SLOW PHOTOGRAPHY ON STEROIDS
Whenever I am shooting for a client I use a small arsenal of lights, modifiers and digital cameras in order to fulfill my professional promise of high quality results at a very fast pace. With my hard news background I am particularly aware of a client’s stringent deadlines, and I am proud to affirm I have always been able to meet them.
However, when I am not too busy creating commercial images, I find it increasingly pleasurable to engage in what I like to call “Slow Photography”.
“Slow photography” used to be the only photography, when I started in this business, it was full of trials and errors, anxiety to see the results from the lab, and, usually involved heavier, less user-friendly devices than today.
Anyway, lately I went back shooting one of my own projects with a camera that was a museum piece even when I acquired it, many years ago: the 4×5 Speed Graphic.
The word “speed” in its name might sound like an historical paradox: there is nothing speedy about shooting with this camera unless you use the “f8 and be there rule” (I think Weegee said that), zone focusing it and blasting a powerful flash bulb to ensure that nearly everything you can barely see in the viewfinder will be in focus.
I use this Graflex in a slightly different way: I mostly shoot instant Fuji FP100 C (ahhh the poetry of instant film…) with it, doing sort of environmental portraits where I usually favor the largest aperture available (which is f4.7 with the Graflex Optar 135 mm lens).
I would like to gently light my subjects: perhaps a little splash on the face with a gridded snoot, complemented with another sort of rim light, to better define the body, but only if I have the time to set it up.
The very basic portraits often just require a tiny bit of strobe light on the subject face (exposure achieved with lens f stop) and ambient illumination using available light or “practicals” (existing light appliances in the room) which is, in turn defined by the shutter speed I am using.
If I need to change color temperature of something I use gels.
Anyway, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this post: This type of portraiture has its rewards but it is quite a “process”. You don’t just say to someone “sit there” and start shooting a sequel of digital frames to then “chimp down” on the LCD to see if you are in the ballpark with framing and exposure.
Each frame is a commitment. You don’t want to waste film, remember?
What’s really quite difficult is to frame and focus using the old, dim, scratched ground glass. You need a lot of light on your subjects just to see them! I used to use a flashlight but I always felt it was a rather cumbersome, inefficient method.
So I came up with this rig, which is basically how to put an old Graflex camera on steroids to make your life a little easier and avoid long set up procedures and extreme boredom in your subjects:
Let me go through the various bits and bobs I am using:
1) Battery powered 100 W video light: great for illuminating the scene, framing and fine focusing with my Hoodman loupe on the ground-glass. This light is also useful to take a shot, in a pinch, especially if you don’t have strobe lights. The light can be easily detached from the camera cold shoe and fixed to a light stand (I really only use it for focusing with my old eyes, so I just leave it there and switch it off before I shoot).
2) Rechargeable battery to power above lamp (BTW this whole kit cost me $19 at Adorama – with free shipping- can’t beat that)
3) Pocket Wizard Plus 2 connected to bi-post on lens shutter via an AC female plug ($2 local hardware store). This PW triggers all the strobes you want scattered anywhere around the set on their light stands.
4) Metal snoot with 1/8 circular grid insert placed on a flash head. If I have no light stands (or the possibility to set them up) I can very simply send a splash of very controlled light from this flash only to the subject face/head. I also can quickly detach it from camera and have someone hold it for me in the right position.
5) Nikon flash (or any other flash unit you have/like)- I have Nikon because I shoot Nikon.
6) WEIN optical trigger. I thought – why not? Besides the Nikon SB 600 (the most lightweight unit I happened to have)lacks a pc connector so this is where I connect the second Pocket Wizard.
7) Pocket Wizard Plus X to instantaneously trigger the attached flash (note: when flash heads are heavily snouted/ gridded sometimes the beam of light is very concentrated in one spot so optical triggering might not be an option.
And that’s about it.
Of course there is another vital accessory missing here, reason being I could not yet find a suitable bracket to attach it to the camera: an espresso machine.
Anyway, I am working on this and I’ll keep you posted about my progress in a near future.