Recently I had the opportunity to do a shoot with a local company, West Manufacturing. The shoot was for a fabrication magazine article featuring this thriving Canadian company. The aim of the day, catch some overview shots of the facility, product shots, and images with the owner of the company. This is the first shoot I've done for a magazine, so it was great to get a deeper feel for the editorial side of photography.
The biggest difference I experienced with this shoot was the pace. Many photo shoots tend to be very quick, but this one had additional time constraints. I'm used to being at a location long before the client gets there, so it was a bit of a switch not being able to do all my setup and lighting tests ahead of time. There was a representative from the magazine that came for the shoot to oversee the photography, and to interview the owner. My assistant and I were able set up the lights while the interview was happening, but even that amount of time was less than I typically would allot for setup. The other time factor was that there were several different setups required to properly cover the content needed for the article.
We started outside near one of the massive fabricated tanks made by West. As far as products are concerned, this is the largest I have photographed to date. The tank was about ten feet wide, twelve feet tall, and twenty five feet long. A pair of bare bulb strobes with reflectors were placed camera right to add some punch to the side of the tank. A large soft box was used camera left to light the stairs, and to give soft light for an environmental portrait of the owner. We moved to the top of the tank with the soft box to get a shot with West's enviro-slip tanks as a background.
Next, we turned to getting some overview shots of the complex. It was an overcast day, so the light was really soft...almost too soft. There's a fine line between having soft light, and flat light. Typically a cloudy, overcast day doesn't allow for many shadows. You need shadows and contrast in a photo to add dimension. On the flip side, too much shadow or contrast doesn't necessarily make a photo better. Many people think that a bright sunny day is best for photos, but shadows tend to get too deep in broad daylight (especially under a subjects eyes when doing portraits in the middle of the day). My favourite outdoor conditions tend to be with a very thin layer of high cloud to gently diffuse sunlight, but to still keep some of the punch. Conditions during this shoot were still really overcast, but there was just enough variation in the cloud to make it work.
We moved inside to catch some shots of the indoor fabrication space. This became a very different lighting exercise. The light in this space was quite flat; there were a number of dark surfaces that absorbed light and would require strobes to bring out depth. The ambient light sources were also a different challenge. There was light pouring in the big doors at either end of the building that was a bit cooler than my strobes. There were also sodium vapour lights hanging from the ceiling which produce a magenta hue of light, and mercury vapour lights on the wall that produce a green hue of light. Add the blue hue of the light coming off of the arc welders in the room, and you have every colour temperature and hue of light possible in one space. I decided to use a cloudy white balance on my camera to try to get the most out of the situation. This would make the light coming in the door (which became my fill light in the room) close to neutral, the arc light a little less blue, and my strobe lighting a little warmer and more inviting; choosing a different white balance can drastically change the mood of the scene. I used two lights for the background, one behind the large steel tank on the left of the shot bouncing off the protective curtains on the right, and one on the right shooting towards the tank to give it some life. My large soft box again provided the lighting for the portrait portion of this location, and served to trigger the other strobes through an optical slave. The final step was to bring it all together with shop activity to add a little drama to the scene (nothing like flying sparks to make a shot more interesting).
The interior before adding strobe lighting.
Though there were challenging parts that needed to be tackled, I found myself marvelling that I get the chance to shoot something like this for a magazine. I enjoy working in an industrial environment, picking up some of the grit and texture that you see in these places. The pacing was great exercise too; there were a lot of shots set up in about two hours of shooting. This was an on-your-toes exercise in lighting, quickly setting up a shot, getting what the magazine needed, and then moving on to the next shot. Would I have liked to have more time to tweak the lighting? Absolutely, but one of the most important parts of being a photographer is being able to shoot on the fly, making quick adjustments to get the best shots possible in the time given.