GLOVES OFF: LIGHTING FOR LOCATION AND ATMOSPHERE WITH COLIN ANDERSON. COLIN ANDERSON BRINGS THE CHIMERA OCTAPLUS 5 FOOT EXPANDABLE LIGHTBANK FOR ONE LAST SHOOT AT A LOCAL GYMNASIUM
In addition to an immaculate sense of lighting design and compositional staging, photographer and recent Chimera devotee Colin Anderson is known primarily for composite work that has resulted in a highly fantastical, futuristic body of work. His talents with the computer and eye behind the camera have made him a sought after commercial client for the likes of Samsung, the United States Air Force, Dell, Discovery Channel, Fuji, Harper Collins, Penguin Books, Random House, and many more. But sometimes he likes to keep it simple, too.
A recent project at a nearby boxing studio gave the Australian photographer a chance to go back to the basics, as he employed only a single Chimera OctaPlus 5 foot expandable lightbank, and since has gone on to complete several high impact portraits using only the system as key alongside Chimera Super Pro stripbank as fill.
A favored location that was destined to be shuttered soon after, Anderson decided to strip down the shoot to go “au natural”, so to speak, was because he wanted to capture the background lighting conditions as well as successfully light the foreground without killing the character and charm of the natural environment of the old and worn-in gymnasium.
“We shot there once before probably ten years or more ago. You just can’t get this feel from a studio set up,” says Anderson, explaining that he also loved the idea of using younger, more modern boxers as a contrast to a classic, no-nonsense, hardcore gym, especially as the gym is in Richmond, an area of Melbourne that is very old, but has recently become exceedingly trendy. “Years and years of wear and tear adding to the character of the building. This location tells a story, and teamed with the young boxers gives a different feel to what I would have in a studio set-up. I like the raw, unpolished feel to it.”
When I heard that it was about to be torn down and replaced with a new ‘state of the art’ gym, I thought, ‘I have to shoot it before it’s gone and lost forever’.
So Anderson decided to go old-school himself, and he says that it was cool to see the reaction of the young models, sourced from local athletes, who were excited to be in a gym so rich in boxing history. “A friend of mine is a member of a very well know boxing family lineage,” he continues. “This gym and the man behind it, Leo Berry, were icons in the boxing world of Melbourne. When I heard that it was about to be torn down and replaced with a new ‘state of the art’ gym, I thought, ‘I have to shoot it before it’s gone and lost forever’. Symbolically, as we wrapped up the shoot and packed all the gear into our car, the workers closed the last piece of chainlink fence behind us. I think a new gym goes up in October.”
Most often Anderson’s elaborate conceptual photography will involve a multitude of background and foreground elements that he photographs or composes in a variety of 3D modeling and imaging programs. For his main subjects, he will shoot models in his studio before enhancing with layer upon layer upon layer of image enhancements. He will also gather composite elements from a variety of locations or even while he’s shooting other projects out in the field, after stitching them together into a final image through several software programs like Photoshop, Capture One, Maxon’s Cinema 4D and others.
This project on the story of Sadoko Sasaki and the 1,000 Cranes for Hawaiian State Parks, for example, required that Anderson build an elaborate sequence with several hundred components, including 500 paper cranes that he and his team constructed by hand. That’s no less demanding than the hours he will spend in front of a computer, so it’s important that he master his lighting. Using Chimera for the very first time on the Sadoko Sasaki project, he says that he adapted naturally to the Chimera system thanks to its ease of use and versatility, so much so that the Chimera OctaPlus 5-foot expandable softbox has become his favorite lighting panel.
When it came to his final approach for lighting design, Anderson remembered the gym as overall being very dark, so he wasn’t sure how he was going to light. He admits that it ended up being a juggling act between direct sunlight, ambient fill and flash, but the Chimera 5 foot OctaPlus, coupled with Broncolor Scoro power packs and his trusted Canon 5DS R, a 50.6 megapixel beast, gave him all the dynamic range that he ended up requiring for a shot with so much contrast between highlights and shadows. He also brought along the Chimera OctaPlus 7 Expansion Kit for the Chimera 5 foot OctaPlus, but ultimately did not even need to take it out.
“The Canon 5DSR is my go to camera at the moment. Very dependable, tough, reliable and l love the extra file size,” says Anderson. “The 24-70mm is also part of my regular set up. It’s very sharp, and an all-around great, general-purpose lens. With this shot, the focal length varied from 47mm to 65mm, at f/7, which gave me a good balance between isolating the model, yet still working as an environmental portrait.” He says it was a pretty simple setup.
“I used a Broncolor Scoro S 3200 pack with one head on the Chimera 5 foot OctaPlus. The light was placed up fairly high, to the side at around four feet from the lead model, and angled down to emphasize his body. I find the Chimera 5 foot OctaPlus is a great workhorse for this type of portraiture, and the light it gives out is always so beautiful. The added benefit of this unit is it can easily be adapted to seven feet if need-be by simple attaching the expansion pack, no need to carry extra gear.”
Anderson says that the team brought in a smoke machine to add atmosphere and to enhance the natural sunbeams streaming through the panoramic, antiquated gym windows at the rear. To keep his principle subject sharp and in focus, they placed the “hero” model far enough forward so that he remained in front of the background haze. Anderson’s assistants would let out long puffs of fog from the machine before fanning with large bounce boards. The haze started to drift in front of where the actor for the boxer was standing, but they used the same bounce boards to thin it out.
“We were able to reach a happy medium with the effect,” he says, before he started working with the flash, increasing output levels until he was happy with the balance of lighting conditions. “Luckily we had a bright, sunny day with no clouds, so the light stayed constant. From set up to the first test shot was only about 20 minutes. In these situations, I also like to shoot tethered because I get a better overall feel for how the shot is working. Since we had easy access to power, l used the Broncolor Scoro, which is always my preference. I also brought along an Elinchrom Quadra Ranger battery pack unit just in case there were power issues, which luckily there were not.”
Having shot there in the past, Anderson knew that the sun would be peaking in, which he points out was critical not only as backlight but also to emphasize the atmosphere of the gymnasium and the smoke from the fog machine. For metering, his first step was to establish an ambient exposure level for the background. To accommodate for the light coming in through the windows, he settled on ISO 400 at 1/125th. He explains those settings gave him a good amount of fall-off in depth of field while allowing enough blow-by to burn out the windows so as not to show any outside elements.