OH YAY! Another assignment that has to be shot on film, aren’t I lucky?

I guess the fact that I only recently got into photography puts me in the bracket of people who prefer the speed with which images can be produced and edited through the brilliance of digital photography. Because of this, I must admit that I find film photography both rewarding and incredibly frustrating at the same time.

This assignment is titled “A Sense of…”, and leaves it at that. Obviously, we can choose a word to put on the end of that saying and then go out and create an image around it. Our final image(s) will then be submitted to the Ilford Photo Student Competition 2019/2020.

We can shoot on any film format, 5×4″, medium or 35mm. I shot my last assignment, In a Box, on 35mm as it’s easier and quicker but for what I have in mind here I may go back to the dreaded 5×4″. 

WHERE TO START?

I started by writing down possible words that could finish the phrase. I had ideas such as:

  • Chaos
  • Calm
  • Freedom
  • Adventure
  • Purpose
  • Despair
  • Identity
  • Occasion
  • Belonging
  • Wellbeing
  • Mystery
  • Intrigue

When I got to those last two, I suddenly started to formulate ideas in my head. I’d just finished looking at previous entries and the runner-up from 2018-2019 stood out. Probably because it was created by a Leicester College student, but also because it’s a great portrait image (although there are far too many white dots on it for my liking) using studio lighting and has a great meaning behind it. I like playing with studio lighting and want to add some portraits to my portfolio as I could very well end up doing them as part of my photography business.

The image I’m referring to is:

The title for the competition this image was entered into was “Between the Lines” and this images title was “The Less You Reveal, the More People Can Wonder”.

My Initial Idea

As I’ve said, once I got to the “mystery” and “intrigue” words to finish off the phrase, I started getting an idea in my head. This idea is of a portrait done in the studio in front of a black background. It will feature a model (most likely female) and it will be from the shoulders up. The models face will be mainly behind a masquerade mask that will be tilted to one side to reveal one eye. This is the sense of mystery/intrigue.

I guess that, if the mask were to be covering the face completely, then this would be a mystery as to who’s behind it but, if the mask is tilted to reveal part of the person behind it, we now move more into the intrigue. At the time of writing this, I’m a long way off deciding the final title but, that’s the lines I’m thinking along.

What I need to do now is crack on with some research into photographers who’ve done this kind of thing already.

Research

Because I have an idea in my head of the image I want to achieve, I think it’s an idea to look for similar images that have been created in the past. I quick look through images found whilst searching for “Venetian mask portraits” and “masquerade mask” portraits brought up some nice images similar to what I’d like to achieve for this assignment.

The image in the bottom-right is the kind of pose I’d like the model to adapt, with the rest of the images eluding to the style of lighting I’d like to achieve.

I absolutely love the colouring of the Sir Ian McKellen portrait but realise this will be for a later project as this assignment has to be shot in black and white. The lighting of that image is a strong possibility, though.

Out of the five images above, I think I’ll be attempting to take elements from three of them.

  • The lighting of the Sir Ian McKellen
  • The composition of the top-middle image which is a more close-up shot
  • The pose of the image in the bottom-right where the mask is moved to the side slightly to reveal one eye

 I was thinking of having the mask at more of an angle to the image on the bottom-right so that more of the mouth is covered. I hadn’t considered, though, the use of a shawl around the models head/neck before seeing these images. I like how adding one of them to the piece adds to the mystery/intrigue of the subject.

What’s Next?

I’ve ordered a mask so the next thing is to find a model and a black/dark shawl.

Once the model and props are located, it’ll be time to shoot some test shots. For this, I will use my digital camera as it’ll be cheaper and quicker than shooting them on film. This way I will be able to establish the lighting and composition I like.

After the test shots, it’ll be time for me to decide what format to use; 35mm, 5×4″ or medium format. I don’t really want to use the 35mm as the quality won’t be there but I also didn’t enjoy working with the 5×4″ format either. The 5×4″ would give the best quality so it’s a possibility. The fact that I haven’t used the medium format Bronica before is making me want to go do that route. The quality might not be up to the level of the 5×4″, but I think it may still be good enough. This is a decision I will make closer to the time of the shoot.

I also need to do some artist research, as that is part of the assignment brief.

Artist Research

 

Nicolas Guerin

Guerin is a photographer who moved to the medium after spending time in the movie industry. He puts his former trade to good use within his photography by using his contacts to create portraiture that people are interested in. By this, I mean that he gets his old mates from the movie world into his studio and takes some photos of them.

Guerin is a self-taught photographer (as most artists I look at seem to be) who has the luxury of being able to afford his own studio where he’s practised his art to allow him to create nice pieces of work, like the examples above.

The image of Ed Harris is the type of lighting I like in black and white photography and it suits the subject well as it’s a male Hollywood actor. Hollywood likes to use this type of lighting in their marketing of movies.

This is a lighting style I’m considering for this shoot but I’m not sure it’s mysterious enough as the fill light/reflector is lighting up the opposite side of his head from the key light a little bit too much.

Brian Ingram

According to his website, it was when he entered an image into an international photography competition and came 1st in it that Ingram decided to walk away from his career as a trial attorney.

Four years after making the move to photography full-time, Ingram had created an extensive body of portraiture work and has been featured in such publications as Vogue Italia, Fstoppers, Digital Photography Magazine, Photography Masterclass Magazine and many more. He’s also been privately commissioned by celebrities and entertainers to photograph them and their families.

When he’s not on a shoot, Brian spends his time on the family farm painting or creating sets for future work.

What attracted me to his work was a series he’s still working on titled Abigail – An Anorexia Survivor (2012 – ongoing).

I like the images because of the intensity of the girls scare into the camera. With the title being what it is, I get an immediate sense of sadness from the images. The lighting and colouring of the images is also great and draws me into the images.

I chose to put these here as part of my research simply due to the lighting setup to create that air of mystery and intrigue into what she must be thinking as she appears to be looking at us looking at her.

Lee Jeffries

Whilst I’m going on about portraiture that I like, I thought I might as well mention an artist whose body of work titled Portraits is a style that I’m desperate to reproduce myself. This style is more of a post-production editing style (I think) rather than one produced in-camera at the point the image was created. Portraits is a book of his work originally titled Lost Angels.

The images below come from Portraits and are of homeless people Jeffries spent 10-years photographing. It’s now a book that can be bought and features 220-pages of this kind of portraits along with the related text.

Lee Jeffries is from Manchester, England and has been featured by a few big corporations such as the BBC, The Independent and Time Magazine.

The editing style I’m talking about stands out more in the first image of the guy with the beard. This is the style I’d love to edit a series of portraits in.

Out of the four images above, though, my favourite would have to be the woman with smoke coming out of her mouth. The whole image with the smoke and the way she’s looking into the camera has a kind of sinister, demonic feel to it. I like the positioning of the subject within the frame too. This was perhaps done to get the smoke in the shot, but it definitely helps add to the sinisterness of the shot.

The old-boy with the hood is probably an image I’ve seen before and could be an influence making me have the idea to have a hood/shawl on my model. 

Andy Gotts – MBE

This next photographer, Andy Gotts, according to his website, splits his time between London and New York and is famous for his black and white portrait photographing of celebrity actors and musicians. His work has featured in many publications such as; various Vogues, ELLE, Empire, FHM, Hello! and many more.

The National Portrait Gallery holds some of his work in their permanent collection and he was awarded the Fox Talbot Award in 2009. A little closer to home, Gotts was conferred the degree Doctor of Arts by De Montfort University in 2011 (a nice bit of marketing there by the university).

The four images above show the type of portraiture that I like. The sharpness, contrast and colouring of them all are different but brilliant in my mind. I’ve featured the image of Sir Ian McKellen twice in this post so I guess it could be argued that that is the one I prefer. Honestly, though, I love all of the images Andy Gotts produces and I guess the fact that the celebrities he photographs are all known to me helps as they appear to be an insight into the person themselves rather than one of the many characters they play.

After looking through the images of celebrities that Gotts has produced, I noticed that a lot of them are of the subjects letting themselves go and have a bit of fun. Some of the faces they are pulling has given me the idea that I could go with the phrase; A Sense of Humour, and have my subject stand in front of the camera pulling silly faces. Yeah, this is more interesting if it’s a celebrity as it allows us to see behind the mask but, hey, it could work with Joe Bloggs, right?

New Idea

Due to time running out with regards to the deadline for this assignment, and models not being available when the studio is, and vice-versa, I’ve had to change my idea somewhat. The general idea will remain the same as far as the lighting goes; lowkey lighting from one side with, maybe, a reflector on the opposite side to just bring out the edges of my model.

The original idea of the masquerade mask needed a female model but, unfortunately, I’m having trouble finding one that is available at the same time as myself and the studio are. Because of this, I’ve managed to get a fellow male student to come in and model for me. He won’t be wearing makeup and holding a masquerade mask but will, instead, be dressed in period gangster dress and holding a pistol.

The new title for this will be “A Sense of Foreboding”.

fore·bod·ing fôrˈbōdiNG 
noun
noun foreboding plural noun forebodings
  1. fearful apprehension; a feeling that something bad will happen.
adjective
adjective foreboding
  1. implying or seeming to imply that something bad is going to happen.

I had the idea first and fitted a word to the idea of the image. The word ‘foreboding’ sprang to mind and the dictionary research I did (above) seems to fit perfectly. My idea is to have the gangster striding towards the camera whilst wielding a pistol in a threatening manner. This will, hopefully, give the viewer a sense of foreboding.

 

Test Shoot

A test shoot was done using a DSLR so that I could try to get the lighting setup as I wanted. Instead of just testing and making notes, I decided to do the actual shoot on the Bronica medium format film camera as well.

A couple of test shots from the session came out ok:

The lighting of the first image is probably better, apart from the bit of light that’s carrying over onto the opposite shoulder from where the light is coming from, but I think I prefer the stance of the model in the second image. If I were to go with the style of the second image, I’d probably change the name of the piece to “A Sense of Security”. The security would be in the old school gangster sense of the word and the equipping of guns to members in order to protect the interests of the gang.

At the time of writing this, I’ve done the shoot on medium format and developed the film. I haven’t printed a contact sheet or image yet but, hope to do so shortly as I may have messed up the focusing of the film shots. I say this as I can’t remember checking it was in focus with the model in place. I know I focused it at one point, but can’t remember exactly at which stage.

I’ve had a look at the negatives through a magnifying app on my phone and, fingers crossed, they seem ok. Time will tell when I enlarge them.

Another problem I’ve seen on some of the negatives is the fact that the light that I used to light the background can be seen behind the model. This is either going to reduce my options of image choice or, require a bit of burning in of a vignette to hide it. Either that or I’ll have to see if a crop works (which I’m not sure about on the ones of the model looking like he’s walking towards the camera).

The image above shows the final print that I’ll probably be submitting for the Harman competition. It’s come out ok but not quite as ‘punchy’ as I would have liked. If I can find the time, I’ll try another print or two in order to get what I want. If I can’t, this image will be submitted. After a chat with Helen, I realised that I had to adjust my enlarger settings a little to get the image I wanted. I did spend the afternoon in the darkroom trying to do this only to find that my negative had an incredibly annoying smear of something on it that I couldn’t get off, no matter what I tried. All I was doing with the cloth and cleaning agents was moving it around between every attempted print. It got to the point where I’d run out of photographic paper and, indeed, patience, so I just quit. I’ll go in on one of my days off college this week (the week before the deadline) and try again. I’ll take in a microfibre cloth and give the negative a damn good cleaning!

All-in-all, 4 lights were used for this shoot. One to light the background, one to pop a bit of light onto the cap, one to light the face and one general key light.

The cap needed a snooted light on it as it was black and it wouldn’t separate from the background or show any of its detail without it. This light had to have the bottom half blanked off and this was done by simply placing another light on a stand in front of it at the correct height.

The face light also had a snoot on it to direct the light in a more concentrated manner at the place I needed it.

The key light had a strip softbox on it to help ensure that the light mainly lit just the side of the model I wanted. This worked well and gave me the result I wanted. A light that didn’t work as well and has caused me problems is the background light. The problem it is causing me is in the printing of the image stage. Basically, some of the light from the key light is spilling past the model and hitting the cable of the background light. This is showing up in the print and has needed to be spotted to remove it. The light is also hitting off and showing a bit of the stand of the background light which, again, has needed to be spotted.

The reason for the bit of card being fixed to the backdrop light is simply because some light was escaping from the bottom of the lamp head in a direction towards the camera. This was showing up in the images and needed to be got rid of.

I really wish I hadn’t even bothered with this light as a solid black background and heavy shadows on the model is now what I wish I’d gone for. I am getting this to a degree, but not exactly as I would like. Time is running out for this assignment, though, and there’s no way I’m reshooting it!

The enlarger settings I used for the images I already have printed were:

  • f8
  • Grade 3.5
  • 10-second exposure

I also burned-in the left shoulder of the model for 4-seconds. This was to get rid of the bit of light that was hitting it from either the face snoot or key light. I would have moved the light if I’d seen it happening during the shoot but, I didn’t so darkroom techniques had to be employed.

In the printing stage after my chat with Helen, I tried a few different settings but eventually decided on:

  • f5.6
  • Grade 3.5
  • 8.5-second exposure

This is giving me the more ‘punchy’ contrast look for the image but I just need to get that damn smear off the negative.

Contact Sheet

And, We’re Done

Due to Tom deciding he couldn’t be bothered to turn up for his own photoshoot for the ‘Makeup’ assignment, I had some spare time in one of Dave’s Photo Tech 2 sessions. I put this to good use and finally got my Harman prints done. This, however, didn’t go smoothly either. I’ve finally got two prints that I like and can submit for the competition and the assignment. Because these were printed during a different session, I had to tweak the enlarger settings slightly (it may have been a different mix of chemicals in the darkroom). The final settings were the same as above but with the grade up to 4. This has given a look I’m ok with.

Because I was pretty much there with my settings from previous sessions printing this image, I thought that all I had to do was remove the smear from the negative that had been causing me grief, and crack on. I got rid of the smear with a trusty old microfibre cloth so I was good to go. The issues started when I looked at my prints outside the darkroom and saw that I had brown borders instead of white. Kye scrubbed the ‘Fix’ tray and things got a little better but it wasn’t until he scrubbed the ‘Developer’ tray that the problem disappeared. The new mix of ‘Developer’ gave my image a slightly warmer look but I can go with that and will be submitting those images.

Evaluation

Overall, I’m pleased with how my image for this assignment/competition has turned out. I’m actually quite glad that I struggled to get a model for my original idea with the masquerade mask as the image I’ve ended up with is more my kind of thing. I still intend to do the original idea at some stage but, I feel more confident submitting what I’ve ended up with.

I’m happy to have shot on the medium format Bronica but, because it was totally new to me as a format, I feel that I made a few mistakes at the shooting stage. One of the mistakes I made was with regards to focusing. Because I was so obsessed with how the light was falling on my subject, I thought I’d forgotten to focus the camera before taking all of my shots. It wasn’t until later in the evening of the day of the shoot that this thought struck me. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night due to the level of annoyance I felt towards myself. As it happens, I had focused the camera at some stage during the shoot and the image has come out nice and sharp.

Another mistake I noticed at the point of printing was the fact that the light on the floor, that I was going to use to light the background, had its cable in the shot. The light from the key light was hitting it and appearing in the image. It wasn’t much and a quick bit of spotting has got rid of it.

Other than these issues (and the issues with the darkroom chemicals at the printing stage) I’m pleased with the lighting and the way the image has turned out.