A couple of months ago I mentioned that I finally grabbed myself a portable strobe solution. Like usual I delayed and delayed pulling the trigger on that purchase for what is probably a few years. Instead I just grappled with shitty speedlights, crap-tons of AA batteries, and what I consider rickety rigging associated along with color that was all over the map when I wanted to travel light.
Fast-forward, I've shot a couple of jobs with it and I absolutely love, love, love the Elinchrom ELB 400 kit. I've not used it on any personal project stuff yet, especially this one. The occasional opportunity where I've messed around with this project I was really divided. Take the Elinchrom kit, don't take it? Hmmmm. So far I've left it behind. It's hard to leave gear behind where you know you could do a "better job" if you had it.
Just Me, My Camera, & A Subject
One of the reasons I was attracted to the Fuji X cameras from the very beginning was the small factor. That's a reasonable reason taken at face value but there's a bit more to it than that. I've been searching for something about the size of my old film 35mm cameras from the 70's just digital with the same image aesthetics I liked when I used to use them constantly. The Fuji X cameras fit the bill. There's a lot tied to that psychological factor. A small simple camera with small lenses that you can grab and go and make pictures just for the hell of it.
I used to do that constantly and was in a completely different frame of mind when doing so than I was when in job mode. No lighting gear, no reflectors, no stylists, makeup people, assistants, nothing. Just me, my camera, and a subject. There's something much different about that to me than there is when all of the other production is brought to bear. Not just for myself but people that were in front of my camera. Hell, I even used to do that kind of thing while I was on the job. In many cases I liked my seat of the pants out-takes pictures I made on black and white film than the one's I was making for the client. Of course I used a small 35mm that was always in my bag instead of whatever "big" camera I was using that day for the real work.
Take the photo above. An exposure test of the first setup for the diptych experiment I was messing with a while ago. Mary had already been messing around for a while in the wedding dress. I just wanted to try a few things that cross my mind the first time I screwed around with that dress in terms of contrasts. I like that picture. Sure there are some that I might like better of the same setup but I like that one too. The rest of the setup have varying degrees of the same casual feel. What would happen if I had a bunch of lights and techno stuff to deal with? How about an assistant, a makeup person, a hair person. Where does it end and when does it start to be more like a "job". When does it start to influence the person in front of the camera and to what degree?
Another exposure test for the very next setup. Light was all over the place that day so I could just roll with it. As an aside, this is the angle where the 18-55mm starts falling apart in a bad way.
The next one you can see how lighting is all over the place that day and how attractive it might be to exert some control and refinement. I really wanted the moodier light seen above. The sun coming out and bouncing off the floor lighting everything up really doesn't fit with the rest of what Mary and I made.
Above was shot number 2 or 3 immediately after change up the setup from dress with crop to dress with cuffs. You can guess what the other setup was right…
Well of course it was, and we're back to some version of that moodier lighting but even that was all over the place in terms of variations.
While there are a million reasons for personal projects this particular one is for me to get away from complicated, get away from deadlines and letting the goal drive the process. It's far more about observation of gesture, body language, and expression and using the simplest way possible to do that with what photography does so uniquely. I can see it even in these exposure tests even though there are more illustrative frames. I just have to spend the time to go thru them and see which ones pair up the best for what my intent is.
The one thing I don't want to do is start introducing more complications, more elements, more refinements that turn what is my off-time, the thing I like so much I don't get a chance to do when on a "job" back into a "job". That "feel" I used to get when doing out-takes and candids with my small 35mm film cameras while on the job, most of which I liked better than the "real pictures". An exploration as to why I liked them better even though they by many a measuring stick were "worse".
Of Course I Have An Instagram
Yes, I have an Instagram for this project. Sort of a stream of consciousness thing. Thinking about why I have been feeling somehow compelled to grab that bag of new lighting gear when I go out to spend a little time messing with this I realized it's because of Instagram. Not directly but indirectly. As you might know there's a coupl of kinds (in my experience) of anonymous communications that seem to happen on that platform. Anonymous as in messages, not comments.
- Someone or other that contact you to make pictures for some purpose they have in mind because they see something they kind of like of yours. IE some sort of "job" one way or another.
- If you happen to make pictures of females you get the nut-jobs that have special requests for what they want to see that you don't do. I won't go into details.
- Closely related to the nut-jobs are the morons, people that see some female you happened to take a picture of and then decide to send you love letters because they can't be bothered to notice ummmmm there's like 40 different people in your profile and you're a photographer NOT the one female they happened to see at that moment.
The relevant one is #1. A couple of times a month I'll get an inquiry about making pictures just like "X" but different (IE refinements, location, etc, etc) for some fashion mag or brand or something. IE exactly like "X" but with all the things changed to suit a more commercial purpose. Hmmmmm. I guess I got to thinking, sure. I'll just do that on the fly while I'm working on my personal project stuff here and grab a few bucks or whatever. Hold the train, that's what I do when I'm not messing with this. Why the hell would I even entertain that notion?
The answer is I wouldn't. It's a fantasy that goes like this. Hmmm, wow I can make stuff like I like to make and just tweak it a bit and it will be fun. WRONG. It turn the fun part and the whole point into the stuff I do that I am taking a break from.
The Best Laid Plans…
Here's the point, back to the million reasons for doing personal projects. If they are to develop a different client base for different kind of work, sure that works. If they are to play and refine techniques you want to bring to some other more commercial endeavor, great. What if they are for truly personal reasons like having fun, not doing what you always do, being able to decide on a whim you feel like something different?
I would suggest that if part of the latter play into it at all you can't really do both at the same exact time. The moment other requirements creep in no matter where they come from, you just can't decide "I don't feel like this today, I'll do this other thing instead. That's really the "fun" part in the end. I've done that half the time when I planned on messing with this project and it's not something I want to loose.
Maybe it's not about the lights, maybe it is what was driving the why. Sure the lights popping off every time I fire the shutter is a whole different dynamic even if I don't bring the whole mess of refinements to the table but I'm not ruling out doing the lights thing if what I something crosses my mind for this project that I want to do.
All pictures made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55mm XF. Processing via Lightroom CC with a crazy contrast preset slapped on of my own. As for the "Why Elinchrom ELB 400 Quadra vs. XYZ" questions I received. I'll get to a short list of reasons shortly, stay tuned. Just had to get the "bring the kit, vs don't bring the kit anxiety out of my system.