Want to know the secret of a brilliant photokina video shoot? Physics.
25/08/2014 Actress Elizabeth Taylor once famously remarked: “Everything makes me nervous except making films.” So, perhaps in a different lifetime top photographer and trainer Karl Taylor could have teamed up with her to ease the pressure of making a challenging Hasselblad campaign video for photokina.
Explains Karl: “I must admit that the gravity of winning the Hasselblad commission to create an entirely original seven minute video to promote the company at photokina was somewhat daunting at first. This was going to be a real test – creating video and stills for the world’s most prestigious camera company at the world’s biggest photo-show. My team were very quick to reaffirm that the Cologne-based Trade Show was the equivalent of The Olympics for the imaging world – and they added, “So we’d better not screw this up!”
But Guernsey-based Karl has over twenty years’ experience as a professional under his belt – across multi photo-disciplines and in many countries – so he wasn’t about to let nerves get the better of him for the Hasselblad shoot.
“It was an honour to win the opportunity,” he acknowledges, “so I wasn’t going to let the pressure and the expectation get on top of us. I knew that once we got started we would be fine.”
Karl has a six-strong team of marketing, technology and production experts around him. He handles commercial work for blue-chip clients like SpecSavers, plus still life and fashion commissions, in addition to a world-class photo-training business - and he’s about to move to a new 4,000 sq. ft. studio in Guernsey. But at this point he knew he needed to negotiate the photokina campaign video arrangement with Hasselblad from a creativity standpoint.
He says: “The brief was to create an ‘out of this world’ stills for the photokina stand and video embracing a futuristic sci-fi theme. Initially I was concerned because I knew that this concept could quite easily turn into bit of a ‘cheesemonger fest’ if we weren’t careful. It could end up looking like a silly costume drama. I spoke with the execs at Hasselblad and it was agreed that we could have a lot of control over the concepts and ideas – and equally importantly, an adequate budget to enable us to assemble a crack pro team, including a top model and stylists, and produce a really stunning piece of work.”
It would be a two-day shoot and the Taylor team started work on sci-fi concepts. Karl spent hours on a storyboard of image ideas- before designing and building props such as light tube cages and fluorescent Perspex material.
He confirms: “I pre-visualise every shot on my storyboards; so for example, the shot of the model in the light cage was very close to my original sketch. My inspiration for the light tube shots came from a favourite old Gary Numan album cover.”
‘Photography is art but it’s also largely physics’
“I’ve got a strong technical photographic background” he notes, “so I’m fascinated by the prospect of really pushing the envelope and being as adventurous as possible within the framework of the brief. And we use physics. Photography is art but it’s also largely physics.”
He adds: “With this shoot we effectively built what looked like a light-based force field around the model. We knew we could wire up one of these light tubes on an extension to give us freedom of movement. On a long exposure we could create a trail of light that we could wrap around her.
The light wasn’t going to illuminate her on its own so we needed to add some flash too – which we did with two large broncolor strip lights, which neatly matched the shape of the fluorescent tubes. It’s really about calculations and physics – and then not stopping until you find a way to make it all work as you want.
Some things of course do go beyond the realms of physics and then you must delve into Photoshop or CGI or 3D modelling. But I always take great pleasure in creating an image in one shot – in just one take with minimal Photoshop – as we did with this shoot.”
“The shot with the fluorescent tube around the model was a one-take shot.”
Reveals Karl: “All we did to that shot in post-production was remove the legs of the lighting stands that were just coming into shot on either side, plus a bit of clean-up work – but nothing more than you would do in a darkroom.”
He adds: “That shot entailed an eleven second exposure with the Hasselblad set to rear sync mode – which flash fired at the end. We put the light on at the start so it was brighter at one side of the model at the beginning.”
“Our production manager Fabienne walked around the model with the light for eight seconds and then stopped. The light was unplugged and the flashes fired and exposed the model. We told the model to hold her pose very still during this exposure so we could incorporate it all in one.”
But the team then experienced a physics challenge.
Explains Karl: “The exposure I needed for the two bron strip lights on the model at the depth of field and ISO required, meant the flash tube was far too bright – so I just applied a three stop neutral density filter while Fabienne did her fluorescent tube gig. The light was turned off so it was blackness. I took the filter off, then the flash had fired – all in one shot.”
Karl shot with the H5D-50 and H5D-50c cameras. (He might also have employed the new CFV-50c V-System unit too….but model Karina fell in love with it and wouldn’t give it back …as you can see on the film)
Says Karl: “I take my hat off to that CMOS back…it opened up real opportunities. Where we had the model looking like she was in a cage of light tubes I actually only used the light from the tubes. I used no flash other than a slight ‘pop’ on the back wall behind her…and all those exposures were done with the CMOS chip at 800 ISO. I was totally blown away by it.”
“It was nothing short of amazing. I was actually taking a picture, hand-held with nothing more than ambient light from the strip lights – standard fluorescent tubes like you’d have in your kitchen – and I was able to shoot medium format at 800 ISO with virtually no grain at all…and these images are going to be presented possibly four or five metres high.”
“The CMOS chip meant I didn’t have to figure out a way of introducing flash lighting on the model as well as the fluorescent lighting to get what I needed. In short I was able to shoot like it was a DSLR camera!”
‘Why Hasselblad and I are joined at the hip’
The capture device of choice for Karl has been Hasselblad for many years now.
He says: “For me photography has always been about clarity and graphical reality. That is what motivates me and what got me into this business in the first place. Hasselblad was my first digital medium format camera and I gradually moved up the ladder to the H5D. The resolution, clarity and tonal range of images from the H5D-50 or 60 surpass what we could do even on a 5x4 camera.”
He recalls: “I was recently shooting nine pairs of glasses in one shot together for SpecSavers and the art director was truly amazed by the minutiae of detail. That is why I am pretty much joined at the hip to Hasselblad. I’ve tried other cameras but for me it comes down to the sheer purity of the final image – and that has a lot to do with the glass.”
Karl will be at both the Hasselblad stand at photokina Cologne (Sep 16-21) in Hall 02:1 Stands AO 21: BO20 and AO10 and the ShootLDN event (October 22nd and 23rd at The Old Truman Brewery, Brick Lane)
He says: “At ShootLDN I am planning spectacular and ambitious live shoots that will include photo-techniques to shoot spinning paint splashes and smashing glasses – and at photokina I will be on the Hasselblad Stand to talk about this video shoot and my work with broncolor.”
Click here for more about Karl Taylor's shoot for Hasselblad
Click here to know more about Hasselblad at photokina 2014