This article is part of the “Today, I Will Photograph” series, an adventure in which I set out to produce a photograph a day for a month and blog about it.
Wow, what an experience! I awoke to a serene, calm morning with yet another sprinkle of snow on the ground, not a draft in the air, and overcast sky. Very nice conditions, indeed, for black and white photography. The mission was simple: go to a place by the ocean where, a few years ago, I’d photographed a lovely scene using black and white film. I would duplicate the scene – only this time on digital media – and return with the shot. Easy!
But not so fast. I arrived at the location only to find the shoreline packed with slob – a wet, brown, slush – extending for several hundred feet offshore. The winds picked up and the dampness in the air combined for downright misery. I eyeballed the shoreline for an end to the slob. I could see open water a few hundred yards further along, but no calm reflections on this windy day like I had envisioned. I took a few shots of no particular subject, including a few reflections in the small pool where the brook ran into the ocean. Noting impressed me. I packed my gear, hands and body frozen, and headed home. I had some daily chores to attend to and then, later in the afternoon, I would implement Plan B.
Studio photographers create ideas all the time, I thought, as I resurrected my project later that day. I’ll do the same! But what…ummmmm….. I know! I scouted my shed for something reflective. Let’s see, there’s an old oil lantern. I walked around the shed reflecting objects in its chimney: the window, an old set of scales, the fire in the wood stove (which I had to light to ward of the cold)…nothing. Okay, over by the window. There! There’s my house and a winter wonderland all around! Looks good.
By now it’s getting late in the afternoon. I decided to prop the lantern in the window, light it, and let the winter scene outside wrap itself around the glass form. The test setup looked great. I polished the glass, turned on all lights in my house that were facing the subject, lit up the lantern and…ooops! I needed more light. Up went the ISO. It’s very tight where I’m shooting and I’m tripod-less, so a fairly fast shutter speed is needed, regardless. After a couple of shots I realize I’m in trouble here! There’s a lot of previously unseen dust on the lantern glass. It’s showing up heavily and it’s on the inside and by now – wait for it – it’s dark! No more reflections from the great outdoors. Time for Plan C.
Okay, Houston, we have a problem! I’m not a studio photographer and now I need a studio and lights. I’ll just have to improvise. But what will I shoot? It has to have a theme. Okay, retro. I have a wall clock that looks old. I’ll take the oil lamp and reflect it in the face of the old-fashioned looking clock to give the effect of a bygone era. Simple.
Any photographer that shoots weddings will tell you that when the bride in the mirror shot occurs, make sure the mirror is impeccable: shining spotlessly or else every streak and peck of dust, dirt, grease, and makeup on that mirror will show and wreak havoc on the image. So, what’s that got to do with my shot, you ask? I’ve got a glass lantern, being reflected in the glass of a wall clock, with a shiny white dial AND I’m not a studio photographer!!! Houston, I have a bigger problem! Did I really pick this subject? Nope, I just ended up here. I’ve got work to do for Pete’s sake! Well, there’s no plan D, that’s for sure. Get this done and done soon.
So here’s what I did. I turned off the shed ceiling lights because the light was too diffused and bright and the old oil lamp wouldn’t give a proper reflection in the clock glass. I found a 12 volt spotlight and power pack in the corner of the room and fired it up. Obviously, by now, I was down to my last resort (from daylight to 120 volt to 12 volt). I took the spotlight and I angled it every which way possible within the confines of the shed to get the correct reflection in the clock face. I spotted the lamp and let the clock stay in shadow (trial and error dictated that route). I used black mat board for blockers, kleenex tissue for diffusers, and white board for reflectors; I angled my camera, I raised it and lowered it, I moved the clock and I moved the oil lamp and I moved the camera. WHEW!
In the end I had taken a total of 34 shots: 7 on the beach; 5 at the studio of the outdoor scene reflected in the lamp, and 22 of the lamp reflected in the clock face. I never dreamed that studio photographers faced such a myriad of challenges. I always thought that, if there was a studio over your head, it’s a piece of cake. Wow! I just dined on humble pie! All issues aside and apart from the learning curve (which was steep and quite incomplete), my shot was a wash. It’s full of specular highlights, the contrast range is way to wide and the lamp’s reflection doesn’t dominate like I wanted! This image needs a re-make. In my opinion, it’s not even salvageable in the best of photo editing software. Maybe I could take two or three of the lot and make a composite, but that’s not going to happen. I’m just going to reclaim the memory space on my computer, lol. But let’s look on the bright side: what a great bit of fun, not to mention the challenge! And I’ll sure get my hands dirty with some more studio work in the future, that you can bet on. And, A Reflection in Time will get redone…someday!
I’ll just be careful the next time ’round, when the weather isn’t so good outside, to assume the good folks in the studios have it easy! Not!
And tomorrow’s topic? The weatherman is forecasting snow. I’m predicting Snow Falling!
Shoot ’til it feels good!