More with a little light

My last post where I brought out my handy flashlight to illuminate my subjects face during a long exposure made me remember this shot that I did a while ago. It was for a commercial client of mine Wild Goose Canning who makes canning lines for craft breweries. They needed something cool for advertising but the problem is that the machines are designed for function and not at all for appearance. The problem was: how to make a bunch of stainless steel bars and boxes look interesting especially when they are always seen in locations that are mostly stainless steel. Answer? Light paint that sucker!

So off I went to San Diego in December to shoot the install of a new system showing the set up of the system in both stills and video. The plan was that once the system was installed to do some photos for future advertising. We did a bunch of stuff that worked fine but my big idea was to light paint the system because it would give a look that 1) would be neat-o and 2) would show their canning line in a way that was half sci-fi and half “playboy centerfold”.

The method is simple. Set up the camera on the tripd and line up your shot. Turn out the lights and leave the shutter open while you run around like squirrel on crack with a flashlight adding in the light with brush strokes of your flashlight or in my case three different ones for different effects. It’s a trial and “ooo, THAT didn’t work” process but once you get the hang of it it goes pretty easily. I’ve often said that photography is very much a performance art as you are constantly “in the now” and learning as you go: improvising like any good jazz musician does. Well let me tell ya folks light painting a big bunch of steel is very much like dancing while doing arithmetic at the same time.


Yeah. Because you are trying to make interesting sweeps of light with your light “brush” but you are counting constantly in your head. “Slowly up the right side, one-two-three, now arch around to the display panel, one-two, open up the underside for a count of seven … ” like that. If you are really good you are keeping a total count for your total exposure that you’ve programmed into your camera. Most cameras only allow you to dial in 30 seconds of exposure and after that you need and external release or even better one that is programmable so that you can set it for whatever time that you need. In this case I was shooting tethered to my laptop using Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 so that my client rep could see on the bigger screen what we were getting. But that still doesn’t give me more than 30 seconds so I used my ancient Nikon MC-20 remote which allows me to program in a long exposure time. We found that about 1 minute 45 seconds gave me enough time to paint things in while not overly burning in the lights on the machine.

The end result is just what I had hoped for and the great thing is that this is straight out of the camera even though it looks “shopped” to heck.

A little light work

One of the main reasons that I became a photographer of people and their personal worlds was to go places and learn things. I accepted a long time ago that although I’m a pretty smart dude I didn’t and can’t know everything but that I was gonna try to learn something every day that expands my world in some manner. Thus it’s quite often that I get an assignment and I get excited not just at the opportunity to possibly make photos that I’m proud of but to learn something truly interesting.

As some may know a big new trend/fad/fashion in eating is the gluten free diet. I’ll skip all armchair quarterbacking on this topic thank you but I will say that I like my pasta with extra gluten! Yummy. Anyhoo the deal is that the gluten free movement has opened a lot of new horizons for people both the eaters as well as those who produce what we eat.

I got an assignment to photograph a small company north of Fort Collins Colorado who is making gluten free malt for making beer and they are doing well with this. Most gluten free beer is made from a sorghum syrup but that makes for a pretty tasteless product. The people at Grouse Malting are using millet and have found a way to malt and roast the grain to enable brewers to make a gluten free beer with real flavor. Huzzah! For me the great thing is that they malt their grain in house with a classic process called floor malting. They built a big room that is temperature and humidity controlled to allow the grain to begin the process of sprouting which converts the starches inside into more simple sugars that the brewers yeast can convert to alcohol. It’s an art/science blend as they have to manually turn the grain with shovels and inspect it to know when that batch is ready. This is a pretty cool thing that they are doing as there are very few floor malting facilities in the US and to their knowledge Grouse is the only one who has figured out how to do this with millet.

Thus, I had to photograph the malting room! However I quickly saw a number of things that I’d have to overcome to get an interesting photo in there. Problem number one: it’s like a sauna in there with all the humidity. Steamy! Problem number two: it’s lit by a single wall mounted light. Problem number three: it’s dark as heck and I needed a malter dude at work. How to pull this all off?

Easy! Almost. First step was to find my composition and that meant my Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8 on my trusty Gitzo G1320 tripod way down low to show the malt on the floor. Just shy of 24mm did the trick and f/11 would hold the foreground/background sharp enough. I mean let’s face it, I was shooting in a steam room so infinite background sharpness just wasn’t gonna happen folks. ISO 400 gave me an exposure of one second which was enough to accomplish two things: enable my malt dude to pour some malt from his shovel to show motion while he himself stood still and the other was to light paint him and the malt in the shovel with a flash light.

What? Yep a flash light. I used my hand around the lens of the Inova X2 to produce a thin beam that I could use to light his face and the malt in particular to make them pop out of the steamy darkness. I always have a flashlight with me for a number of uses and this is a great reason to always have an additional and flexible light source. That said I put my beloved problem solver the Nikon SB-800 pointed towards the far right corner and triggered it wirelessly from the built in controller flash of my Nikon D700. This gave some separation and kept the gloom at bay.

Less than a dozen frames and we got this:
Grouse 6

BTW I love to learn from other photographers and am quite curious as to how they solve their particular problems. I picked up the Inova x2 by recommendation from the amazing photographer Robert Seale. You can’t have too many options when it comes to lighting things.