Revisit one of the exercises on daylight, artificial light or controlled light from Part Four (Ex 4.1, Ex 4.2 or Ex 4.3) and develop it into a formal assignment submission. The submission requirement for this assignment is a set of between six and ten high-quality photographic prints.
Assessment of photography in any context is an assessment of images and accompanying words so please Include a written analysis of your work outlining:
- how you have developed the assignment from the original exercise in Part 4
- which practitioners you’ve looked at for inspiration and how their work has influenced you
- your technical approach and any particular techniques you incorporated
- the strengths and weaknesses of particular photographs and your project as a whole (self-assessment)
Conclude your notes with a personal reflection on how you’ve developed the exercise in order to meet the descriptors of the Creativity criteria. Write 500–1,000 words.
Developing the assignment from the original exercise
I chose to photograph people, not just ordinary people but acrobat students, under controlled lighting within a studio environment for this assignment. Therefore it became necessary for me to focus on practising and developing my controlled lighting skills so as to be able to successfully achieve the desired outcome in my final set. Right from the beginning, therefore, I planned my exercises to give me as much exposure to practical and real time situations in setting up various lighting set-ups as I could. I chose to attempt Exercise 4.2 with complex lighting arrangements in order to hone my lighting skills. Exercise 4.3 with controlled lighting was a simple yet profoundly insightful exercise to understand light and how to effectively manipulate it. It cleared a lot of doubts and questions from my mind and I incorporated those learnings to my next experimentation as I moved on to a live subject in the next Exercise 4.4 – Personal Voice, where I wanted to concentrate on the human form and focus on its capabilities, strengths and skills. This resulted in me photographing my yoga guru in 171 yogic postures over two long and tiring yet extremely satisfying days.
Even though I was quite happy with the results of the above exercise and often wondered if that could be my final assignment, I wanted to improve and build up on that taking that exercise forward and create something even more exciting, which eventually led me to think about an interesting theme for it.
Muybridge has been my inspiration throughout the last section of the coursework and I have been fascinated with freezing the frame for as long as I can recall, quite a bit of which can be seen in my wildlife photography over the past few years. In continuation of that thought process, I wanted to take a similar theme for my assignment but focusing on people this time. As discussed with my tutor, Andrea during the assessment for Assignment 3, I had wanted to take my research of Lois Greenfield‘s work forward that I have been super impressed with ever since I stumbled upon it. I have been inclined towards trying something similar on the lines of her extraordinary work.
At this level, I am also consciously trying to build up on earlier projects lest they be forgotten. Like I had developed Assignment three from the first assignment, taking my birds project further, similarly, I am excited to take my research forward from the previous section and try and emulate an artist who’s work inspired me in this section.
Having experimented with portraits in natural light earlier and then shooting a difficult subject like whisky in controlled light, my first shoot with my yoga instructor definitely felt closer to home in terms of effect and the resulting outcome that I was aiming for. But I still wanted to challenge myself further. And Greenfield’s work is definitely very impressive and a tad bit difficult to achieve for a first timer. Having shot animals for now two decades in various freezes successfully, it was time for me to prove that skill in the studio to myself which is a lot more difficult than I probably anticipated.
Search for the subject
In order to successfully emulate Lois greenfield, the choice of the subject here became equally important as perhaps the ability to photograph them successfully. The subject choice came from young acrobat students who train under my yoga instructor as well and have gone on to the TV show India’s Got Talent twice in the previous years, having reached the semi-final stage both times. Though I did not have access to the entire acrobat team, I did manage to get two-three of the boys who agreed to try this out with me. Super thrilled that under the circumstances, this is probably the best I could ask for, they went on to become my choice of subject for the final assignment.
I had very limited time with my models, just a day, out of which we had to practice and shoot within a few hours window, as the energy levels required for this were quite high and the acrobats would not be able to perform repeatedly for a very long time. I also did not have the option of a reshoot due to their limited availability. We started with them practising solo and then some mix of ground and mid air shots with two people before the final shots were attempted. My aim for the final shoot is to take at least two acrobats in a frame together and try and freeze the moment mid-air. Inspired by Lee and his idea to not clutter the final assignment page and to do justice to what a beautiful and impressive show the acrobat students put on, I would like to showcase the trial shots separately, as the first phase of the shoot.
- Camera– Nikon D6
- Lens- ZEISS Otus 55mm f/1.4 ZF manual Focus Lens
- ISO 800
- Manual Mode
- Temperature- 4600
- Exposure – Normal
The larger images for the final selection can be viewed in the gallery below.
The remainder of the postures that we attempted while shooting can be seen in the contact sheets below.
By the time the trial shots were mid-way, I had tweaked and finalised my lighting set-up, which then remained same for the remainder of the shoot and looked something like this:
Technical Approach & Techniques
This shoot required a large studio space with a fairly high ceiling to accommodate the leaps & jumps. Thankfully, I was able to get the space, a community centre, that is used by these acrobats to train and practice. I have used a large savage black backdrop with a 3-light set-up for this photoshoot.
The first technical challenge was that the set or the area to be covered by the light was large, so normal light modifiers or smaller reflectors would not evenly light the entire surface. So I needed a modifier that would cover the entire area with light. After much research and taking one of India’s top-commercial photographer and a close friend Akhil Bakhshi’s advise I got an XL umbrella that was used on the camera-right to cover the entire area. Another key light, a wide reflector zoom on a boom stand was on the camera right, that allowed light from the top on the set below. A third fill light was placed on the camera left to provide soft wrap fill lighting to cover the darker areas on the left.
My camera was on tether to allow me to look at the results simultaneously so as to fix any errors or lighting flaws right there and then, as I had no allowance for a reshoot, so this had to be as perfect as I could manage within the time frame that I had.
Midway through the eight weeks that I had to complete this section in, is when I decided that I want to set up a studio and approach this assignment as professionally as I can. From getting the lights light modifiers, light stands, etc. this was an immense task that I felt I had taken upon. Determined to challenge myself more, I set out to collect all the necessary equipment and learn lighting techniques for a not so easy shoot in a limited timeframe.
Another challenge was that not all studio lights can freeze this frame as effectively as better quality lights can. So I knew for a fact that my Elinchrom battery pack will not probably be the perfect lights for this set-up as it showed movement drags. This meant that I needed a more powerful light set-up that will enable the flash power to be strong enough to freeze the frame perfectly. I was going to invest in a better lighting set-up eventually and what better time than this as I was inspired enough to attempt this. I got Profoto strobes B1 & B2 for this and was able to overcome this challenge successfully.
My aim for the final shoot was to take at least two acrobats in a frame together and try and freeze the moment mid-air, trying to get as perfect a pose as possible at the right time. To spontaneously think of postures that they would attempt and imitate on location, with no previous references except showing them Greenfield’s work, was also not easy. Given the fact that each attempt for practice will take a toll on their energy levels, I had to hope that when we do reach the stage where I am ready to finally record it in a frame, the models should not be too tired and drained. Also, the energy draining stunts would mean that the time duration of this shoot can only be limited as the models would get tired and since I only had a few hours with them, it became crucial that I successfully finish this assignment.
Another challenge was that any light falling on the backdrop will create greys and odd colours that I wanted to avoid in my images. That means to not allow any light to spill over the background. To overcome this, the first thing was to place the models at least 5-6 ft away from the backdrop and secondly to avoid any spillover light to reach the backdrop which was aided by the usage of grids that cut the light out by up to 50% and allowed it to remain directional and contained for where they are aimed at.
And then finally the biggest challenge of all – will I be able to freeze the moment with my camera effectively at the right moment? Having remembered very clearly what Greenfield mentioned that its important to press the trigger just before the peak so that you can get the perfect sync. And that is exactly what I tried and much to my surprise, I did mange to do this quite well with my success rate being close to 97%, having missed only 3-4 shots in the entire shoot.
Strengths and Weaknesses
The strengths of this project for me are several as mentioned above. Overcoming technical hurdles and challenges is a feat within itself. For a first attempt, I think this is quite a good exercise. And am quite happy that I managed to accomplish this within the limited time frame. I quite like the fact that the shots are simple yet effectively freezing the frame. The fact that I got some good in-sync shots of the acrobats mid-air is a strength of this project. That the expressions might not be perfect is something that can be strived for though I think that shooting a subject that is not used to being photographed this is a good first time result.
Even though I consciously wanted to keep this project simple yet effective by keeping a plain black background, I feel there is a lot more scope to add more value to this project by experimenting with various backgrounds as well as props like in Greenfield’s work. This is why it is by no means a finished project for me. In fact this is just the beginning. Firstly, since I had a limited time with the acrobats, I could not experiment much with props etc like Greenfield’s work. It was important that I at least get the timing, lighting and the postures perfectly in sync as a first time attempt. This in fact is the beginning of this body of work, which I want to take further in more ways than one, allowing the usage of more props, lighting the background and creating different looks.
Reflection- Imagination, experimentation, invention
Although by no means close to Greenfield’s work, I am pretty proud of myself to have reached where I did for this assignment working within the constraints of not only finishing the assignment successfully within the stipulated time frame, but also to have learnt to achieve the result that I was seeking in such a short duration, collect all the necessary equipment and eventually to learn lighting set-ups for studio and to nail the freezing of the frames at the right time.
I have taken small steps via experimentation and on-location learnings through the section to slowly reach the final assignment. I think I have effectively incorporated all the three criteria for the creativity part of the assessment by active imagination of taking an ordinary subject and creating something more than ordinary out of it. I have experimented a lot with natural light as well as controlled light through the various exercises of this section which involved not only effectively understanding the languages of light but also inventing ways and means to overcome challenging situations and providing a solution for them. I think I have only been able to be successful in this assignment because of the various experimentations that I did with the whisky bottle shoot and the challenging lighting situation of the yoga shoot.
When one looks at a a photograph one doesn’t realise the challenges that are hidden in creating that perfect image. Like the whisky bottle shoot, I took so many tutorials to reach the final stage of it. Something as simple as creating a cut out gold board for example in the whisky shoot is not as easy as it sounds. Inventing clever ways to add to enhancing an image is crucial and important to realising it. I think the most important part of my learning has been fixing lighting limitations on set. Since by the time of the final assignment I was tethering simultaneously, I could see the final images on my computer screen instantly, allowing me to notice wherever anything was lacking to fix it instantaneously. Like in the example of the final assignment shoot, I had initially started with a two light set-up but realised that the camera-left part of the image was not lit properly and was a bit too dark for my preference. A fill light on the left took care of that problem.
The lights spill off was lighting up the backdrop so by cutting it off with a black card or grid took care of the problem. Most of the challenges I faced during this section were related to light – being too strong or too less and so on, and most of the fixes happened on the set as well. To me, working practically on set has been the greatest learning, where problems presented and I had to find quick working solutions to them. As a result, each shoot made me more better at understanding lighting and each shoot prepared me better for the next one.
To conclude, this section has been a great source of learning for me as I have not experimented with studio lighting in so much depth ever. To learn, experiment and transform those learnings into successful end results is the key and am quite pleased to have been able to do so.