Sunday, January 11, 2015

How to get the most out of confined spaces

I was commissioned to photograph a young and talented artist and painter N.W. for Playboy Celebrity Pages. These four pages in the magazine have been on my shooting agenda for the past 10 years and I have exclusively lensed more than 100 celebrities, actresses, singers, athletes, models and fresh faces for them. 

The idea behind the shoot was to keep everything as simple as possible - no big sets, no complicated lighting, no massive production design. After scouting several locations and testing various available light scenarios we have decided to opt for the amazing ambiance of Hotel NOX in Ljubljana. NOX is a designer hotel with a creative twist - each of its 24 rooms has a different theme, a different character and a different layout. Some of the most brilliant architects in the country have put their thinking caps on and created an exquisite habitable experience for both travelers and those of us on the look for stunning interiors.

The room we chose was bright and spacious and offered all the shooting potential a hotel room with immense floor-to-ceiling windows can. I brought LED fresnels and panels with me to use as a fill light, but following initial tests with our model the lights (all but one, read on) quickly went back to the bag. The best choice for creating the right atmosphere was a 120cm/47'' silver-and-white Profoto collapsible reflector with handles, so the assistant could actually fine-tune the reflection of daylight from the window and position it precisely at the right angle. I shot with a Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70/2.8L zoom wide open, mostly staying at 50mm which is by far my favorite focal length and the ISO setting varied from 800 to 1600. To check for focus and for ferocious clipping of the whites I tethered the camera to my MacBook pro.

The diagram shows the position of the model (reddish dot) and the shooting direction of the camera. During the shoot I changed four different positions in the 16m2/172 sq. feet room to capture four different photographs, making each scene as different from the previous one as possible. 


This is the perilous "contre-jour" shot straight into the light. Here a 50/1.2L lens was used for its immaculate light distribution and bokeh capabilities. I have chosen a cooler white balance for her piercing looks and let the light from window in the back flood the background. The final shot looks like it has been made in the studio.


The hot "argyle overknees" look was done with just the window light falling onto our model. We actually used the Profoto reflector to cut some light coming from below that was creating distracting villainous shadows on her face. The only time we used a constant light on this shoot was for this scene - a LED panel with diffuser positioned behind the bed on the floor camera left and set to daylight color temperature added a little dimension and depth to the background.


A designer couch is a superb tool for posing your subjects. We changed the styling and used the same technique as in Scene 1 (reflector angled from above), but this time I pushed my Canon to the limits of its dynamic range and was able to retain all the detail in the window light. The lilac hues of grading create a slight retro atmosphere.


Putting away the reflector I positioned her against the plain wall and let the window light hit her from the side. The light was very soft because the light source was bigger than the photographed subject. Leaning against the wall with my zoom set to 50mm I was able to get the full figure in frame and my monopod helped to stabilize the camera for a pin-sharp result. Orange and green neon hues were added to the photograph in post for warmth and for that modern fashion magazine look.

Confined spaces pose no problem for an accomplished photographer who knows how to turn a difficult situation to his advantage and gets the most out of it. In the era of low-cost, low-budget productions you simply can't let the quality of your product diminish. The good news is, in most cases, you don't have to.

The editor was satisfied with the results and the photos were published in Playboy Slovenia (February 2015 edition). She really loved the photos. Here is both of us saying "hi".
Nana Wolke
(BTS photos + make-up by Tina Modlic.)