Photo De-construction: Breaking through

So this is a post explaining a photo I took last night.  An explanation of the background, and then in to the detail of taking the shot.  Firstly, here is the final shot (click for Flickr lightbox version):

"I slam the door, but it breaks through. I walk away, but I'm naked to it."

The Idea

The idea came to me while driving home from football on Monday night.  Lost in thought, I felt my mind wandering somewhere I figured would set up a bad mood, so I decided to close the route my mind was taking – and it felt like slamming a door.  I was immediately aware of that, and I thought about that as a concept, and the idea that light still creeps through the cracks around the door frame – just like thoughts are still there in the background.  I thought that I could try and capture the concept in a photograph, adding the idea of being ‘exposed’ to the light.

I figured it was something I’d shoot sometime in the future.  I’m typically tired after football, so wasn’t really expecting to do much other than vegetate in front of the TV.  I put ‘Dexter’ on proceeded directly to vegetating; the idea was still swirling around in my head though.  A glass of wine and ‘Dexter’ finished (disappointing series 6, oh well), I decided I’d have a go at the shot.

The Execution

I knew that normal light shining from around the door wouldn’t be sufficient.  My doors are pretty tightly fitted, with a wooden divider close to the bottom of the door.  So, I set up one of my Bowens Gemini 400s in my bedroom, pointing at the bottom of the door on a wireless trigger.

The First Attempt

Bowens Gemini 400

Gemini 400 setup in bedroom

That, and a light in my living room, were the only lights for my first attempt at the shot.  Given the low light I put the exposure on 1 second, aperture on f/5.6 and ISO 400 (I didn’t want a lot of noise on the image, so didn’t want to go higher).  This was the first result:

Waaay too dark!

I was happy with the composition – the position of the feet, the idea that I was walking and in motion.  I had the camera at an angle to create a sense of drama, a little ‘unease’ to fit the emotion behind it – and avoiding the static normality of the horizontal and vertical lines of the wood on the floor and the cracks.   I converted to black-and-white from the start, as the brown of the wooden floor and door was too warm – and I wanted to make it feel colder than that (the figure in the image is supposed to be avoiding emotions and naked, after all).   I’ve captured the light coming from the gaps around the door reasonably well, but the rest of it is way too dark!

Back to the drawing board.

Attempt Two

This time I added a second flash – my Canon 580 EXII, triggered by pocket wizards and with a ‘snoot’.  Or Salt and Vinegar Pringles tube, to be exact.

Camera and 580 EXII

I reduced the exposure time dramatically now I had a good light source for my feet and legs.  Down to 1/200th of a second.  The rest of the settings remained the same.  This was the result:

Too bright!

The main thing here was the light from the front was too bright – the light from the cracks around the door wasn’t that prominent.  So, time for another go…

Attempt Three

I didn’t change the position of lighting or exposure time.  Instead I dialled down the power on the 580 EXII and set the flash exposure compensation on the camera to -2 stops.  This was the result:

Wrong Direction!

It was less obvious on the second image, as so much else was wrong with it, but having the light in front was at severe odds with the fact the light should be coming from the direction of the door – so behind the feet.

The Final Setup

I moved the flash with snoot to camera-right and behind the feet, pointing back across them, to get the final shot.

580 EXII with Pringle snoot

I’d already been converting to black-and-white, but I upped the overall exposure slightly in Lightroom, increased sharpness and increased contrast a bit too.

I’m really happy with the overall result, especially as something I finished shooting past midnight.  The fact that, having been unhappy with the original result, I persisted with alternatives ensured I had something I was happy with.  I’ve a tendency sometimes to just ‘settle’ for a shot – but that wasn’t the case here as I was keen to review what I had done and fix what I saw as wrong.


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