How I Got the Shot: Ian the Welder


The title of this blog post sounds like it could be a Primus song.

When I studied at the Hallmark Institute of Photography our professors Gregory Heisler and David Turner would take us once a week to different locations to teach us location lighting. We got to go to a variety of locations such as a paper mill, and abandoned industrial building, and an airport to do shoots. The lighting techniques I learned during these classes are things I use almost every shoot.

Shortly after graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography with the highest academic honor I was commissioned by the 515 Gallery in downtown Clare, Michigan to shoot images for their “Junk it” opening. Ian, who is a junk artist and high school art teacher, was commissioned to create a sculpture from various scrap metal and other “junk” brought in by the community. I was commissioned to photograph the people who brought in “junk” with the “junk” they brought in; as well as, photographing the still lives of the “junk” itself and Ian creating his sculpture.

I drove to Harrison, Michigan (where Ian lived) fairly late at night (around 10pm) for the shoot at his home. I looked around his work area (a large barn) to figure out where to get the shot. He had his welding equipment set up. I set up my tripod and an Alienbee B1600 Strobe with a standard reflector attached. I set the strobe (another name for flash) to camera right and behind Ian to separate him from the black background. Without adding the additional light Ian would have blended into the background so I wanted a light to give a clear outline to his body. I wanted Ian to be entirely lit by the flash and the welding equipment so the background would go black making the smoke stand out. Because I knew Ian’s face (mask?) would be lit entirely by the welding equipment I had to guess on what the exposure would be for this. I figured trying to meter that with a handheld meter was a bad a idea. I got the exposure right for the strobe and guessed on the face exposure. I set my camera up on my Feisol Carbon Fiber tripod, then focused on Ian. Then I looked away (to avoid eye damage from the welding equipment) and had Ian start welding as I snapped images without looking at him. I nailed the exposure on the first image. It was actually the first image from the shoot which I ended up retouching and putting in the show (the image which is featured in this post). We shot several other images but none were as good as the first. In post I cleaned up the image further (adjusting the smoke a bit) and did some dodging and burning (lighting and darkening specific parts of the image) as well as giving it the black and white treatment. I later printed the image on metal for the show (at that time using Miller’s Professional Imaging). This remains one of my favorite portrait images to this day.

This image was shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with Kirk B3 Ball Head and Kirk L bracket. Lighting wise I used an Alienbee B1600 Strobe with a standard reflector powered by Paul C Buff Vagabond Mini Lithium Battery Pack. The lights were triggered using Radio Poppers (which I highly advise against using, especially with Alienbee). I am now using Yongnuo 506N-II Flash Triggers which are way cheaper and way more reliable than Radio Poppers. ISO 100 44mm f/4 1/125 of a second shutter speed.

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