One camera, One model, One lamp post

Posted on Saturday, March 5th, 2011 at 4:13 pm

It’s winter, it’s cold. I use to like that weather to go night shooting downtown Montreal. The sidewalks are generally more quiet and the street vacant of cars. I use to get that relax feeling while waiting next to the tripod, holding it still for that 30 seconds exposure to complete. When I picked up portraiture last year, I really set aside that part I really liked about night photography. It’s winter, it’s cold. I am more appreciative of warmer temperatures now when I need to shoot outside. I still do it, just less than before.

Last week, a buddy of mine asked me if I felt like going downtown and shoot. He had just bought a Canon 7D and wanted to put some mileage on it. I saw that as the occasion to go back to what I use to do; stand outside and wait for that 30 seconds exposure of a building or bridge to complete.

I couldn’t.

Well I could but why? Why just that? Why not merge the two? I am sure I could fit a model in there. I knew a place where I could start; all I would need is a model. I made a post on Facebook and a couple of hours later I was exchanging messages with Jenny. I was happy that Jenny contacted me. I got to work with her last Fall but for a way too short period of time. This would be the occasion to work a little bit more together.

Once we confirmed what we were going to accomplish later that night, I sat down in front of my gears. Since I started to shoot people, I gathered lights, light stands, modifiers, batteries and triggers. What to bring? The real question was “What do I feel like bringing?”. I was originally going to shoot buildings and empty streets. All I need for that is one camera and a tripod. Throw a model in there and what do I need? One camera, one tripod and a light source nearby. You have to wonder how much time went between the very 1st portrait shot in history and the invention of flash photography. I guess that photographer must have thought the same thing: “I have a camera and a tripod; all I need is a lamp…”. It was then decided. I grabbed my camera bag, lenses and tripod, that’s it. (and one flash and trigger… what?!? I won’t use it. I swear!)

I picked up Luc at 7:00pm and headed toward Montreal. Jenny had a previous commitment and would meet us there. That gave use time to drive around and scout for a place. I wanted to shoot Jenny on Smith Street, where it meets Ann Street. That place is awesome; narrow street covered by a railway overpass with arches all over the place. This would be great! Obviously, Murphy’s law kicked in. If something can go wrong, it will go wrong. Looks like Montreal decided that lighting under the train track overpass was no longer needed and flipped them off. That place is now darker than a pint of Guinness.

Let’s roll! We need to find another place where I could shoot with Jenny and where Luc could shoot interesting buildings. So we drove for about 30 to 45 minutes around. I could not see anything that would work. There were a few interesting corners and walls but too dark to shoot someone against at 9:00pm. We eventually came back where we started, spotted a wall on Murray Street and decided that would be the starting point.

Jenny met us at the ETS and then headed to the wall. Murray Street ended up being a nice location because of the very low automobile traffic. You can stand in the middle of the street as much as you want without risking to be hit by a car. Murray has low industrial buildings with a lot of visible city lights at the end of the street. I did a mix of 85mm and 17-40mm shots with black and whites processing ideas in my head. The main reason for the black and white was because of the low light situation. The 5DmkII is great at ISO6400 but in very very low light, noise is as part of the images as Jenny was. If you can’t beat noise, work with it! I decided to stay away from the tripod also.

Low light with no tripod? This is stupid!

Not really. It is stupid if you expect all your shots to be sharp. It is stupid if you need all your shots to be sharp. If you know that the fastest shutter you can get for a shot with your 85mm will be 1/50th of a second and you are prepared for that, you can pull it off. If you know your edges are not going to be tack sharp but manage to make the image about ambiance more than about the model’s eyes, it will work. Ok, if you had several coffees or RedBulls on the way to the shoot, might as well pack up and save the shutter mileage. I was calm, relaxed and used the 2 seconds camera shutter delay so I was ok.

We did 2 locations and shot for about an hour. It was about -1 degree Celsius but the wind what charged with humidity, convincing the growing older photographers and lightly dressed model to pack up and go. I pretty much had what I was looking for. The rest was going to happen on the computer. I got back home, took a shower, and offloaded my pictures on the computer thinking I would go straight to bed after that. I liked so much what was showing up on the screen that I started right away to work on the images. By 2:15am, I was practically done and realized I should be sleeping by now.

I went to bed pretty happy. I was trying something new, pulled a very nice model into it and manage to have more images than expected. It also tells me that lighting gears are nice but with an open minded model or client, all you really need is one camera, one model and one lamp post (and a flash and trigger packed in just in case… I am not going to use it! Jeez!)

One Response

  1. […] to do was an available light session under the street lights, such as the one I had done with Jenny earlier this year.  After dinner we headed off to René-Levesque Boulevard; the main financial joint in Montreal.  […]

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