Thursday, March 5

Facing North

Yesterday I photographed my friend Jan. We used the northlight studio of photographer and good friend Peter Obetz, while he was upstairs in his loft shooting food. I wanted to step back a bit from high-production and see how well I could function in a natural-light-only setting. The setup is simple - large, north facing windows, a small reflector, a gobo and a background.

I think it worked out pretty well. The current crop of cameras have incredible high-ISO capabilities, so shooting at ISO 400 or 800 doesn't really look any different than shooting at 100 or 200. They're just incredible at creating great files with very little noise. What? You thought I was going to abandon digital at a time like this? Not likely.

Jan's image above - 1/50 sec @ f/4, ISO 400, Nikon D700

Why this "backwards" drift? The studio I had been using as home base is on the market, all my stuff has been moved out and I really don't relish the epic schlep of moving everything from storage to a temporary studio to set up for a couple of hours. Don't get me wrong, I'll happily do whatever it takes to create the right image, but I don't at all look forward to the pack mule part. Conditions are forcing me to move away from my old commercial photography toward more portraiture, so a major rethink is necessary. If you can throw out what you're dead sure of and embrace the unknown, you'll keep learning.

Besides, I like the look of north light. It's soft, but crisp, with more than enough contrast to make your subject pop, and it has the added advantage of not becoming part of the shoot. Studio strobes are great for their power and consistency, but they can really intimidate some people. Every time you trip the shutter, you unleash the power of noon sunlight for a brief instant, and after a while, it gets to be pretty obnoxious. I've seen people flinch or blink when they sense a blast of white light is on the way. North light doesn't make anyone flinch. It's as natural as standing near a window.

Photography, at its roots, was a natural-light enterprise. It mimicked the old masters. If Jan Vermeer had lived in the 19th or 2oth centuries, he might well have been an awesome photographer, instead of an awesome painter.

Here's a picture of my great-great grandfather Anderson Porter Neighbors and his blacksmith's anvil. He dragged it, the rest of his tools and himself to a photographer's studio in Iola, Kansas around 1880 for this portrait. It was shot by north light alone. It probably cost him a packet, too. I get a lot of my rugged good looks from the Neighbors side of the family.

So maybe, now and again, you have to move a bit backwards to see the path ahead. It also makes you appreciate the bountiful technology that envelopes photography today. Again, thanks to Jan for putting her trust in me and thanks to Peter for allowing me the use of that great space.

Thus spake the rabbit.

1 comment:

Applecart T. said...

(i think north light made me flinch just a little.)