Nissan Patrol Cloud
Shrouded in fog on a rocky hilltop in a farmers paddock an hour NW of Melbourne airport, we sat waiting for the fog to clear. It wasn't to be!
Most photographers have been there.... you've got everything organised to within a millimetre of what is humanly possible, EXCEPT of course the weather!
It's 10am in the morning and you, the crew, client, art director, the product (Nissan Patrol), vehicle transporter and talent have been on location since 5am. In a perfect world you were hoping to be packing up by now and heading back to the city. Instead, it's 3º celcius, there's water dripping off your camera gear and the insessant fog that's been with you since first light is only getting thicker. The forecast was actually looking the best it had been for a week or so, but a clear blue sky day during a Melbourne winter, sometimes also brings with it some foggy conditions early in the morning. Usually you can count on it dispersing by late morning but seems like we were stuck in the worst of it about 100km north west of Melbourne in the xxxxxxx ranges and the weather beaureu were suggesting it may not clear for the entire day. Above the fog there’s not a cloud in the sky, but we can barely see twenty metres.
The brief is for a heroic shot of a Nissan Patrol and Nissan’s 4WD guru Pat Callinan, perched proudly on a mountain top. We needed versions for panoramic billboards, plus a vertical version and also the same again for a two car shot. Logistics dictated that we had to shoot within an hour of Melbourne airport (where Pat was flying in to and out of, on the same day) so we were resigned to the fact that we’d have to retouch in some distant hills for the mountain top feel and we'd found but the scene was becoming insane with periods where would could barely see the car only ten metres from the camera and crikey, talk about looking flat and dull. We had to shoot on this one day only as the car was being sent off for a TVC commitment, Pat would not be available again for weeks and media was already booked. Oh Crap!
Anyway, you get the point. We were in a completely crap situation, the art director, Bruce Baldwin, thought we half crazy for even trying to shoot anything and the client was exploring any possible rescheduling options. But you know what, there are times when you simply have to pull a rabbit out of a hat. The following is a behind the scenes commentary on how we pulled it off.
Photography in it's simple and purest form is all about the control and manipulation of light, so to me the answer to our dillema lay in Painting with Light! While it's hardly a new technique, it's generally only done on location at night time or in studio where you can black out the environment and do time exposures while moving light sources. Doing it during the day is not common practice, but it's possible if you have flash lighting powerful enough to overide daylight and you shoot knowing exactly what post production (photoshop) techniques your going to use. In this case, its as simple as layering multiple exposures together using the 'lighten' layer mode, which only shows pixels that are lighter, than any layer below.
The tools required for this exercise are fairly common amoung pro photographers and as such they were
- A Profoto 8a flash pack (which ran all day off a portable Honda generator) we had three 8a packs with us but used only one!
- Hasselblad H4 camera with 50mm lens
- RAW file processing by Capture One 8.
Once we had establish our camera position, it is absolutely VITAL VITAL VITAL that the camera does not move one single millemetre as up to 10-15 layers may need to overlay each other in exact registration. A ring of whitches hats were placed around the camera, everyone was banned from entering that circle and the camera (mirror-up) was fired remotely from a laptop from Capture One 8 software.
We then started the process of lighting the car in sections, with the light source always coming from the same direction, which we had decided would look best if there was the effect of late sunlight coming from the far right of frame. The flash was often in shot, but essentially is does not matter so long as it doesn't cover the part of the car you are lighting. This also helps keeping the flash intensity at its greatest and shooting at the highest shutter speed your camera will flash sync to, because you want the available light to be as dark as possible. This is where photographers appreciate the fastest possible shutter speeds for flash sync. It's not for moving subjects but to reduce the effect of available light in the exposure as much as possible, as if you were shooting at night.
Once we had numerous versions of lighting on the car, including some fill from the left side and various brackets of only headlights and driving lights that we could blend into the final comp, we then shot our 4wd guru Pat Callinan in various positions around the car. We flattened off the lighting a little so it wasn't as harsh and it was again a decision driven by post production techniques that we would shoot Pat independantly from anything else in the frame to give us the most flexibility it post. Ironically the fog was actually working to our advantage as it was absultely consistent and dull ALL day. On a good day the direction of the light source would have been changing continuously and we would only have had a short shooting window in each setup before we'd have to alter car and camera positions for the best results. So here our crappy conditions worked to our benefit, as there was not a single noticable change in the lighting conditions and direction all day.
We then removed the car from it's perch on top of the rock. This was not absolutely neccesary but it gave us more flexibility in post to move the mid distance background independantly from the foreground rock on which the car sat. You will see this when comparing the before/after images that the mid distance horizon line of rocks behind the car has been lowered to enhance the 'top of the mountain' feel. This also gave us a lot more control when constructing the 'two car' version of the image which had a seemingly simple yet actually very difficult requirement that we had to be looking slightly down on the car so as to see it had a sunroof which was a feature of this special edition Navara Titanium.
With one assistant carying the flash pack and another carting the flash head around on the end of a large light stand, they walked through the background illuminating different rocks through the mid background area and our main foregraound rock. Always with the light source pointing in from right of frame. We would later edit through these options to construct our base background plate and foreground rock with lighting effects that would best match our distant background hills and sky which we would source from our library files later.
We had spent 2-3 hours shooting all the various building blocks from which we later construct the shot. We then had to go through the entire exercise again with the second red vehicle so that we could create the alternate 2 car version of the shot. It had been impossible to find a spot on the rocks where both cars could sit together on the prefferred angles, so the 2nd red car was shot 100m or so up the hill on a second camera. We measured all the angles and distances off and did a rough comp on site in photoshop to ensure the integrity of the angle we chose, for given the timeframe required to run through the whole lighting requirements we simply didn't have time to shoot multiple angle options. As it was it was always going to be a little bit of a compromise to me for it was a mandatory part of the brief that we looked down on the roof of the red car enough to see the sunroof clearly. This was always going to be a tricky juxtaposition which I think we only just got away with.