So I thought I would add some behind the scenes context to today’s photo.
Instead of doing a dive deep into the technical aspects of the shot, though, I thought I’d quickly share my thought process behind its creation. I spend more time doing this than you might guess, and by the time I pick up my camera I have a pretty clear vision in my mind’s eye of the final image.
I am heavily influenced in this approach by Ming Thein’s The Four Things – if you’re not familiar with this, and are looking to elevate your photography, I highly recommend a read of the linked article.
The Coles Notes version: “There are four things to consider in making an image that ‘works’: light, subject, composition, and the idea.”
So what specifically did I consider?
“Specifically, quality of light: in the simplest form, if there is no light, you won’t have a photograph. The most ordinary subjects can be transformed into an interesting image if you have interesting light, or light that brings out the best of the subject, or light that is simply interesting in itself.”– Ming Thein
Firstly, my lighting style: I aim for a low key image with soft lighting. In other words, emphasis on only specific areas of the frame using light, otherwise darkly coloured tones, and with a smooth transition between light and shadow. My goal is to create a dramatic atmosphere with a little bit of mystery.
Secondly, my tools: I am currently using continuous light, provided by a LitraPro LEDs w/ softbox, mounted on a Playtpod Ultrapod with a gooseneck arm. To further soften my light, I use a DIY diffusion panel made with parchment paper. This allows me to position my lights very precisely, with real-time exposure feedback through my camera’s live view.
“You as the photographer need to know what your subject is. If you don’t, then you’re going to find out that your audience isn’t going to know, either. This is because you cannot consciously seek to isolate it and make it stand out if you don’t know what you’re trying to isolate and make stand out!”– Ming Thein
For subject isolation I aim for minimalist scene with the subject standing out by virtue of light/contrast, colour, and texture. In this, I am influenced by Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: “your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”
In building a scene to easily do this, I use a black ceramic tile as my shooting surface and a piece of black foamcore as background. That’s it. Not only does this help in creating the low key style that I prefer, it also provides a visual consistency across my images.
“Composition for a photographer is really an act of conscious exclusion, rather than one of inclusion. … I think of composition as the spatial arrangement of the consciously chosen elements that make up your image, and the implied relationships between these images. … Finally, composition also deals with the ideas of balance and aesthetics; both are relatively subjective, and therefore down to personal preferences.”– Ming Thein
I’ve overlaid two grids here: rule of thirds in red, and quadrants in green. You can see how I’ve used both in consideration of subject placement, balance, tension, symmetry, and negative space.
“Though I typically leave this til last because it’s much easier to put into place one has some solid command of the other there elements, it really should be both first and last: you want to have your concept, story or idea in your mind at the time of capture to ensure you capture the right thing, and compose for your final output intention.”– Ming Thein
Some of my photos are original in idea, while others are inspired by things I’ve read, heard, or watched. Today’s photo is clearly heavily influenced by Banksy’s graffiti work Pulp Fiction, based on this iconic scene depicting Vincent and Jules from Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film.
I find that so many photography “how-tos” and “behind the scenes” are all about the technical process, and not the creative one. I feel that I have improved my LEGO photography by slowing down, and in realizing my vision of an idea through very deliberate consideration of lighting, subject isolation, and composition. Your thoughts?