Last weekend I found myself lying on the ground under a railway arch with this menacing chap reaching for me. Fortunately he wasn't mugging me for my camera, he was just posing for me. I had organised a strobist meetup in a small garden area under a railway track in Camden. (with the help of Rams and Masood) We had 16 photographers, 4 models and I had told them it was going to be a film noir shoot. Unfortunately despite the great location, I was really struggling for inspiration. The arches were too high and too short to allow me to make use of the tunnel entrance for composition and the walls just looked like brick walls. The whole hard light film noir thing wasn't working for me at all.
So I took a step back looked at the location and thought about what feature I liked the most. I was obviously drawn to the entrance, but I also really liked the roof so I had to think about how I could shoot a portrait using the roof. After that crazy idea it all started to flow for me. I had to lie on the floor, so he had to be looking down on me. Why was he looking down on me? Because he knocked me over. Why had he knocked me over? Because he wanted something I had, so he had to be reaching for it. I had the image almost fully formed in my head now all I had to do was make it reality.
I set up a bare SB28 on the ground to the left of the camera pointing up. I think I zoomed it out and set it at low power 1/32 or so because it was going to be very close to my model Nath Nathan the composition was working for me on the initial shots, but the ceiling was too dark and I couldn't bring it up without completely nuking the scene in the background so I put another flash behind Nathan on wide angle pointing straight up into the ceiling at full power. I could have dropped the ambient light a bit further and got more detail out of the tunnel entrance, but I actually liked it as it was, there was enough detail to see the trees, also that ambient was working quite nicely to soften the light from the one bare source on our man.
How about the composition? The choice of 17mm lens meant I could get the sweep of the ceiling and the tunnel opening in the shot. I had to get Nathan to lean over me and he pretty much got the pose nailed straight away, but there was quite a bit of fine tuning to do to get it right. I wanted him leaning camera left to get a bit of a diagonal going, I remember directing him to spread his legs a little and I wanted both his hands in the right place. Now I would be lieing if I said that I thought about the design this deeply when I took the shot, but what works in this photo is that there is an implied trangle between his eyes and his hands. I would go as far as to predict that when you look at this image you will look at his eys first, then his left hand (camera right) and then his right hand (camera left) and then back to his eyes again. This wouldn't work unless there was that big patch of white sky in the shot pulling the eye down to his right hand. Triangles create a lot of stability in an image and there are plenty of them to be found if you look closely, both implied and real.
The image used here was taken from the jpeg straight out of the camera with just a 10x8 crop to remove some unwanted background. I could use the raw file to pull more detail out of the background, but I like it as it is. While I have your attention, why don't you go and see what my fellow strobists did on the day. No lack of inspiration there.