THROUGH THE SMOKE: SHOOTING ‘DISASTER’
I started out with a simple motivation; build a badass set and break new personal ground.
I wanted to build a set, not by throwing a few props into a room, but by creating a narrative environment that would be as characteristic and charming as the models themselves. I’d hoped to define a scene that captures the grace and presence of a movie still. The ‘Disaster’ concept is an ode to a problematic personal situation I was in at the time. I’d been thinking about how it would feel to neglect all responsibilities; whether it would be a thrill or a regret to see the disaster happen. I wanted to entertain the scenario; idols of anguish in a state of calamity and unrelenting brutalism.
BUILDING THE SET
I used a few panels of Jabfloor insulation painted matt black (thick chalkboard paint for solid coverage) for the walls, on the morning of the shoot I carved out holes in the panels to light through with my assistant Chloë sitting in for a few test shots. The important thing was to keep them looking unintentional, varying in size and dispersion as though they had been created by ‘chance damage’. I lit from behind these panels, thickening the atmosphere with smoke to create bolstering beams of light passing through the frame.
The smoke machine we had on set really hauled ass, smoking out the whole room (and corridor) no problem. It was one of the most essential pieces of kit for this look; thicker smoke = thicker beams. Alongside stills, I was shooting some behind the scenes video at the time with GoPros around the room and mounted on camera. This content was not something I've yet released. It’s been more of a proof of concept for upcoming shoots.
It’s important to remember that when you’re working with hair and make-up, you’re working with a team of creatives and that’s the big reason why you work with them, they have their own set of expertise that you should allow them to use, not ignore. I gave them the mood and story I wanted to achieve along with the colour palette and we used that as out basis to work from. The same applies to models; Mayte was a perfect choice for the shoot because she can execute this dour scale of expression that embodies the mood to precision. We worked off the idea of a role that needed to be played and expressions that needed to be felt, more a case of direction over posing.
A couple of hours before the shoot I had a model cancellation, which is something you never what you want to hear. But, after a short call on Instagram, Leo was nearby in the city and he came down to the studio to fill in. One thing I don’t hear mentioned all too often is that when photographing darker skinned models, there is a naturally greater contrast between the tone of the skin and the luminosity of the light which creates a fantastic tooth to the texture across the skin.
I used a couple of variations of the same setup to vary the looks; lighting through the board was a bare 2’x3’ softbox with no inner diffusion. Depending on the model, the key was either a gridded beauty dish with diffuser or a 150cm silver parabolic umbrella, both being directional and specular enough to prevent over-illumination on the inside of the boards.
I’ve always loved capturing behind the scenes content, it started out for me as a way of keeping reference of how I composed and lit a shot but then quickly became a way to memorialise the shoot. The polished final image is what most people will see but what BTS captures is the reality of life on the set. If you’re interested in behind the scenes, follow me on instagram: @connorgordonphoto.
As always, I shot tethered into Capture One. One of the biggest advantages being that the colour adjustment options are far more in-depth than those currently of Lightroom. After creating a quick grade to be applied as each shot came in, I could see that there would be a huge shift in the image’s tone throughout post-production in order to establish the heavy spirit I’d set out to pronounce. After the usual process of refining the shot, cleaning skin etc, I emphasised grinding the tone into something best described as brutalism.
(No Capture One adjustments / As imported into Photoshop / Final Image)
I don’t usually do this unless I’m working to print, but in this case I hard proofed a finalised shot to see how the colour and tone would translate to paper. Even though I’m working with a calibrated monitor, a light emitting image as seen on a screen is going to appear slightly dissimilar on a light reflective medium, such as paper.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Why must they only be informative?
I want to extend a big thanks to everyone involved in the making of this project. One of my biggest accomplishments of this year has been bringing this personal project through from concept to reality. It’s forever strange to see a concept make it’s way to set.
Photographer: Connor Gordon 1st Assistant: Chloë Tibbatts MUA: Emilia Papadopoullos Hair: Emma Gordon Models: Mayte Drew (Freelance) & Leo Etim (Atlantis Models) Shot within: Boxed Studios, Special thanks to studio owner Tom for being so accommodating for the smoke.
Canon – Camera & Lenses Profoto - D1 heads & Modifiers Sekonic – Light meters Tethertools – Tethering Manfrotto - Tripods and lighting stands Capture One – Tethering & RAW Processing Photoshop – Retouch & Grade GoPro