Every Flash Photograph Is Actually Two Images. This is important to remember. The first step was to separate the image into the background and the foreground components. In this image, the foreground was the monitor. For this shot, I used two scrims (opaque panels) to shield it from as much ambient light as I could. This allowed me to concentrate on the background, since the monitor would be providing all of its own light. The first scrim acted like a roof to shield the monitor from any top light, while the second scrim acted like a wall to minimize light hitting the monitor from the side.
I placed a tripod on top of some desks to support the camera and provide a slight downward perspective on the filing cabinets in the background. The monitor was positioned in the lower left hand corner of the composition, with the out of focus background hinting at student record storage.
To provide overall room lighting, I used a 800 w/s Norman flash bounced off the wall from camera right. The exposure was made at 1/200 of a second at F 4.0, ISO 100, Flash white balance. The 105mm focal length and the fifteen foot distance between the camera and the monitor helped blur the background. The short exposure time in this test shot minimized the influence of the ambient room, allowing the flash to provide the necessary illumination. (Don't forget: flash exposure is only affected by the aperture size).
Nikon D300 To The Rescue: I chose my Nikon D300 instead of my usual D7000 because of a single feature: When you select the Self Timer mode, the cameras stays that way until you choose another setting. In most cameras, you are allowed only a single self-timer exposure, forcing you to reset it for each shot. The D300 was the more convenient choice, since multiple time shots would be required.
In Photo #4, the flash and the ambient lights were turned off and the exposure time lengthened to 1/20th of a second. Two staffers volunteered to stand in for the teacher and student I hoped to add to the finished image, and can be seen in the background.
The empty desk bothered me, so I thought about what "props" I could add to evoke a sense of a student studying but feeling a bit frustrated about the whole effort. I added the following props:
- Crumpled Paper
- A Large, Open Book
- A Calculator
- A Pencil
Showtime: When it came time to make the actual shot, I found out the the need for a teacher hadn't filtered through the ranks, so I didn't have a real teacher or two real students to use. I quickly grabbed two believable staffers and after a minute of soul-searching to find my inner student, made the following shot (Photo #6) in a single take.
Closing Argument: Two final comments on the shot. First, the plane of focus is clearly on the computer screen. This was deliberate. I had built the original image concept on a student studying quietly (see Photo #2) and purposely want him/her to be out of focus so that all attention would go to the GED screen. Second, small details can add enormously to the finished image. The crumpled and open book add something to the image, suggesting both commitment and frustration, exactly the feeling I was after.
The San Mateo Adult School's circulation includes about 95,000 residential addresses, and I have already braced myself for a deluge of autograph hounds and groupies hoping to actually speak to me. Of course, my Director may reject the direction of the cover project, so be prepared for a posting on a super quick replacement cover shot.