled the room with everything that is Matt, and now we just needed him to be him. “Think about it for a minute, and when you’re ready, give me a little bit of Matt,” I said. This was the result.
This works for me. It is simple, but it shows everything Matt is – bar one thing that is. Matt has his own way of doing things. His music blurs the lines, and this needed to be expressed. Then it hit me, or rather I hit it.
While swinging the camera down to have a chat with Matt about the possibilities for this image, I accidentally pressed the shutter and made a blurry image. Nobody’s perfect right?
Serendipity played the best role in bringing this image to life. I slowed the shutter to 1/1.6 and closed my aperture down to f/4, then adjusted the flashes accordingly. For the next few frames, I had Matt bring himself out again and I shook or moved the camera in circles for the duration of the shutter – making sure I lined up the frame I wanted just before the shutter closed. This is when the flashes fired – on rear curtain (slow) sync – freezing Matt and his room over the top of the chaos I had just created.
As an extra, I decided to try firing the flashes twice during the exposure. This was down with the test button on the Flash Wave III radio triggers and resulted in another portrait that represented Matt to the letter.
Two lessons from this quick session – always be open to serendipity, and never settle for ‘good’.