By Heinz Richter
With the advent of digital photography and computer manipulated photographs, we have come to expect the extraordinary, maybe even the seemingly impossible. Unfortunately, this has also caused some of the older, conventional photographic methods to become relics of the past, soon to be forgotten.
There is no doubt that modern, computer methods have made it substantially easier and more productive to manipulate photographs, to show the unusual. Yet we have seen similar things done, in the past, with just conventional photographic techniques. In a modern studio operation, digital techniques are definitely necessary to maintain a competitive edge. But for just plain, photographic fun, some of the old, conventional techniques have a lot to offer.
The photograph in this article has often been thought of as being computer generated or manipulated. Yet it was done by standard, photographic methods and a bit of ingenuity. It came about as an assignment for a local client. The basic idea of the shot was specified, and it was up to the photographer to execute the idea in the studio and to put it on film.
The photograph is the result of multiple exposures on the same sheet of film. Following is an account of how this was done…
As a camera, a 4x5 view camera was chosen, although any other film size could be used as well. Initially, the phone was hung up with very thin, micro filament line. It would be very difficult to hang the phone in an angle; instead, it was hung straight, with the antenna facing down. Two lines, in an angle were used to prevent the phone from swinging sideways. An additional two lines were fastened to the antenna to avoid the phone from swinging back and forth. To allow the phone to be recorded in an angle, the camera was tilted. The upside down image in a view camera actually made it easier to compose the set, because the upside down phone showed upright on the ground glass. With cameras other than a view camera, it would be easier to have the phone hung upright.
Lighting was done all with hot lights, using a strong cross light on the key pad, with a softer light source, with the same angle, as fill. A reflector was used to lighten the dark, opposite side. The camera was supported on a studio stand with a geared head. This allowed for an easy addition of the motion streaks. The initial position of the camera was marked with white board marker directly on the ground glass. With other cameras the this position would need to be marked on the tripod. Then the camera was tilted down for the position of the end of the motion streaks. With the shutter open, the camera was slowly tilted upward, until it reached the initial position as marked on the ground glass. This gave the phone an exact, fixed position for the next exposures, the first of which was the phone by itself, against a black background with the above described lighting.
The flame had to be done carefully, in order not to hurt the phone or set it on fire. Clients really don’t like it if you burn their products. A light stand was positioned right behind the phone. Wrapped in a black cloth, the parts below the phone did not show against the black background. On top of the light stand a small piece of sponge material was fastened. The height of the light stand was carefully adjusted such that the sponge was just hidden behind the top edge of the phone. The sponge was soaked with lighter fluid, which burns with a bright, orange flame. Thus, the exposure of the flame was no problem at all. Of course, the lighting for the phone was shut off for this exposure.
The fourth and final exposure was for the background. To allow for the space scene, rear projection was chosen. A standard, 35mm slide of the scene was projected onto a rear projection screen. This is a bit trickier, since the product, in this case the phone, must not be allowed to move at all. The subject lighting must be off for this exposure to avoid any light from spilling onto the rear projection screen. For the previous three exposures the screen was not in place. The screen must be carefully put in place, as close as possible to the subject, to avoid any depth of field problems. Neither a change of aperture or refocusing can be done since both will alter the size of the product in front of the screen. The product is, what is called, self-masking. With other words, it blocks out the areas of the background covered by the product. It is also important to filter the projector lens. Most projectors use a heat absorbing glass which is slightly green in color. Without filtration, the rear projection image would have a green cast. A gel filter of CC10M (10 Color Correction values of Magenta) in front of the projector lens assured the correct color balance. Thus, the fourth exposure made the phone move through space.
Exposure readings were taken in the following manner: For the exposure of the phone, the initial reading was an incident reading, facing toward the light source. To make sure that the bright spot on the phone key pad would not be washed out, an additional spot reading of that area was taken to make sure that it was not over exposed by more than 2 ½ stops. A three stop over exposure would have rendered the area white without detail.
Experience has shown that the motion streaks will show just fine with the same lighting and a slow tilting of the camera, lasting about two to three seconds. This is really not that critical, since it doesn’t matter if the motion streaks are a bit lighter or darker, as long as they show up well.
For the flame, a spot reading of the flame, adjusted to a 1 stop over exposure assured that the reddish color of the flame would be maintained without being too dim.
The rear projection exposure was determined with a spot reading also. Incident readings cannot be applied here at all. Of the star field, an area with neutral brightness was chosen for the spot reading. The resulting exposure time then rendered the correct exposure.
It is important to note, that for all four of the exposures the same aperture had to be used. As mentioned already, a change in aperture will slightly change the size of the subject on film.
Since all four exposures show the same subject, this must be avoided. To select an aperture which gave enough depth of field to cover the subject and the rear projection image, the screen was put in place initially, but then was removed for the first three exposures.
I have found that many such photographs have more than just one solution. I would be very much interested in hearing about some other ideas how this photograph could have been made. Such a photograph is obviously beyond everyday shooting. If anyone has any questions regarding how this was done or to clarify any of the techniques described, please Email me and I will gladly get back to you with an answer.