One of the things I like about photography is the engineering challenges it presents – that is, how do you overcome the various barriers between the shot you have in your head, and what you can arrange to appear inside the memory card. These maybe how you get access to the viewpoint, how you get all of the bits you need in focus, capture the moment or get the required light to the subject.
So, when Sue Clifford, a fellow member of Holmes Chapel Camera Club and commercial portrait photographer, said she had a commission to photograph a monster piece of machinery, and could I help out, well, I just had to see it.
Here’s a 180 degree panorama shot on my iPhone:-
The machine was over 3/4 of the width of the workshop, at Amtech in Byley, with only around 5 metres of space in front – not enough room even at 24mm by a long way. We looked at various ways of framing this thing, and Sue decided to take 2 approaches – a “traditional” panorama, and a sort of “scan” – moving the camera along on wheels in front of the machine. We knew there would be multiple vanishing points if these were stitched together, however with some borders round each frame , it allowed a great deal of detail on each shot. To get a shot of the whole thing though, the panorama from a single viewpoint was the way to go.
So that just left the light. It was pretty dim inside the workshop. It had a couple of skylights, a roller-shutter door to the right and sodium vapour lights of various temperatures and ages. Long exposure using the existing light was very contrasty, and any attempt to directly light the shiny metal, even with huge modifiers resulted in glare and off-the-chart specular highlights. The roof, however, was a grey/silver galvanised metal that we could use as the world’s biggest reflector. That just left one problem: it’s a long way from the ground up to the roof and back down to the machine, and as the light intensity drops off at a rate proportional to the square of the distance travelled (eg go twice as far away, and the light will be a quarter the intensity) there wouldn’t be much of it left by the time it got to our subject. However, behind Sue’s shooting position was a mezzanine floor seen on the right of the pano above. That would get our lights a lot closer to the roof. We strung up all the lights we had between us ranging from 250 joule to 500 joule studio mono-blocks. We put the bigger ones in the middle as the roof was pitched and the light would have further to go from these, and we racked out the stands to their maximum height.
Aiming is a game of snooker – and we aimed the lights so they would hit the roof and bounce back to light the top and front of the machine. Standard reflectors attached and power turned up to the max on every light and we were ready to go. The whole place lit up whenever we hit the trigger, but even so, Sue needed to crank up the voltage on the camera to ISO 640 at f/8 to get a good exposure. Camera on tripod, we started up the photon factory and after some serious stitching and straightening, Sue produced the result below.
The light worked very well, and because it was so far away, it was fairly even top to bottom on the subject. I think the output Sue has produced is amazing. Who’d have thought you could get that image from so little space? Oh – and the world’s biggest white background? The guys at Amtech made this out of a *lot*of white muslin and a rope strung right across the workshop.