Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day 81 of 365 - Shadowland

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

The concept behind this photograph came to life when I was in a knick-knacky store and I came across this ornate lantern. The lantern reminded me of something a Tibetan monk would walk around with (not that I know or understand the culture of Tibetan monks). Regardless, a starting image was formed in my head. So, I bought the lantern.

Over a month or so, I developed the concept into something a little more complete. However, there were some issues with the concept, namely how I could physically construct the type of setting I needed to create. I guess at some point it started to feel like a mountain that I wouldn't be able to climb, so it just stayed on my list while I tried to conjure-up ways to get what I wanted.

Desperate for an idea for my 365, I decided to re-visit the lantern, and see if I could adjust the concept into something that was a little more feasible given my time and location constraints. One concern I had based on some test shots I took a few weeks prior, was that the illumination from the candle in the lamp was less than adequate... so I knew that would be a problem I would need to resolve quickly, because it literally is the difference between success and failure.

I decided to start with just ramping-up the ISO... all the way to 6400. That definitely gave the exposure I wanted, and I wasn't too concerned about image noise because I felt it would add to the overall mood of the image. Next, I switched to a tea-light (candle) that had a little longer wick than what I was using. The combination of high ISO and better candle gave me some usable images, so I decided to keep pushing forward.

The other thing I knew I had on my side, was that I knew I would be draping a white cloth over me. The benefit to this is that it actually helps trap and reflect light a little better... almost like a softbox and a reflector all-in-one. Once I added that cloth, not only did the light quality improve slightly, but a "mood" started to form.

At some point in time I knew I would be moving down to the basement to do this photo. Mainly because there was much less chance of me starting the house on fire, but also because it had a more appropriate mood. It was around that time that I remembered the stairs leading into the basement, and I came up with the idea of putting candles on each stair to add background light and "interest".

Everything was going pretty smoothly, even though draping that cloth over me was a complete pain. However, the camera-right side of my body really seemed to be getting too lost in the shadows. So I put a 1-foot tall box slightly behind me and slightly away from me, and placed 3 more candles on it. Those candles gave just a pinch of illumination to my arm/shoulder area... just to show something was there.

Next, came the key. The key is tough because even though it is reflective, it just as easily reflects black... and gets lost very easily. So I had to hold the key in a way where it essentially mirrored the lantern (from the camera's perspective). Many failed photos because of the key, but eventually you get familiar with the correct angle to hold it at.

In total, I used 8 candles as the only illumination in this photo. I did at one point add a 9th candle in the camera-left background (in order to add shape to the subject's head-outline). But, I didn't have any "keeper" images from that setup.

Overall I'm pretty happy with the end result of this photo. It honestly turned out better than I expected. Although, I would probably add a few more strategically placed candles if I could do it over. Maybe one day I will be able to do the concept as it originally was intended to be. But for now, this is what I got... and I'm good with that.

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