Vincent Laforet's famed "Air" series takes yet another turn from New York and Las Vegas, finally arriving in San Francisco. Fstoppers caught up with Laforet to discuss ever-shifting challenges throughout the project, G-Technology's recent support of the project which will bring it to Europe this summer, and the future of the project as a whole.
The original New York and Las Vegas "Air" projects were quite different from Laforet's recent San Francisco run, especially in one area: noise. In our previous discussion, Laforet mentioned it was only because of the somewhat recent sensor developments that lead to quite clean ISO 6,400 and under images that he was able to shoot this project. Even the increased dynamic range has been so important because of the difference between the still-bright city lights and every unlit nook and cranny in a city's alleys and unlit rooftops. But today's sensors may have met their match 7,200 feet above San Francisco as they were just barely able to squeeze out acceptable images.
"I haven't had time to work on them — that's the most honest answer," Laforet said over the phone before getting on yet another plane, sounding slightly weathered after shooting two commercial jobs in a week. He prefaced that with notes citing the Bay's hazy and somewhat foggy conditions, which will always turn into noise.
However, while noise cancelling can always play an important role in prepping files (as it soon will when Laforet has the time), the truth behind the noise lies in a key difference between San Francisco and the cities shot earlier for the series. Laforet had stumbled upon an irritating fact for anyone shooting a nighttime project and trying to keep a consistent look; Though it may not seem like it, not every city is as bright as the next. "San Francisco is a very dark city. It's at least a stop and a half darker than New York or Vegas," Laforet pointed out. "I went up to 12,800, which is the highest I've ever gone. In New York City, we were between 1,600 and 3,200 — same in Las Vegas," Laforet added, referring to the ISO level he shot at for the duration of the helicopter flight.
It is in shooting at night at which time dynamic range really matters because the biggest issue isn't even how dark the city is, it's the fact that "the city lights are still so bright while your shadow areas are so dark," Laforet lamented. Even armed with both Canon's top-of-the-line 5DS and the dreamy Mamiya Leaf Credo 50, Laforet admitted getting the right balance of settings for both highlight and shadow detail was difficult, needless to say. Shooting between ISO 6,400 and 12,800, Laforet truly pushed the boundaries of what these cameras can do in a fine art application.
While "Air" will certainly come to other U.S. cities, Laforet did make the announcement on Storehouse.co (where you can also see the rest of his San Francisco series, including an amazing, aerial, atypical nighttime view of the typical city planning mayhem that Market Street really is) that the project will be coming to select European cities as early as May of this year, thanks to a partnership with G-Technology.
The full set of Laforet's photos of San Francisco can be seen here on Storehouse. You can also sign-up to pre-order a book on Laforet's "Air" series, or sign-up to be notified when "Air" comes to your city.