Cast a new light on your subject.
By Jon Cox
Cell ÷ WHAT MUST IT HAVE BEEN LIKE TO BE CAPTIVE?
Shooting alone for just an hour in the prison gave me the feeling
of what it must have been like to be captive. I know I would have
gone mad in those cramped cells and I started exploring ways to
articulate that feeling. During the long exposures I began moving
the camera to create some motion. My favorite technique was using
my 12-24mm lens set at 12mm for about 10 seconds then in the middle
of a 15 second exposure I would zoom the lens to 24mm for the remaining
5 seconds. This simple technique gave the effect of a double exposure
lending confusion and mystery to the scene.
A small skylight was the only natural light illuminating this depressing
scene. Itâs hard to imagine how the caged prisoner of this cell
would have felt in such a dismal light day after day. My flash was
crucial to lighten up the prison cell door lying in total shadow.
I first metered the exposure of the decaying cell in natural light.
My camera was on a tripod enabling me to use the highest possible
f/stop on my 12-24 lens and a shutter speed of 15 seconds. For my
first shot I used one TTL dedicated flash, which fired after releasing
the shutter. The shutter then stayed open for the rest of the 15
seconds. I wasnât happy with the single flash on the cell door so
I tried something new. I took my flash off the camera and put it
on manual mode and lowered the flashes output. During the 15-second
exposure I fired the flash 8 times in different directions to soften
the harsh light. What I was left with is a cool blue natural light
in contrast to a warmer light on the rusty door.
have a tendency to get caught in a rut ö weâre always photographing
the same subject. Whatâs a nature photographer doing in the middle
of Philadelphiaâs abandoned state penitentiary photographing ruins
and the human form? Iâm trying something new. My subject is completely
out of my typical focus allowing me to break away from my ănormalä
way of shooting. This is a wonderful exercise for any artist. Place
yourself in uncomfortable territory and allow the creative side
of your brain to take control. Starting the day with no firm idea
of how to approach my new subject became my ace in the hole. Changing
my subject matter was just what I needed to try techniques I would
never have used on subjects found in the natural world. Painting
with light, varying my focal length and using multiple flashes were
just a few of my newly found techniques.
An old red leather chair in the middle of a jail cell is not your
typical scene. Include a vibrant young nude model and you have something
truly bizarre. However, natural light was not doing my model justice
and my electronic flash appeared too harsh for my subject. The solution
was to arm myself with two flashlights one for each hand. It sounds
like taking the photograph would be out of the question with my
hands already tied up . . . not so. Using the self-timer and a tripod
enabled me to paint light on my subject. During the 10-second exposure
the model remained perfectly still, not an easy task in 45-degree
cell. While the shutter was open I used the flashlights to cover
every area of her body and chair that I wanted to pop. Since I was
using a wide-angle lens I was able to be in the tight cell with
my model and capture the entire scene.
you have some free time try shooting ăOut of Focusä something completely
different from your comfort zone. This is the time to try new camera
and lighting techniques. You may surprise yourself with what you
come up with. Think of it as a creative exercise. You may look back
at your preferred subject matter in an entirely new light.