This blog of Reidar Schopp covers my photography; primarily the back stories, concepts of the shoots, and challenges encountered. I am hoping this to become an open forum to share ideas, approaches, and potential collaborations.
In December, I was attending the opening night of a new show at a local art gallery. Another person was there showing interest in the same piece I was admiring (not mine). We struck up a conversation about art and eventually into displaying the art and its security. He was specifically referring to his coins.
He keeps them in a safety deposit box at a bank and occasionally goes to the bank to look at them whereas paintings and sculptures are on display at his home. His comment was that coins are small and easily hidden and transported. Therefore, leaving them out to appreciate is very risky.
Being a photographer, I asked him if he ever thought about photographing the coins, blowing the images up, framing and hanging those in his home to appreciate their beauty. He said he never thought about it.
Last week, I photographed a small sample to show him what could be done and the quality I could achieve. This including making them large enough to see the details without a magnifying glass.
Some of the coins were sealed in cases while others could be removed. For those that could be removed, each was handled in gloved hands and a mask over the mouth. This precaution made sense to me as when I handle my prints, I also use gloves although I hold my breath when reviewing my prints, especially the images on metallic and crystal archive papers. Spittle & water droplets can ruin a prints
With some of the coins diameter being larger that the diameter of my macro lens, I decided to pull out my Canon extension tubes and use my 70-200mm Canon zoom lens mounted on my Canon 5D Mark II. To get to where I could focus that lens on the coins about 9 inches away, I stacked a 25mm plus a 12 mm extension tube. Setting the lens to 200mm, I was almost able to fill the screen with the silver dollars.
To light the coins, I used a single softbox strip light on a Dynalite strobe head on the left angles low to sweep across the surface of the coin. Surrounding the coins were black foam core boards to add contrast to the reflective coins. With the camera set to manual, I photographed the coins at 1/90 and 1/120 second at f32. The camera was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod and I used a cable release to make each exposure.
Opening the images in Camera Raw, I set the color space to ProPhoto, 16 bit, at 4096 by 6144 pixels at 320 ppi. In Photoshop, I sharpen the images using the high pass filter and added contrast. For the silver coins, I processed as black and white in NIK starting with the fine art setting and then modifying from there. I found that for the non silver coins, using NIK Color Efex Pro’s glamour glow setting as a starting point worked great.
At these settings, the coins are about 3x their actual size eliminating the need of a magnifying glass.
© Reidar Schopp, All Rights Reserved, www.RLSFoto.com.
Abelardo Morell, b 1948
Inspiration is sometimes fickle, sometimes elusive, and sometimes a non-stoppable firehose. But, if not written down, it always fades away. Several years ago I realized that I had better document these moments of inspiration as I had realized that concepts were being forgotten. Conservatively, my “Need To Shoot” list is 63 pages with at least an average of 25 ideas per page. So, over 1,500 concepts to shoot. This list grows faster than I can shoot these concepts, so the list grows. Reminds me of Edison’s quote “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. I need a patron!
One of the items on my “”Need to Shoot” document was inspired by a photo I came across at the “Art Institute of Chicago” on June 14, 2013 when visiting Janien and Scott Stantis in Chicago. The above photograph of pencils by Abelardo Morell stopped me. A photograph of pencils! My photograph of Mr. Morell’s image does not do it justice, but recorded it (The information about Mr. Morell to the right of his photo is in the appendix)
The following series of photographs were created based on the black & white photograph consisting of over 300 sharpened pencils by Mr. Morell. It sounds so boring and commonplace. But, that inkjet print made in 2012 from a photo from 2002 stopped me in my tracks. I would hang that image in my house next to my William Mortensen’s, my mom’s art, and my photographs. This occurred June 14, 2013 yet I still carry this image in my memory. I need to make it my own.
Below, nearly three years later I finally made my first attempted at these pencils. I recruited my friend Carol Ballard to pose with 140 sharpened pencils. Getting the set assembled and the lights and camera in position, I realized that Morell used about 350 pencils! I should have counted the number of pencils in the photo before I got to this point. It is amazing how few 140 pencils appear. You know what else is truly very difficult? Getting them all standing on the erasure by oneself! Hugely underestimated the difficulty of this “simple” task. Ended up making a small short wooden box to hold the pencils vertical.
The studio set-up consisted of my Canon 5D Mark II and a Canon 1D Mark II that I converted to infrared for a Botswana Photo Safari a few years back. For the lighting of the color images (I converted all images to B&W), I used 2 of my Dynalite heads, one in a large soft box and the other in a strip soft box, both on light stands with one on each side of the camera. As I move the lights around during the shoot, I do not have specifics for each image although positions can be deduced by the shadows and reflections off the pencils and Carol’s eyes. For the infrared, I shot with one strobe as using 2 kicks off too much light. Also, my backdrop was a mottled blue of various shades.
The first image shot were the pencils alone. As models take time applying makeup and getting ready, I usually have a good 45 minutes to fine tune the set-up as a starting point. During this time, the image below was made. As I was short about 200 pencils, I shot diagonally to get extra width and depth to the pencils. I originally planned on shooting with my Canon 45mm Tilt/Shift but I was not getting the field of view I wanted, primarily a deep depth of field. I found that the Canon 100mm Macro was providing the best results – I decided on a sharp from row of pencils blurring into the distance.
1/60 sec f8 manual setting with 2 soft boxes. Color converted to B&W
The following image was Carol’s hands holding the pencils to introduce a person into the image. Although pencils alone represent the work and ingenuity of humans, I wanted the hands to control the pencils, including the literal meaning as the pencils were too loose in the box. Carol’s hands brought order. To get this image, I switched to the Canon 70-200mm. As this was shot with my infrared camera, I left the strobes output the same even though the camera settings were changed to shoot at 1/200 sec at f20 with the ISO increased to 400 (I prefer 100 and is my default setting). This set-up provided a very good depth of field throughout the group of pencils.
1/200 sec f20 ISO 400 manual setting with 2 soft boxes. Infrared converted to B&W
The third image shows how Carol can flex her fingers backward. My initial impression was that of a frog’s foot, the second being repulsion; not that she can do this but the fingers moving away from the pointed tips. I always prefer working with models that have a point of view. I had shown Carol the pencils by Morell’s before starting the shoot and that I wanted to play with his concept and take it in a different direction. Carol understood the concept and this was one of her contributions.
1/60 sec f8 ISO 100 manual setting with 2 soft boxes. Color converted to B&W
The next step was to bring Carol’s figure into the image, to contrast the sharp points and rough ground wood against a smooth female figure. I again tried the Canon 45mm Tilt/Shift lens. The first few pencils looked sharp and crisp, but Carol appeared as snowcapped hills in the distance. First interpretation was a “white blob in the background” but I believe all models would not be appreciative of such a description of their figure. Returning to the 70-200mm at f8 at 1/60th, I had enough sharpness to provide the viewer the clarity of a woman’s hip. I asked Carol to again point to the pencil tips to contrast the pointing finger to the sharpness of the pencils
1/60 sec f8 ISO 100 manual setting with 2 soft boxes. Color converted to B&W
Running through various set-ups with Carol and the pencils, I thought of having Carol hold the pencils close, the points pressed into her skin, her thumb exploring the points. Again, this image contrasts Carol’s softness to the sharp and rough pencils, but in this case displaying her comfort of the points pressed into her skin. Unlike the prior image where she is exploring the pencils sharpness, here she has found security.
1/60 sec f8 ISO 100 manual setting with 2 soft boxes. Color converted to B&W
The set also included color pencils. Initially, the concept was to work with Carol’s tattoos, in particular the snake on her left breast. But, I did not discover a voice to combine the pencils and tattoos. For me, it is frustrating when you have an idea, but you cannot execute. The progress to this image went from pencils and her breasts, to her holding the pencils against the backdrop (seeing if I can get an image similar to “Father’s Hands & Citron”) to thinking of “My Favority Martian”. It ended up reflecting my frustration with the colored pencils beating them against my skull.
Image Shot on: March 25, 2016
Model: Carol Ballard
© Reidar Schopp, All Rights Reserved. Photography by Reidar Schopp. All works for sale at RLSFoto.com. Limited Editions available in sizes above 8x12.
To the right of Morell’s image of the pencils was the following:
Over the past 25 years, Abelardo Morell (American, born Cuba 1948) has become internationally renowned for works that employ the language of photography to create moments of visual surprise and wonder. Morell came with his family to the United States as a teenage in 1962. He rec3eived a scholarship to attend Bowdoin College in Maine, where he took his first photography course; he later completed an MFA in photography at Yale University, looking to street photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank as models. After the birth of his son in 1986, he began making large-format pictures around his home, examining common household objects with child-like curiosity. As a professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, he experimented with optics in his teaching and initiated a series in which he turned an entire room into a camera obscura, photographing the projection of the outside world onto the surfaces of the room’s interior.
These twin poles – examining objects and images with fresh vision and exploring simple optics in myriad forms – have been consistent orientation points for many series that have followed. Morell has turned his camera on conveyors of cultural meaning such as books, maps, money, and museums in extensive series that explore the perception of images. He has experimented with techniques as varied as photograms, still-life tableaux, stop-motion studies, and most recently the tent camera – a kind of portable camera obscura that throws the image of a landscape upon the ground’s surface. Now, after decades of working exclusively in black and white, he has embraced color, returning to old themes and series to view them in a new spectrum while pioneering ways to understand optical effects, nature, and picture making. This retrospective of over one hundred works made from 1986 to the present traces Morell’s innovative career as he continues to mine the essential strangeness and complexity of images.
Through the years I have enjoyed shooting under black light. Originally at Goth Clubs and others that I would explore with my camera. Once I built my studio, I installed black lights immediately to the right and left of the stage plus two banks overhead in front of the stage. I also have 2 other banks that I move around as needed to get close to the object or person I am photographing.
Initially in my studio and other locations I have been fortunate enough to be allowed to borrow for my concepts, I have primarily used clothing to get neon greens, reds, pinks, yellows, blues, etc against black skin. It gives the impression of the "Invisible Man" but in fishnet stockings, panties, scrunchies, etc. For an advanced photography class, I covered the model "Madrid" from head to toe in glow in the dark make-up and then applied non glow in the dark make-up for a tribal appearance as well as making her the hour and minute hands of a clock. But, I never thought of Tonic Water.
A model that I worked a lot with in 2008-2009 recently said we should use tonic water for a glow in the dark shoot. She recently returned from Germany and was living near where I was located for an assignment. Robin brought the black lights, tonic water, detergent (yes, it glows at a different color). This time, I provided the location (In 2008-2009, she provided me access to her dungeon every Wednesday for nearly a year as my photography studio in exchange for doing shots she needed occasionally - a huge bargain for me as the shots for her were amazing). But, I digress.
The problem with shooting with Robin was the shower was converted into the studio. All the equipment, the angles needed, keeping the room black, and the camera and the electrical equipment dry was extremely difficult. Although some of the shots were very cool, I needed to continue exploring this way to light the figure.
Once I returned home, I reached out to Carol Ballard whom I have photographed numerous times. For those of you familiar with my art, you probably recall the woman with the tattoo of a snake on the left breast with its mouth open striking at her areola. Carol said yes and asked what make-up and clothing would I need. This was the simplest of shoot requirements! No model preparation needed.
The stage consisted of a black velvet backdrop, a galvanized tub sitting on top of a plastic tarp, two banks of black lights standing vertically & moved to within 2 feet from Carol each flanking Carol at 45 degrees. I had the Canon 5D Mark 2 on a tripod with a remote trigger set to 1/15 second at f3.2. And 5 quarts of tonic water!
For those of you who do not know what tonic water is, it can be found as a mixer with alcohol, such as a gin and tonic. It is slightly bitter, but is carbonated and contains corn syrup so you will feel sticky as when you spill a Coke on your lap.
When it was time to shoot, the remote trigger decided to malfunction. And the cable release was too short. Why were these required you ask? Have you ever tried to get into a pose so that a liquid will run down your nude body, in a slippery tub, and hold a quart bottle above your shoulder and pour, while holding your head up yet try to see of it is flowing down your body in a solid stream, lighting your tattoo? Try it, I'll wait...........
Setting the trigger to go off in 10 seconds, I had the honor of bracing (not embracing) Carol from behind (not her behind) so she would not slip. When the camera was about to fire, I would pour the tonic water. After several shots, we changed the pose.
Sitting Carol down in the tub simplified the shoot and provided us between control. I prefer this image above over the other tonic water images. Even at 1/15th of a second, you can see the snake tattoo through the bubbles of the tonic water, yet the 15th of a second allows enough movement of the fluid to yield a creamier texture on her body.
Does anyone have a pool I can borrow and fill with tonic water? After the shoot, you can add gin and onions, not olives!
This is a shot that was over 2 years in the making. The concept was instantaneous; it was getting the mom and daughter into the studio that took the time. Persistence does pay off. This concept came to me at Giana's birthday party where her mom Kristen and family where playing games. Giana was doing something that her mom did not approve of, so Kristen told Giana no. In reply, Giana told her mom "No". That's all it took to inspire this photo.
The shirt was luck. Minnie Mouse of the opposite of Giana and in this photo, the contrast of the personalities is apparent. For Giana's pose, it was determined by Minnie Mouse's posture. Giana needed to follow the flow of Minnie's curve and complete the "S". The last of the positioning was Kristen and her hand. I never had the intention of showing Kristen and knew that having Kristen's hand demanding the 2 Scrabble pieces set the relationship between an independent girl and her mom being a parent.
I was relieved once I had captured the vision and the 2 Scrabble pieces.
The set-up was three lights. I had a hair light above, a fill behind me and the main to my right. Shot with my Canon 5D and my 24-70mm lens with a remote cable. The camera was on a Mamiya tripod with an Arca-Swiss head
This digital composite is built on 2 photographs I shot while driving to a client in Connecticut from JFK at about 1 AM.
1) The inner concentric rings is the first image that I used.
2) The next step was the mathematics. As it needs to be a circle, I needed and even number of 1/2 blades to align into a perfect circle without overlap. I determined I could fit 16 blades or 32 half blades based on the photo of the light.
3) Using Adobe Photoshop's Puppet Wrap, I forced the image to fit within a pie shape of 11.25 degrees (360 degrees / 32 slices) so that I could get the shape needed to create 1/2 the blade of a turbine.
4) That image was then duplicated and flipped to create the full blade and provide symmetry of the lights within the blade.
5) Next was the replication of each blade and positioning until I had a complete circle
6) At this point, I flattened the circle and duplicated
7) From the duplicated circle, I shrank the circle and placed within the larger outer circle. I also rotated it by 11.25 degrees to get a subtle twisting of the image and to align the edges together.
8) Duplicating and shrinking of the circles continued until I had the depth I wanted for the concentric rings.
9) The outer purple lights came from photographing the Stamford train station as I drove past it. The solid purple ring was where the length of the fence had no slats so the light was solid. The long skinny lines were from the vertical purple neon light tubes as they appeared between the gaps in the slats.
10) Creating the purple ring was the same technique as the inner circle's creation except I did not use puppet warp, rather I used perspective to keep the lines straight but to angle to that they pointed to the center of the circle.
The effort to build this image was about the same as my others, but due to its size (8GB), it would take up to an hour to save each time.
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