Friday, April 16, 2010

"Garden Day" leads photographer to pursue choice self-assignment in his own backyard

For more than 20 years, professional photographer Dale Wilson has ventured from his home in Nova Scotia to virtually every corner of Canada, as well as teaching and writing articles -- currently as a columnist for Outdoor Photography Canada magazine. Not long ago, Dale was able to cover a special event right in his own backyard. "It's been said that in Canada we have eight months of winter, and four months to get ready for it. This year it certainly seemed that way, and the last Saturday of September was reserved for 'Garden Day.' This would be the day our family would have some fun yielding the results from those previous four months of pulling weeds, and talking to flowers when no one was around to hear us. In my case, fun usually translates to having a camera nearby.

"I thought it would be fun to get a few snapshots of the harvest for inclusion in a one-off book I hoped to put together on 'Mother’s Gardens.' As is usually the case, photographers don’t know how to do anything half way. It wasn’t long before I was thinking a stock photo might be discovered in the harvest. I knew I wanted the mini-barn as the backdrop, and a table full of fresh produce. So why not try to make it look as a farmers market might and commercialize the scene? Hence the chalk board featuring -- I am told -- drastically reduced prices.

"There would be several challenges in this set up, and like all shoots lighting was integral. The final shot would have to be made before 3:30pm due to the orientation of the sun (so much for the sweet light of early evening), and even then the barn would be in full shadow and as such record with a strong blue bias. What's more, the sun would reach the vegetables from the left side of the set and be shining through the birch trees as seen in the first image above. Knowing this would create a mottled lighting look on the set, I had two options: use artificial light (a 4-foot softbox from the studio which is just out of view) to overpower the shadows being cast by the trees, or use reflectors to make it look like a natural outdoor set. I opted for the latter as I wanted a natural look, complete with vegetables that weren’t perfect 'models.'

"With that decision made, I knew the produce would reflect the main sunlight coming from the left, as well as the re-directed light coming from the right. This seemed a natural situation for the LB Warming Polarizer... and it was. Not only would the highlights and reflections be controlled, the warmth of the filter would offset the blue cast on the background, which was now fully in shadow. The reflector I used was an old 4x6-foot piece of gator board which I had previously pasted gold aluminum foil. I then took a box cutter and cut more irregular holes in that board than a psychedelic shirt from the 1960’s. This reflector would not only add to the desired mottled look, but it would also add warmth to the overall scene; a warmth that would be further accentuated by the LB Warming Polarizer.

"Another advantage of this polarizer is that it absorbs two-thirds of an f-stop less light than some traditional polarizing filters. With a slight breeze always blowing in off the nearby Atlantic Ocean, I need every fraction of a second of light I can muster. In this case that two-thirds of a stop equated to about 1/30th of a second in exposure time, quite often the same amount of time that can distinguish a soft image from a sharp image and especially so when the breezes threaten to move the flowers.

"Of course no self-respecting photographer could pass up a scene without taking just one more shot. In this image, it has become quite apparent that the light has shifted quite dramatically from that of the previous images, but yet the warmth of the LB Warming Polarizer in collaboration with the reflector board still provides a natural and pleasing ambiance. I could have increased the polarizing effect and eliminated the specular highlights on the reflective peppers and apples, but I felt those controlled 'hotspots' were necessary to maintain the natural look of the scene.

"I’m not so sure our son and my wife had as much fun as I did 'harvesting.' Perhaps we just have a difference of opinion about what harvesting means -- they harvested the produce and I harvested a couple of memorable images. Oh, by the way, the deal was that I would store all the produce the following day. It seems sales weren’t that great... thank goodness."

Footnote: Dale also sent along this added thought... "On an assignment a few days prior to Garden Day, I was setting up a portrait lighting situation where the subject was an extremely wealthy individual and one of the most aggressive, yet covert, philanthropists in Canada. True to history, I would have only 10 minutes to complete the portrait session. After the session, the art director, whom I hadn’t worked with before, said, 'It’s great to work with an old-fashioned photographer again.' It took me a minute to understand that he appreciated my intention to capture the image on the first take and that post production manipulation should be minimal and preferably none at all. According to the AD, if he would offer a suggestion, the usual reply from most photographers would be that it would be easier to complete the task in post production. I believe in working backwards in such situations: When I know what the final result should look like, I can then work to that end by using skill in craft as opposed to crutches in post. This might include not only using coloured gels on the lights, but also the correct filter choice in front of the lens (in this case the Singh-Ray Hi-Lux). With that said, I think perhaps being an 'old fashioned' photographer ain’t so bad after all."

To see more of Dale's photos and insights, stop by his website and pay a visit to his Naturally Natural blog.

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