the photoshooter's journey from taking to making


Table-top romance gone wrong. Plastic Frank runs out on his clingy and equally plastic girlfriend. Shot on a tripod in darkness and light-painted with hand-held LED. 15 sec., 5/4.5, 30mm and, most importantly, since it’s a time exposure, stay at ISO 100. You’ll have plenty of light and keep the noise to a minimum.


THERE IS ONE PARTICULAR AREA WHERE, ALL AESTHETIC DEBATES ASIDE, DIGITAL BEATS FILM COLD. That, of course, is in the area of instantaneous feedback, the flexibility afforded to the shooter of adjusting his approach to a project “on the fly”. Simply stated, the shoot-check-adjust-shoot again workflow permitted by digital simply has to prevent more blown shoots and wasted opportunities than film. Shooting a tricky or rapidly changing subject with film can be honed to a pretty sure science, to be sure, especially given years of practice and a keenly trained eye on the part of the person behind the lens. However, a sizable gap of luck, or well-placed guesses remains, a gap narrowed by digital’s ability to speedily provide creative feedback. Release the hounds on me if this makes me a heretic, but as a lover of film, I still prefer the choices digital presents. I don’t have to hate horses to love automobiles.

The digital edge comes through to me especially in table-top shoots executed in darkness and illuminated with selectively “painted” light. I have already written on the general technique I use for these very strange projects in a post called Hello Darkness My Old Friend, so I won’t elaborate on that part again. What I will re-emphasize is that these kind of shots can only be arrived at through a lot of negative feedback, since hand-applied light sources produce drastically different results with every “pass” of the LED, or whatever your source of illumination may be. It’s also hard to find a shot that you love so much that you stop tweaking the process. The next shot just may afford you the quick flick of the wrist that will dramatically shift or redistribute shadows or re-jigger the highlighting of a surface feature.

Tends to fill up those rainy afternoons in a jiffy.

For the above image, I rescued two old dolls from the ash can for one more chance at fame. A friend who knew I was a lifelong Sinatra fan gifted me years ago with a beautifully detailed figure of Ol’ Blue Eyes in his trademark fedora and trench coat, the perfect get-up for hanging out underneath lonely, dim streetlights after all the bars have closed. The other figure is of course a Barbie, left behind when my stepdaughter headed off for college. Normally, these two characters wouldn’t exist in the same universe, and that was what struck me as fun to fool around with. I started to see Barbs as just one of a series of romantic conquests by The Voice on his way through the Universe of Total Coolness, with the inevitable bust-up happening on a dark street in the wee small hours of the morning.

For this shot, the idea was to light just enough of Frankie from above to suggest the aforementioned street lamp, accentuating the textures in his costume and the major angles of his face, without making his head glow so much as to underscore the fact that, duh, it’s made of plastic. The old Barbie had major hairdo issues, but hey, that’s why God made shallow focus. What I got wasn’t perfect, but then, it never is. The important thing with these projects is to make something up and make something come alive, to some degree.

Sadly, Barbie was probably the best thing that ever happened to the Chairman, something he’ll no doubt realize further down that long, lonesome road, looking for answers at the bottle of a shot glass. Hey, his loss.

So goodbye, babe and Amen / Here’s hoping we’ll meet now and then / It was great fun / But it was just one of those things…..


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