Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Contre-Jour Amour

This week's assignment on dPS was "Contre-jour". That is French for "against the light". The assignment description said that this "exploits lighting and plays with under and over-exposed areas to create a dramatic effect - in other words, the complete opposite to HDR approaches, which try to compress the range of contrast".

I was unsure what to post to this assignment since there were A LOT of different opinions on what this really means. A majority of the submitters wrote in their post that they weren't sure if their photo was correct.  The disscussion went on and on. I'm looking forward to see the winners, which will give us a clue of what "contre-jour" actually is:)

Anyway, taken the description above into account, I wanted to use my strobes again. After a couple of days with thinking, I came to think about those classic low-key concert photos, which has a lot of dark (underexposed) areas in addition to stage lights (overexposed) with the artist as the focal point. These photos, at least those I'm thinking of, has a very high-contrast look, which I wanted to recreate.

Unfortunately, I didn't have a stage. Only a small computer room. I mounted three SB-600's in a row wich would function as the backlights. And my last Speedlight, the SB-800, would fill the artist with a snoot. I had to fire all these with Cactus triggers. I mounted the microphone on the microphone stand and did a test shot. To my big surprise, it appeared like one of the Cactus recievers had a malfunction. It triggered the flash constantly and actually drained the battery of the connected Speedlight... (RIP, that one Cactus reciever)

So, since I didn't have enough Cactus triggers left, I had to use the SB-800 on the camera as a commander, and could only use two instead of three stage lights, since I had to use one as a snooted fill flash.

Finally, after some modelling, the setup ended up like this: 

My wife sat to the left in this setup shot and pointed the camera on the stage lights. After some testshots, I ended up with these settings (all-manual):

Backlight: 1/64 power at 24mm
Fill flash: 1/8 power at 24mm (forgot to set it to 85mm...)
Camera: 1/200 at f/9 *)
Lens: Nikkor 35mm f/2D AF

*)I recently read that in order to get a star-shaped sun, use a narrow aperture. I'm glad I read that, because that is the effect I wanted in this shot.

What was important to me was the right facial expression in addition to the composition. I didn't have a specific plan. I just told here to twist and turn the camera for each take. Halfway in the shooting I found out that I couldn't pretend that I was singing. I actually had to scream loud to get that intense look... After 30-something shots I got one that both she and I was pleased with:

Then I had to walk into the digital darkroom. After increasing the blacks and exposure in Adobe Camera Raw, I imported it into Photoshop to add a gradient map adjustment layer. I think this is the best way to do a high-contrast B&W conversion. I also had to erase some lens flare and a part of the light stand in the background. I felt that a little recomposing was needed too, which was very easy to perform due to the large black areas:)

The final image after editing:

Contre-Jour Amour

"Contre-Jour Amour"

What I could have done differently:
  • I could have tried to light my face from different directions to see if I got some interesting shadows.
  • Tried narrower aperture to create bigger "stars". When I increased the blacks in processing, the stars got smaller.


John Brainard said...

I'd say this plan was very well executed. I'm not sure I would have thought about using strobes for stage lights like that. Excellent idea. The composition is great too.

One thing worth trying is hiding the flash unit behind a piece of black construction paper with hole in it large enough to fit just the flash head through. It might hide the rest of the flash and make post processing easier.

You have left me wanting to try a shot like this! You also have me curious as to why you would have a mic like that unless you have a recording studio at home too.

zetson said...

Thank you John! Glad you liked it, and that it was worth the effort:)

Hiding the flash is not a bad idea! Almost like a gobo, only that it's behind the flash). I was hoping that the flash wouldn't be visible during the shooting, but unfortunately it is (if I look closely).

The mic is one of the remains from my musician period. I invested in a lot of recording equipement a couple of years ago. But I felt that the result was too bad and I got tired of it. I still play guitar, but don't do any recording any more. I think photography is much more fun and I think it will last:D

John Brainard said...

Sounds like me. Only, I didn't quite get to the point of investing in the recording gear. I did buy a Yamaha S90ES and have four electric guitars and an acoustic laying around. I still enjoy playing and will be back to playing in Church again in a few weeks.

Photography is definitely a very fulfilling hobby. It satisfies my need/desire to be creative. I get some at work doing computer programming, but I do get tired of sitting at a desk. I want to go out and do stuff. I find I like to be more active as I get older. Photography has given me that opportunity. And the toys are great! I'm thinking about trying out a Vivitar 285HV once I get my radio triggers.

Anonymous said...

Zetson, not only are your photos well executed you are giving us an insight of how you took the shot. Even this write up you have taken to a professional level. I appreciate it all takes time.
Oh, and please give my regards to your long suffering wife not only does she have water poured over her in the name of photographic art but she also gets shouted at!!