The other day I was trying to come up with a shot to do that wouldn’t require me to haul equipment too far but that would still get me away from shooting things against a bed sheet – enter stairs.
The stairs outside our apartment door could hardly be qualified as interesting, exciting or photogenic, but sometimes you have to make the best of things. I was after a lonely feeling with the subject far away, so I shot it with my wide angle, since it’s actually a rather cramped space. I also wanted shadows and the railing at the top of the stairs was pretty much the only reason I decided to shoot where I did, otherwise these stairs would have been dull indeed. With the railing there I had something to work with.
I started off using a LP160 with small softbox and CTO gel (see the shot below, we’ll get to the first shot in a bit). The reason for the CTO gel was that I wanted a slightly cold feeling to the shadow areas while keeping the subject lit by a warmer light. My plan from the start was to convert this shot to black and white but I still wanted to see what I could do with colour, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered gelling the flash at all. Unfortunately the main part of the wall was a rather drab yellow – you know the one, it usually gets a reaction along the lines of ‘bleh’. I still think the colour version works above expectations though. If you’re wondering why the upper right surface is very blue, it’s because of the on camera flash I used to trigger the flash at the top of the stairs. With an additional flash to bounce the light another way I could have avoided the extra light but I actually like the effect.
Something wasn’t quite living up to my vision though, and that was the shadows. I just wasn’t getting the kind of shadows I wanted and the culprit was the softbox. For my last few shots I removed the softbox and shot with just a bare flash. The result, after conversion to black and white, is what you see at the top of the post. Now the shadows are much more pronounced and provides a stronger graphical element. The conversion also helps to enhance the mood I was initially after.
Since I knew the colours would be a bit tricky I tried something new this time around; I shot everything in raw format and, well…let me tell you, I’m not going back to shooting jpeg. The data you work with is simply a lot better and you have a lot more flexibility in the changes you make. My computer isn’t lightning fast but it handled the files acceptably so it’s worth the extra time it might take to transfer and edit the files. I also very seldom shoot quick bursts so the performance impact on the camera shouldn’t be very noticeable most of the time.
End result of the day: a pretty decent shot after some experimenting and ascension to the next level of post processing nirvana (i.e. I’m slightly less bad at it).