The uniforms spoil another shoot / by Neil Alexander

Pat by Neil Alexander (Click for larger)

A couple of weeks ago, an image that I'd like to make took shape in my mind. One of numerous on a daily basis. This one in particular was of a musician seated on a wooden chair playing a guitar with a cityscape in the background. I spent a little time working on the details and figured that the best way to do this was to shoot from the top of a multi storey car park in Manchester with one of the city's iconic landmarks in the background, either the Beetham Tower, Arndale Tower or MEN wheel or similar, ideally with a lovely coloured dawn sky to accompany it. I was looking for a dramatically lit image as seems to be my style of late. So I got in touch with Pat and we agreed to meet on the roof the Arndale Car Park at 6am. -

Meeting at 6 would give us an hour to caffeine up, prepare and commence shooting before the sun crested the horizon. The previous morning had produced some amazing colours in the sky just prior to sunrise, and so I had my fingers crossed for the same, although it looked from quite early on that it was just going to be a typical grey overcast Manchester morning.

I paced around for quite some time trying to work the location to get the best out of the situation. It had slipped my memory that the roof of this particular car park was surrounded by a very large bright yellow crash barrier right around knee to waist height. It proved problematic to position the subject in the right position relative to a suitable background so that this yellow monstrosity didn't appear in the frame. We tried a few different set-ups close to the edge of the car park, keeping out of sight of all the security cameras. I knew full well that as soon as we were spotted on the monitors, the walkie talkies would appear. I had tried to get through to NCP to gain the relevant permission, but it had proved a fruitless exercise. The initial shots were just ok, but I knew that they were going to have to be converted to black and white to try and diffuse the garishness of the barrier. I was fine with this, as I had already pre-visualised the outcome of this shoot as predominantly monochrome anyway. It was only after a couple of different set ups and the failure of the sun to appear from behind the grey cloud, that I decided to throw caution to the wind and move our set-up thirty yards into the middle of the car park where I had a much better chance of avoiding the barrier in the frame, but a very high chance of being descended upon by security guards.

Sure enough, within about 5 or 10 minutes of moving they arrived, and just as I was beginning to get something along the lines of what I was looking for. Graciously, after a little persuasion, they allowed me to get a couple more frames, and the outcome is what you see above.

I used just one SB900 on a stand with one of my little home made grids to provide a crisp directional light onto Pat without spilling all around. I rotated the body of the flash on the stand so that the little infra-red sensor pointed directly to where I would be shooting from and triggered this with the pop-up flash on the D300. Shot from around 20 to 30 feet away with the 70-200 @ F2.8 to compress the scene and provide a nice tight crop. Camera on manual at 1/500 sec and flash on TTL dialed down a full stop.

The top image was processed in Silver Efex Pro 2 (for which Nik Software kindly sent me a free upgrade). If you haven't already trialled this product or have the original version, then I strongly suggest you give this upgrade a whirl - it was already a fantastic tool and a huge time-saver, but the improvement's they've made have blown me away. In fact, so much so, that I splurged on the Nik Complete Collection at Focus on Imaging earlier in the week. More on this to follow in a later post.

Pat by Neil Alexander (Click for larger)