These lockdown days can be frustrating. I remember being at home for 10 rainy days. I even didn’t go in the garden because of the weather. My wet plate studio being empty and me not really a guy who shoots much still life images made it not much easier. But then I had an idea. Some time ago I helped a friend moving. He moved from a big apartment to a smaller one. That was the reason he could not keep everything and that was also the reason he gave me a video projector.
I figured that I can use it for my wet plate talks and was grateful for the gift. But now with this projector at home I figured I could use it to project life size images of people in the studio and capture wet plate images of them. I have already shot portraits using my computer screen, but these macro shots did not give me the same feeling as when I soot life size people in my studio.
So that’s when I came up with the idea to do life size portrait shoot in my studio with no one in the studio but me. If people can not come into my wet plate studio because of our current situations, then I would just beam them in (without Scotty).
So today I want to tell you how a 5 minute exposure with a 7000km distance between me and my subject was done.
This is not about a technically perfect wet plate. This is about building connections from thousand miles away. Overcoming obstacles and being there for each other. This 5-minute exposure captured more than just an image, it’s a short movie where the plate captured our thoughts and movements. Thanks to Shane Balkowitsch for being a part of this little project with me.
I have also made a video about this project which you can watch on my youtube channel here:
There are a lot of things we can’t do because of the pandemic, but I won’t let this get me down.
I also didn’t want to wait to do some of the things I wanted to do. That’s when I came up with the idea to do things differently. With that I finally could meet Shane in a more direct way and we were also able to shoot a wet plate together. For me it was important to show that there are always ways to do something. The only limits we have are in our head.
Darkening my studio
First I had to darken my studio, because the tiniest light leak would be visible in a 5 minute exposure. I have blinds, but they were not enough. With a 5 minute exposure a tiny light leak could make problems, that’s why I covered my windows behind the blinds with cardboard.
I wanted to have Shane’s backdrop in my studio. That’s where things got a tricky. I used the projector on a gray wall so as not to not overexpose the background and Shane.
During the test shots I thought for a moment I could use the projector light on me too, because on a digital image I looked as bright as Shane. But the wet plate process fairy was against me – The UV light just sees it differently.
So I knew I needed an additional light source to get the exposure right. I have a Hensel spot adapter for a strobe and tried this one first. But with the modeling light the light was too uneven (it’s a 20 years old strobe), it just works with the strobe.
Then I tried it with the light blaster. This is a projector for speedlites where you can mount lenses on it to project images on as a background. But here I had the same problem, as soon as I used a flashlight, the light was too uneven.
Then I remembered a workshop where the guy there used a dedolight and that’s when I called Pro Digital and asked them if I can have one. Some days later I went to their shop and Andreas explained all the possibilities I have with the light and showed my also the projection kit. From there I knew this is the right tool. Good to have local shops like that! At this point I want to say thanks to Pro-Digital in Vienna. This is an amazing tool! Without that it would have been much tougher to make this happen.
As soon as I got home, I made myself a gobo that looks like me. A gobo is a Graphical Optical Blackout.I printed it and then I used a cutter to cut it out.
And with that I could make a projection on myself that does not brighten up Shane and his background.
5 Minutes is very long for a portrait. And yet it was as short as I could get it. I used my Century 8×10 camera with my Dallmeyer 2b Petzval lens – it’s a f/3 lens by the way.
I could only shoot 13x18cm plates, because the camera would have been in the way of the projector for 8×10 plates (I had to go closer).
Using a longer lens would also have been an issue, because then I would have an aperture of f/4.5 or even f/6. With that the exposure times would have been twice or four times as long.
As you could see if you watch the video, I set the timer on my watch and released the lens cap with a string that I squeezed between the lens cap and the camera. And then it was only us two and 5 minutes in front of the camera.
Any of you who have seen my videos will have seen the apron I am using but only a few know that this apron is from my grandfather who used to have a shoemaker shop in this house. That’s the reason I like to wear it, because it is part of our family.
It was such a great experience and so much fun. I will for sure do it again sometime. Maybe some other people might want to do a portrait like that? It’s a great way to make memories during a time where we have to be at home
A funny story
A funny side story. I got the video projector from a friend and didn’t think I would use it very soon. But he didn’t need it anymore, so I thought it could be useful someday. Then I came up with the idea above and did some test plates with it. I had the shoot on a Friday and got the Dedolight one day before. So I did more test plates, so I could shoot relaxed on the day.
During the last test plate on Thursday night (it was Friday already, about 2 am in the morning) the lamp of the projector died. The funny thing about that is, that my friend found a replacement lamp some days before and had sent it to me just in case I happened to need it sometime. Without this coincidence, this shoot would never would have happen. Sometimes things feel like they are just meant to happen!
To put everything together was much more complicated than I ever thought. But somehow I managed it – I had some of the wet plate fairies on my side in the end I think.
Please feel free to contact me on any of my socials or website with questions or if you would like to experience the wet plate process during a workshop or a portrait session.
Thanks for reading!