For years I found myself making excuses as to why I wasn't creating the type of images that I so desperately wanted to make. I didn't have the gear, I didn't have a model, I didn't have access to a studio. At the end of the day, it came down to one simple thing, I never tried.
The Back Story
I live in a small town in the North of Ontario, Canada. It is easy to feel isolated up here, especially when it comes to trying to compete in any creative field. Sure the internet has made the world a much smaller place, but there is still this idea that you need to be in Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver to even have a chance at making a real go at things. This was one of the many lies I would tell myself in order to not have to try and step out of my routine. If I could convince myself the deck was stacked against me, then accepting defeat before I even started was an easier thing to do. My friend Grant McIvor and I would always make big plans, talk big talk, but at the end of the day there was always a reason why we couldn't shoot something. If we had a dollar for every one of our shoot ideas that never happened, we would probably have at least $50. Impressive, I know.
This all changed one weekend due to the combination of opportunity and boredom. Grant's brother Adam wanted to get a nice shot of him and his Royal Enfield motorcycle. Grant suggested we shoot the photo in his grandmother's garage, as it was full of a bunch of old stuff he thought it would add to the feel of the image. I agreed, and the date was set.
On the day of the shoot I packed up my entire kit. I had a couple of DSLRs, my recently acquired Fuji X100s, a handful of lenses, stands, flashes, reflectors, a budget smoke machine, and the kitchen sink. When I arrived at the location before noon, Grant was already there cleaning out some of the clutter. Shortly thereafter, Adam showed up with his motorcycle and we were off.
We started by first deciding that the bike was going to be a main focus in the image. We placed the bike at an angle in the center of the garage, with the initial plan being to have a light outside the window beaming the motorcycle from behind. We managed to get a couple of test shots with that setup when the rain rolled in. The rain was a blessing in disguise, as it forced us to re-evaluate our situation. It was during this re-evaluation that I decided to put down the DSLR and pick up the Fuji.
We liked what it was doing to the bike, but it felt a little flat and there was too much spill happening. Then we tried angling the light so it was shooting almost directly down onto the motorcycle. This gave us nice contrast on the bike but there was still too much spill happening on the ground, and the background was now too dark.
We fixed the spill happening on the ground by using a cheap eBay 5-in-1 disk reflector as a flag underneath the beauty dish. After that we still needed to get some light onto the background/model.
The second light came in the form of a Lumopro 160 speed light. I believe it was set to around 1/8 power and zoomed in about half way. The light was naked outside the window (it had stopped raining at this point). At first, I had Grant holding the light as we tried to get it in just the right spot that the edge of the light would hit the background as well as his face. It was at this time that Adam, the model, went to grab an old wooden toolbox from the basement to add to the feel of the shot.
When Adam got back with the toolbox, we did a couple of test shots and we knew the lights were where we needed them to be. Everything was a little underexposed, but I wanted to retain the detail in the window and I knew I could bring what I needed back up in Lightroom. We did a few more shots with this setup before making use of the smoke machine.
Coming from filmmaking, I love haze. It can be a bit cliche, but I believe if used correctly it adds something wonderful to an image. Adding smoke to an image is going to do a couple of things. First, it is going to act as a giant diffuser with any light that hits it being spread around the room. Secondly, if there is a hard light being used, it is going to create beams of light coming from the light source. We decided, after a suggestion from the model, to have him smoking a cigar. We figured this would extend the mood of the image, as well as give some explanation for the smokiness of the room.
After adding the smoke we knew we had it. We tried a few different poses, with this being the one we settled on.
Camera: Fuji X100s
Lens: 23mm f/2
Shutter Speed: 1000/s
Due to my absolute inefficiency in Photoshop and love of cinematography, I always try and get everything in camera. Granted, there is always going to be some tweaking needed in some form or another. For the most part, however, I try my best to not rely on opening Photoshop. In this case, it was just to remove a logo on a battery, with the rest of the editing being done entirely in Lightroom.
In Lightroom, there were the usual contrast/exposure/color adjustments. In addition, I used local exposure, contrast, and clarity adjustments to accentuate certain elements such as the the bike, smoke, and model. I created the illuminated headlight by using the exposure brush and cranking up the exposure, then giving it an orange color cast. I did the same for the flame on the tip of the cigar. The dodge and burn look was created with the brush tool by adjusting the clarity and contrast sliders. To finish, there was slight noise reduction, sharpening, and grain added. In total, I spent under an hour in post. Once it was all said and done, I asked a friend of mine to add Royal Enfield's logo to the image as I figured it would be a great commercial style portfolio image.
Since creating this image with what is essentially a really great point-and-shoot camera, I have learned to stop worrying about the things that are out of my control and make use of what I have in my control. Sure there will always be better cameras, better lights, better subjects, more time, etc. At the end of the day, you just need to do it. Not every image is going to be a winner, but it might be. When I first posted this image online, I was surprised by the amount of positive responses I received. I was especially surprised when people would say things like, "I one day want to create an image like this." The thing is, I was saying the same thing for years. I was saying the same thing the day of the shoot, and I am saying the same thing now. The one thing that was holding me back is the same thing that is holding most people back, the fear to even try. So turn off the computer and go make some images, you are only a few clicks away from creating your best work yet.