Sometimes the magic comes after the shoot. I relied on
the "reciprocity failure" of Fuji Velvia 120 to give this
sky image some wild color, then merged it in Photoshop
with this long-exposure image of the old factory. By leaving
the shutter open for several minutes to capture the sky,
the film begins to create a totally alien color palette.
The sky image was captured when it was nearly totally
dark, yet the long exposure brings out a surprising amount
of color and detail. The combination of the two images
is the only way to really punch up the color on a classic
subject like this.
Photos © 2000, Jay Abend, All Rights Reserved
Well, we're halfway through
the year 2001 and I'm finally getting used to the idea of living at
the start of a new century. When we're all tucked away in the old photographers
home we'll look back on this period as a time of major turmoil and exciting
new opportunities in the photo world. There's new technology, new ways
to view images, and new ways to take images. What has remained pretty
constant is the desire of buyers of photography--magazines, ad agencies,
graphic design firms, etc.--to look for the latest and freshest images.
My work is subject to the
same scrutiny as any other artist. If I were to stick with the style
and look that made me so successful in the 1980s I surely would have
a hard time finding any work. Even if I had kept my style static from
the '90s I would find more and more clients looking for something newer
and fresher. Don't get me wrong. Slavishly following trends and creating
a raft of "me-too" images will get your portfolio bounced just as fast
as a bunch of amateur snapshots. Like any artist I'm affected by the
culture around me. I react to the slow but steady style shift that affects
all artistic endeavors. My work has evolved over the years, even though
it was hard to notice as it happened.
Recently I assembled a new
portfolio for my rep to show to prospective clients. The difference
in styles became readily apparent. As I pulled out 10-year-old ads and
replaced them with work from 2000 and 2001 I noticed a strong trend
that has crept into my work--color. I don't mean bright color, I mean
a strong, saturated fluid sense of color that most working pros today
have to be able to create if they want to work.
For this staged shot of guitarist Paul Warren I knew that
I wanted a really warm shot with lots of background color.
We brought his equipment down to a rehearsal stage where
Joe Cocker's full stage background was being finished. I
asked the lighting director at the rehearsal studio to give
me lots of amber gelled tungsten light on the background,
but to leave the rest of the room dark. I then lit the foreground
with two large Chimera softboxes. I stuck four small strobe
heads with red and magenta gels aimed at the floor behind
the amplifiers and flight cases. I handheld the shot with
a 1/4 sec exposure. This gave me a sharp and neutral subject,
warm and wild background color, and just the tiniest bit
of motion blur. This shot ran as a magazine ad and looked
great in print.
Strong Color Play
I'm not only moving the camera, subject, and lighting during exposure
to create movement, but I'm shooting with much more color in all of my
images. In the '80s the idea of hot color was usually to introduce a single,
strong color element onto a black Formica surface. You know the images
I'm talking about--the sushi on the black background, the flute and the
rose, the open cans of paint, etc. Strong color, but very well contained
and usually tack-sharp. Then the '80s came on strong with a rule-breaking
sense of movement, a ridiculous amount of selective focus work, and a
total overkill of the fisheye lens. Toward the end of the '80s a new look
began to gain popularity that really combined several elements--a strong
sense of color with a bit of selective focus and a bit of movement. It's
a dreamy, luscious look that works particularly well in print.
Without even realizing it I
find that my work has picked up more and more of that look. I've always
been a fan of mixing light sources, often combining flash exposure, HMI
lighting, and tungsten in one shot. I shoot almost all of my work with
a view camera so I've always used swings and tilts to bring my images
into focus at times and at other times throw parts of my images out of
focus. Let's explore the elements of an image that incorporate color in
a fresh and interesting way.
Get The Light Right
First of all you need some lighting. While you could capture this type
of image with natural light, I can't imagine how you could do it on a
consistent basis. I use flash lighting using focusing spotlights, heads
in reflectors, heads in softboxes, and heads with angle narrowing snoots.
It doesn't matter what kind of flash you use but you'll do better with
a modern pro system backed by a complete array of light modifiers. My
HMI light heads, producing daylight-balanced continuous light, are usually
used with narrow reflectors and barn doors. They are almost always gelled.
My tungsten lighting consists of a bunch of Photogenic MiniSpots, Kliegl
10" Fresnel spotlights, and a couple of theatrical focusing spot units
with different pattern masks.
this shot I wanted really strong color on the weird stuff
floating inside the bottle, and really strong mottled color
behind the bottles. I discovered that gelling background
surfaces and trying to blur the background didn't give me
enough definition on the blobs. The solution was to light
the bottle with a softbox for exposure one, then hit the
blobs with the light of a 10" Kliegl Fresnel (gelled to
daylight balance) for exposure 2, and then bounce another
10" Fresnel off of a large crinkled piece of red Mylar for
exposure 3. The three images were all shot in camera while
I held my breath. Out of a few dozen tries one or two were
My technique is fairly simple.
I figure out how much of the subject I want to keep neutral in color balance
and sharp. Those areas get light from the strobe heads. The background
and other parts of the set, whether it's a large set or a tiny tabletop,
get a mixture of HMI and tungsten. Sometimes I gel the tungsten back to
daylight balance, then apply the color gels I want. This gives me a totally
daylight-balanced set, which makes it easier to figure out how the finished
image will look.
Where does the hot color come
in? I almost always gel the background light sources with Rosco gels.
By shooting with the strobe head modeling lamps off and the tungsten and
HMI light sources on, I can freeze the strobe-lit areas and keep a 1/2
or 1 sec exposure to "burn in" the background color. If I'm hand holding
I'll get a bit of motion blur around the outline of the subject, which
can look pretty nice. Sometimes I'll swing a light source over the set
during the exposure to create a long, blurred shadow. There are lots of
ways to accomplish this effect, so it pays to shoot a lot and experiment.
Besides the blur and the color I sometimes like a bit of selective focus.
On a view camera it's easy--I just tilt the rear standard the "wrong"
way to throw the top and bottom of the image out of focus. Once the back
is swung I can simply focus on any one point in the image, knowing that
most of the rest of the image is going to be soft. You can get a similar
effect by using long lenses and very large apertures, but the effect isn't
quite as convincing.
As with anything in photography,
trying to pump up color is a hit or miss affair. I tend to shoot a lot
of film or fill up a lot of flash cards of digital "film" when trying
something new. There are any number of ways to create strong color, from
jacking the saturation in Photoshop to cross-processing negative film
in E-6 chemistry. It pays to have as many bullets in your clip as possible,
cause you never know when you're going to need them.
a neat way to blow lots of color into a small product shot without
contaminating the product itself. If I had shot this image against
a green sheet of Mylar or cardboard I would have given these silver
lipstick cases a strong green reflection on practically every
surface. I've shot those images in the past and the client is
always concerned about the product itself. My trick is to shoot
the product on a polished sheet of stainless steel, a front surface
mirror, or (as in this case) a sheet of silver poster board. I
light the product with a small light box, use a large white reflector
card to fill in the shadows, and then hang a large sheet of green
Mylar behind the shot. The reflection of the green Mylar is carried
in the poster board, the lipstick cases stay mainly neutral, and
I get a clean product shot. The only green reflected is in one
long reflection on the lipstick tube laying down, which looks
"right." I shot this with a bit of selective focus, so the standing
lipstick tube is largely soft.
an image that employs a few of my favorite techniques. This picture
was shot on assignment for a magazine ad, and the client wanted
a very basic silhouette that spoke about "service" at this classic
New England Inn. I posed our model in a hallway with bright pink
rugs, and buried a bare tube Balcar head behind him. I handheld
a 200mm f/2.8 Nikkor lens wide-open with a 1 sec exposure. The
flash froze the sharp silhouette image, leaving the shutter open.
I let the doorway at the end of the hall blow out to pure white
and added some interesting motion blur.