Suspended by light with Cat Meffan

I don’t normally post whole shoots on here, but I’m starting to think it’s something I should do – kind of an online version of my Logbook!

Suspended by Light
Cat Meffan, hanging from the Flo Tubes.

For my (the) last ever shoot in the Lemonade Factory studio’s current premises (see here for my heartfelt farewell to the place) I shot some personal work that I’d been chewing over for ages.  The concept emerged out of wanting to shoot someone fit and flexible – all contorted and balanced between things like scaffold poles – something that looked a bit impossible and gravity defying.  I also wanted to play around with trails of light, and originally was thinking of something like torches or LED’s being wafted around in front of the lens, or having the model wave them around as she moved.  From this I shifted to thinking about having her actually balancing on/hanging from the light itself.

Of course, it’s not generally a good idea from a health and safety point of view to have models hang off flo tubes, and I got a bit stuck.  Until a very simple solution occurred to me – shoot everything from 90 degrees and have the model lying on her side with the tubes very carefully positioned to give the impression she’s suspended from them.

Suspended by Light Behind the Scenes
The setup – blue perspex on the floor, myself and the camera up in the gantry above, looking directly down on Cat

 That was the last piece of the puzzle that made the idea viable.  Now to bring together the various elements. First, the model – I’d worked with Cat Meffan a couple of times before, and I knew she’d have the physical skills required to carry this off, plus I knew she’d understand the concept and work hard to make it look convincing.  Next, I rented the same flo tubes from Unique lighting that I’d used on last year’s Men’s Fitness shoot.  Then, a pure stroke of luck – the studio had a massive sheet of blue perspex available.  This turned out to be more useful than I could have imagined.

Suspended by Light
The perspex helps the illusion of depth enormously, without it I’m not sure the shoot would have worked.

I tried to keep the lighting as natural as possible – to give the impression that there was a soft light from “above” i.e. top right in the photo, and then using 2 other lights very carefully gridded to lift the shadows on the top left and bottom left.  The exposure was then based around the output of the flo-tubes, so all the flash powers were pretty low.  There’d be no point doing all this and then not letting the flo-tubes actually come to life! 

Although the perspex was perfect, as it swallowed light up and gave the impression that Cat was floating much more than she actually was, the big catch is that it reflects light something rotten.  So not only did I need to be careful about how I lit it, but even more careful about what reflections showed up in it.  To this end I placed black polyboards around the set, and wrapped some of the gantry in black fabric.  It would have saved me a lot of time in photoshop to have wrapped the whole gantry in black fabric, as there were still lots of reflections to be seen, and consequently painted out.

Suspended by Light Behind the Scenes
My very cosy working environment – with skylight windows just above my head in mid-July!

As with any shoot like this (and arguably ANY shoot) the initial concept and setup is all very well, but what happens in practice is that you bring all the elements together, and then play around to see what actually works.  In this case I’d sketched out various poses I thought would look good, but in the event it was a case of getting Cat to arrange herself in ways that looked convincing, then getting Max, my assistant for the day, to position the tubes around her so that they gave the right impression of support.  

Suspended by Light

One other change on the day was that I’d originally planned to use a roll of colorama on top of a polyboard as the backdrop.  After using the perspex we gave this a try, and even from this low-res behind the scenes shot you can see why the shots didn’t make the final cut – the paper sinks into the polyboard too easily, and creases too much (it wouldn’t be much better just on the floor) and as such the illusion of Cat being suspended doesn’t work anywhere near as well.

Suspended by Light Setup
Note the wrinkles and bumps in the colorama below Cat’s feet.

Overall, a very successful shoot – one of those great ones where all the elements come together, and although there are some unpredictable bits, they don’t throw the whole thing off-course, just add a few challenges.

Let me know if you’d like me to delve more into shoots on the blog – I’ve always avoided it, trying to keep things educational, but I’m happy to do it if people want it.

Interested in learning more about lighting?  I have a full course right here that walks you through everything you need to know to understand lighting in photography.

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