Today’s image has been sitting in my “to be ooofed”-folder (really, that’s what it is called) on my PC for a while. It is a bit of a departure from the polished portraits and press shots of Mr A that we have seen since last autumn, and you may be shaking your head that Guylty is going to talk about that particular image today. Somehow, I went *ooof* when I encountered it. Despite all its
explainable and excusable short-comings. But bear with me.
Poised for the Shoot: Richard Armitage in a Behind-the-Scenes shot for Leslie Hassler, 2013
There it is. Do you remember when this came out? It was mid-November 2013, I think, and we snaffled it up, mainly for the fashion that was being shown on that delightfully attractive clothes horse man in the picture, and in anticipation of what we were going to get when the shoot was published. So what do we see? This is a candid shot of RA sitting for Leslie Hassler, literally and figuratively speaking: In the shot we see the subject sitting on a stool, looking off-camera. His pose is relaxed with the hands placed on the subjects thighs, the legs slightly
indecently spread. RA is dressed in shirt and plaid tie, a winter coat, jeans-style trousers, the evidence of boots just about visible at the bottom of the frame. While his body is turned (almost) towards the camera, his head is turned further to his left, at a three-quarter angle. Behind the sitter we can spot the set-up: a backdrop, a flag, and in the gap between them a wall and a window.
A flag? The Union Jack, to celebrate our English boy? Where? No
different scenario. This is a different type of flag that has nothing whatsoever to do with symbolising a country. I am talking about the dark board that is visible to the left of RA (his perspective). This is a device that is called “flag” in photo speak. It derives its name from the purpose it serves: It is meant to block the impact of light, whether it is from an artificial light source or ambient light, and to reduce lens flare by shielding the camera from an otherwise used light source. (The term becomes clearer when you think of synonyms of the verb “to flag”, i.e. to weaken, to reduce, to lessen.) Flags can consist of small rectangular pieces of black material or card that are attached to a light stand – or they can be good old boards that rest on the floor. You can see how they work in this picture I took at a portraiture shoot – the sitter stands between two flags which are facing the photographer to shield the camera from the light spill of the two soft boxes behind and which illuminate the background. (Off topic: The round light in my photo that is trained onto the sitter, btw, is a beauty dish, which creates the soft, lovely light that works so well in portraiture and beauty photography.) The flag creates what is called “negative fill”, i.e. it blocks the ambient light from the window.
Images like this one are interesting because they give you an insight into the set-up of a photo shoot. Here we can also see that RA is being photographed in front of a grey backdrop. It’s hard to tell, but these backdrops usually are long rolls of paper in any colour you want. Mostly photographers use white, grey and black backdrops, btw, because you can create colour on the backdrop by illuminating it separately with a studio light to which you attach a “gel”, a see-through piece of plastic in the desired colour. (See here for a tiny pic of me playing with an entirely unsuitable psychedelia effect on a kiddie shoot – the colour is created by a red and a blue gel respectively.) So white, grey and black is really all you need as backdrop colours in your studio. You may wonder why photographers don’t simply paint three walls in their studio in those three shades but fiddle around with unwieldy rolls of thick paper. The reason is that a backdrop needs to be covering the floor as well (when you are shooting full-lengths) in order to create continuity (no harsh line where the wall meets the floor behind the sitters ankle) or when you intend to have a continuously monochrome background colour which also facilitates replacing with another background in Photoshop. (Some photographers have proper “infinity walls” built into their studios where the transition between wall and floor is not a right angle but a concave curve.) The rolls are placed on a rig from which you simply roll a new stretch of backdrop once the already used stretch has become dirty or folded or damaged. It’s a bit like an out-sized loo roll. With (amateur) sitters usually coming too close to the backdrop, and walking with their shoes over it, it pretty much gets ruined after just one shoot. I don’t think Hassler produced any full lengths in-studio. They are half-length max. So strictly speaking she did not need a backdrop that covered the floor. But it is good photographic practice to have the set-up in place – just in case…
I remember heated discussions back at the time the above image appeared on the net about the colour of the coat and the shirt. The styling was seriously drawn into question. Mr Manly Male dressed in a powder pink shirt and a baby blue coat? What the??? I knew back then that the shirt wasn’t pink and the coat wasn’t baby blue but that the camera caused colour aberrations. This photo was (most definitely) shot with a camera phone – it is blurry, it has an overexposed window in the background and it has unrealistic hues in it. You can tell from the lack of composition and disregard of the background that it was merely meant as a quick snap for social media purposes – hence the use of the camera phone for quick upload. And that pretty much explains the weird colours of the garments. The relatively simple camera of the smartphone cannot balance out the light interference in the room: ambient daylight from the window, studio lighting (probably the tungsten light that lights a studio from the strobe when it is *not* flashing). Compare the camera phone image with the finished article:
Richard Armitage – sharp. In a shot by Leslie Hassler, 2013
The shirt is white and the coat is grey.
The aberrations you see in the camera phone image are the reason why photographers take care to set the correct white balance in their camera. However, they also adjust tint and colour temperature in post-production, something you can easily do even in basic editing programs such as Picasa or MS Picture Gallery’s editing tool. You can play with the little levers and see the image change. For the fun of it, here’s an edited version that is a bit closer to the truth
but still not great.
What you can take from this is that there is no replacement of conventional digital cameras by camera phones, however many pixels they may already have. The final image by Hassler is a million times better, has higher contrast, correct tint and colour temperature, perfect exposure, proper composition and is sharper. Well, the sharpness of the man translates into the image, I suppose…
May I confess something in this intimate circle of friends at the end of my *ooof*? Despite the “Return of the Mojo” *cue Star Wars theme tune* I am lately far more excited about the whole “shrining business” than about *ooof*ing. Is Guylty turning her back on photography? Far from it. I still shoot every day, but I find that a lot of my creativity is currently focussed on my crafting project (RAPS)- and what certainly suffer are the *ooof*lets. I suppose there is only so much creative energy at my disposal, and much of that is going into the design of the little drooling aids. My own photography is not really suffering, though, because in lieu of holding on to the shrines, I take photos of them for my own archive. And I have found that I am re-engaging with still life photography, something I hadn’t done for a while. I mostly shoot portraiture these days, with the occasional product shoot thrown in. (And the usual holiday snapping, i.e. street photography and landscapes for fun.) So I have to forgo the *ooof*let once again. There are only so many scenarios you can fictionalise when you look at an image of a photo shoot. Let’s hope that the Urban crew spoils us with another shot from the set, soon. That one really got my imagination going.
Happy Easter, Pessach, Spring celebration to you, m’dears.