I'm not sure where there idea hit me but I've been glad that I went with it. Since I love to photograph things in a layered manner it often bothers me that I have to deal with things that are very 2 dimensional looking. I often think that it would be cool to be able to peer through something to get to the subject. But in studio-esque situations which are actually on location that often is either in abundance or non existent. Even if you have things to shoot through it may not give any context to the photo. Rather it may be cool but what else? Well how about maybe giving some context or a particular feel to the image?
About 4 years ago the idea hit me to go to the hardware store an buy a sheet of plexiglass for this shoot I was going to do about a guy who runs a company that does new ideas in marketing. After talking to him on the phone it was apparent that his office is a boring set of cubes and that turning it into something interesting would be a challenge. The surrounding area, like taking him to the park et al, didn't make much sense and certainly wouldn't explain anything about him or the story which was about the idea of narrow casting your marketing message. I show to his office and it was, well, a plain office space with a lot of bicycles in it. So I whip out my sheet of plexi and have him diagram out a most basic idea of what the whole thing is about while I start setting up my stuff. I mount the plexi on two stands with clamps and have him get behind it with his pen to go "John Madden" as if he's drawing out the thing in real time. It finally looked like this:
One soft box to camera left and one at right dialed back as fill with a third bearing a blue gel to turn the boring white wall something more interesting. The trick was that plexi is very reflective and it showed everything behind me. I had to do a lot of gyrations of angling the plexi, the camera and blocking highlights to make it look clean. But for my first time doing this it worked out pretty well and I learned how to do it better for the next time. The diagram was like this.
I've kept that sheet of plexi and have only pulled it out a few times because there just isn't that great a need for it. But when I can I do. I was commissioned to shoot a portrait of a woman, ok it was actually my wife no joke, who wrote an article about a particularly difficult time in her life and how she got through it. I wanted something moody but wasn't depressing looking. I wanted her to be strong while obviously in a difficult situation. Or something like that. I know that her wearing a silly hat was out of the question.
Since I don't have a studio I put this together in my office.
I made a 1/2 mix of water and glycerin in a spray bottle to make rain drops that would stay put. It a rainy evening ya know! I used a black muslin for the background and draped that over two saw horses with a half sheet of plywood to make a table where I put the lit candles on. There is an extra small softbox acting as a hair light that is gelled full CTO to make it match with the light from the candles behind her. I used one of my 11" sports reflectors with a 1/4CTO gel just out of frame because I wanted it to be very close to her and have no spill onto the shiny plexi. At camera right is a medium softbox with a 1/2 CTB to act as cool evening light. That but to control reflections I had a black card keeping most of the blue off of her as well as keeping a few reflections under control. The other trick was to keep the camera out of the shot as the plexi easily made a distinct reflection of it so I draped it in black muslin and triggered the camera remotely. Diagram is like this:
Then shortly after doing that I had to shoot a local famed chocolatier. The making of chocolates is messy but most of the work is done in stainless steel machines. The hand work is well hand work and isn't very interesting looking plus you have the issue of scale where a person and a one inch truffle doesn't show well. So out came the plexi. The fun/hard/insane part was adhering her sweets to the front of the plexi to have them suspended in air so to speak. They didn't hold for very long but we got the shot.
For this I side lit the chocolates to get the most texture and shine from them. I knew that soft lighting them would make them look flat and uninteresting. But side lighting her would be unflattering so I put grid spots on the side lights to keep them from spilling. Then I put a small softbox on a boom to be right over the plexi to give her soft light. Then a touch of hair/separation light over the black portable backdrop. Again the camera was draped in black and I used the Live View on my Nikon D700 triggered via my laptop to direct her and make the final exposure. Diagram below: