By Austin Thomason
The Back Story
It started with a FaceTime conversation with Pastor Rossow. Roxanne Smith was writing an article about her back pain, he said, and he had an idea for a good featured image. The article was to be called “What Will You Hold In Your Other Hand,” and he wanted a photo of two hands — one representing pain and the other representing God’s promises.
Computer problems meant that Justin couldn’t hear what I said (or at least that’s what he told me), so he did the talking while I mimed my responses. I took notes too: the pain hand could hold shards of glass, or nails. Something nasty. Maybe some fake blood to drive home the point. The other hand could hold fruit — no, too obvious. We decided that the other hand should just be empty. Open.
We ended our FaceTime, and I mulled over the idea in my mind for a couple of weeks. How would I pose my model? How would I light her? Where could I get a good, grungy place to shoot? Where do I get fake blood?
A few weeks passed and it was time to shoot. I decided on a friend’s basement because of the cinder block walls. The lighting in the basement was dim, so I stuck a flash in an umbrella and put that directly over my model’s shoulder. When the light comes from a harsh angle (the top back, in this case), it really emphasizes textures — shirt wrinkles, skin, the stucco-like relief of the cinder block. An alternative would be using the built-in flash on the camera, which would provide a shadow-free, flat, boring photo with no real texture.
I put some nails and screws in the model’s hand and shot a few frames. We were generally happy with the results. A couple drops of fake blood (bought from CVS, by the way) really sold the idea of the nails piercing the skin. After shooting about 65 frames, I figured we had enough options to choose from. Now it was time for post-production.
Post-production work is what happens after the photo is taken and before it’s put on the website. Some people call it “Photoshopping,” which is the new term for “airbrushing,” which is the new term for what Ansel Adams simply called “printing.” We’ll call it “processing.” I did my basic edits — color, contrast, crop — and sent it off to Justin.
Justin promptly FaceTimed me again. He felt that the image could use more. It was too colorful. The green shirt was distracting. I agreed, though I couldn’t say so. Computer problems meant that he was talking while I was miming my responses. Again.
I got the idea of what he wanted, though, and went back to do some more processing. Make the left hand look more grungy. Make the right hand look softer. Convert to black and white. Keep the color in the trickle of blood. Ooh, yeah, that’s it. Just the right emphasis. I sat back and looked at my screen — goosebumps.
In the end, the photo did exactly what it was supposed to do: it illustrated the article perfectly. The article was wonderful, by the way. Read it here.
If you are interested in learning more about the craft of photography, Austin will be presenting a workshop for amateur photogs coming up in January. Contact Austin if you wish to find out more.
Now for the technical stuff (if you’re interested):
I used a Fuji X-E1 camera with a Fujinon 27mm f/2.8 lens stopped down to f/4. On the crop sensor Fuji, the 27mm gives a field of view similar to what you see with your eye. This meant that the hands wouldn’t be too large in comparison to the body. The f/4 aperture gave me a bit more depth of field to play with, just to be sure that the nails didn’t go out of focus.
The ambient light was really worthless, so I put a Nikon SB-800 in a translucent umbrella and lit the whole image from the top rear. A shutter speed of 1/125 sec. and ISO of 200 meant that the ambient was completely overpowered, ensuring that it wouldn’t contribute at all to the final exposure.
The flash was set to SU-4 mode so that it would fire when it saw another flash. To trigger it, I used the pop-up flash on the Fuji set to minimum power and pointed straight up so it wouldn’t interfere with the exposure. I had tried it pointed straight for fill, but it was too powerful and really flattened out the picture.
The image was processed in Adobe Lightroom 4. Lots of positive clarity on the left hand. Negative clarity on the right.