Posted by: larnymackblog | January 14, 2009

Do whatever it takes… Part Two

In successful photography, one must train their eye to see “objectively”. What I mean by this has nothing to do with the creative aspects. It’s all about the technical. Like my kitchen example in part one, I liked seeing the exterior light raking in through the window blinds, and the counter-top lights in the corner of the kitchen. Well if we set our exposure for that raking light, we would be grossly underexposed for all the shadow and low mid tone areas in our scene. That’s why we have our trusty strobes.

With this project, I used strobes to mainly bring up the overall ambient lighting to get a good exposure. The details of exactly how to do this are more involved then I can get into here.

I systematically moved through the house, following the sun, getting the shots that our art director wanted. I also noticed a couple of additional angles that also looked very nice. When time permits, I always like to provide a client with more than “exactly” what they asked for. This however, depends upon a couple of variables.

One, if you already have an agreed upon shot list, that has been selected from prelims, and Two, you are limited on time, you may have to forgo the extras. However, once a full room shot has been captured, sliding in to pick up a couple of closer details is usually not time consuming.

The exterior is a bit trickier. This type of shot will be a composite of several images taken through sunset and into the night. By now I’ve determined where the sun is setting, and know it to be an afternoon-evening shot. I also know from a previous conversation with the art director, that he is looking for that type of image that shows the interiors glowing through the windows, some dappled lighting on the exterior and a rich sky. I usually like to determine my angle and setup while I still have plenty of sunlight on the exterior. This happened to be around 3:30pm.

I make sure my camera and tripod are well tightened and the legs are sitting firmly on good terrain. If I have them, I will add sand bags to the tripod. This provides an additional level of safety and reduces ground vibration from telegraphing up the tripod legs. Later on I’m going to have some long exposures and any type of movement will blur the image and render it useless. Once stable, I’ll take my first series of images.

I will be taking several series of photos as the afternoon turns to evening. To that end, I always take a series of bracketed exposures. Very important: bracket the exposures using your shutter not your f stop. It may seem silly pointing this out but I had an assistant that did just that. What this produced was a varying depth of field throughout the bracketed exposures. Since the old days of film (read cost) are gone, I don’t worry about how often I shoot a series. I shoot when the light changes. I will be doing this until it is completely dark and I can only read (exposure) from the interior lights.

On this project, the sun would set to the far right. At first I thought this would be less desirable. I wasn’t getting sun directly on the front. However once I saw the warm light lying across the front, I know it was going to look really nice.

There will be a decisive time when the interior window lights and the exterior ambient light will be just about the same exposure. This usually means a very rich blue sky. That’s assuming it didn’t cloud over. Trust me, this happens more than not. That means in post production, I will need to replace the gray sky with a friendlier blue one. (Over the years I have collected images of skies for this very reason.) So I shoot away being sure to bracket sufficiently. This time the sky was very cooperative.

The whole process takes me about 3-4 hours. If you hadn’t put it together yet, it means my camera can’t be used for anything else. That’s why I always have at least two (cameras). There have been many cases where we have 2 or 3 camera setups catching different angles. The most recent will be featured in San Diego Home & Garden under “Outdoor Living Space, of the year”. We used three separate camera setups. I finally wrapped everything up around 9:00pm. Now it was time to find my hotel (just few blocks away) and get some sleep. I had been up since 3:30am.

The next morning around 7:00am, I went by the home again. I just wanted to see if there was anything I missed. I did shoot some detailed close ups of lights, solar panels and other items unique to this project. Eddie (art director) didn’t ask for them but they ultimately used several for the feature article. Clients really love it when you can anticipate what they may like before, or if, they ask.

I got on a plane and was back around 1:00pm on Saturday. The first item of business was to get these images downloaded, and processed to Hi Res files. I only work with Raw files. I spent the next 4 hours working on the images. Remember they needed them the following Monday. I came in the next afternoon (Sunday), finished everything up and had them uploaded to their FTP site by 6:00pm Sunday night.

(Shameless self promotion)

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why clients hire me.

Visit my Green Builders Gallery to see all my images.  You can also see the sequenced images of the exterior shot along with a screen dump of my Photoshop layers.

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