Posted by neale on July 3, 2018


So it all starts with this lot. No rewind a bit.....I got a call from Gymshark earlier in the year to photograph their impressive new head office down in Solihull. Bit of a bolt from the blue, but a good one and the first big job of 2018. I had no idea the scope of what I was driving down to, or how the place even looked, which can be quite daunting, big open plan spaces can be tough to light up, I knew it was going to be a challenge, but that's what it's all about, it's good when you're edgy about something, means you're a wee bit out of the comfort zone. What you see above are the cases for my complete arsenal of equipment, practically every light I have was packed into the van and unloaded. After a quick walk around with the client, what worried me most, was how dark the colour scheme was, and the lack of white ceilings to bounce my flashes into. Dark colours, especially black soak up the watt seconds at quite a rate, so I knew the strobes would be at full chat for most of the day. The place was still in construction as well. Ideally I usually advise my clients to wait until the building is finished before attempting to make any photographs, but in this instance I had to get started before that point in order to provide images for the grand opening. It's not ideal, but you can usually find ways to work around it, so we started here:


Part of the clients brief was to make sure I captured the exposed ceiling, they spent a great deal of time pulling the suspended ceiling out as part of the design specification, which leads me on to why working with perspective control (aka shift) lenses is such an integral part of my work flow, as they offer up possibilities way beyond conventional fixed plane lenses, not only that, they are they some of the sharpest lenses canon make. Ninety nine percent of my work is made using the  Canon TS-E lenses, mostly because I'm photographing interiors or buildings and I need to keep the verticals parallel, but the same workflow and techniques work well for making landscape images or cityscapes, like the following shots:



For the best part the 24mm covers a lot of what I do, but having the 17, 45 and 90 really helps, I've used them all extensively, the new generation two lenses will be beyond any doubt optically amazing, I will be picking those up at some point in the not too distant future all things going well. I find it hard to work any other way, which can be unhealthy, that I'm well aware of, I just see so many more opportunities working with these lenses as opposed to fixed plane lenses, next step really would be a technical camera, but I have to be able to move fast on these commissions, so the convenience of the shift lenses is suited to my exact requirements. Back on topic though, let's break the above office image down into it's constituent parts to demonstrate, what we have below is one frame from the Canon TS-E 24mm mk2 lens:


As you can see this is a typical 35mm format image, I've extended the canvas top and bottom to accommodate the shifts which you can see here:


Simply put, the resulting vertical shifts are stitched onto the central frame, which gives me a much wider field of view, because it's a planar stitch (the lens moves parallel to the sensor plane) there is very little distortion and the shifted frames a quite easily stitched. It isn't completely distortion free though, there are some instances where there are near and far objects in the frame that can cause some problems stitching, but I've never had a composite that I can't put together, there's always a way to work round it, if you're a real stickler for perfect stitches you can now pick up the Rogeti lens collar, which allows you to move the film plane (camera back) instead of the lens front, this completely mitigates any distortion for pixel perfect stitches every time. I am interested in this, but it's not an absolute must for me at this point. Thankfully the lighting on the above shot was relatively simple for a starting point, I had three lights in this scene in total, all 600w/s packs/head combo, one camera right and left, bounced into a white brolly and on hidden round the corner in the centre of the frame. There wasn't much compositing required to get to the final frame below, I did warm the window views up a bit and drop in some blue sky for added interest, it was a bit flat out side, I also composited in some flashes on the furniture to bring out depth and texture:


Staying in the same space I turned my camera to take in the window corner, this image started out with this single frame:


Straight away even before I've stitched in the top shift and bottom shift you can see a whole host of problems that weren't inherent in the first shot, here is the full stitched flash frame though:


I'ts not a bad start, you can clearly see where my light stand is camera left though, due to the white brolly being on the head, this was as much as I could hide the stand, I knew at this point it wouldn't be a problem cloning that out, you can also see it's pretty hot on the top left corner, again an ambient frame would quickly put that problem to bed. The most obvious problem is the flash reflections in the windows. This is the most common issue you're going to face when lighting interiors, and there are a number of ways to circumvent the issue. You can move the lights around and take with them in different positions where they're not reflecting, or switch them off one at a time and work it that way, or simply fire an ambient frame off and cut it in. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, try them out for yourself and see what works for you. The window frame is also quite badly burnt out from the flash camera left, some of that was recovered using the ambient frame, not all of it though, and I don't mind admitting some of it had to be reconstructed completely using gradients and masks cut with the pen tool until you get to the finished article below:


It's not totally perfect by any stretch, but you'd never actually know if you'd never seen the flash frame on it's own. Again the exterior view was warmed up slightly and a slightly blue sky dropped in to give a overall warmer feel, bear in mind this was shot prior to spring as you can see from the lack of foliage on the trees. Again I used the same three 600w/s packs/heads to light this one up, just in different positions. Thankfully this wasn't too challenging a space to get started on, which takes us to the third shot in this area, a big part of the brief was to capture the various bits of text which were central to the clients working ethos, and phrases that had been coined along the way. Slightly off topic but Gymshark was started in a garage by then teenager Ben Francis and some of his school mates, it's grown substantially since then to the point of these offices in 2018, and much to my delight is still a private company, they've not required any investment and have grown the company organically through their own hard work. You cannot fail to admire that, I truly hope they keep it that way. Anyway, back to the shots and here's the final shot in that corner:


By this point I had used all of my white brollies, for the record I have no shortage, some of the older ones finally let go and fell apart completely though, they owed me nothing, I'm surprised they didn't capitulate a lot earlier to be honest, so the set up below came in very handy to bring some much required light onto the right hand white wall:


I'll go into a bit more detail on that set up later, next up we'll take a lok at one of the biggest spaces I lit up, which was the front reception double height foyer, here's a look at the set up I used for the next image:


Before I get into the specifics of the lighting positions and what they're doing, it's worth discussing the mix of lights I have. I currently twelve location lights at my disposal, of varying manufacturers and power, from one 200w/s head (soon to be two, I really love the Godox AD200's) some 600w/s heads, and some 1200w/s heads. I've never had £50,000.00 at my disposal for a full Profoto or Broncolor set up, much as I would love to, it's unquestionably the best lighting kit out there, I need quantity and power. Especially when I'm lighting up huge open spaces like this. One big light just isn't going to crack it, I never shoot above ISO 200, I'm pretty much always at f11, and I don't want to have to composite more than necessary. I'll light as much up in one frame as I can so when it does come to the post-production side, I have most of it nailed in one frame. It makes a huge difference to the time I spend in front of a screen, as much as I enjoy post-production and seeing all the pieces come together to make the final image, if there's ways to expedite the process without compromising quality, it's worth having the lights you need over having one or two brilliant lights and a shed load more time in post-production. So the mixed bag of lights is purely down to what I've accumulated over the years, and I use my kit until it fails beyond repair, plane and simple, too much shit gets chucked into landfill these days, I'm a big believer in screwing every last bit of life out of my equipment. Some profoto heads and packs would be nice, I'm always on the look out for good second hand deals, so they might be added to the arsenal at some point. Another point worth noting is the pack/head combo as opposed to a monolight. Firstly, having the pack secured to the bottom of the stand gives it a more stable lower centre of gravity, as you can see from the BTS shot above, I've got all the stands up pretty high so this alone really helps, it also more importantly means adjusting the power is a quick job, when you've got lights all throughout a scene like this, on different levels, being able to adjust the power from the pack makes a huge difference, it saves a ton of time as well, by the time you've walked round all the lights getting the power dialled in with a scene like this, you realise how important it is to not have to lower the head from the stand to adjust the power every time you need to.

Here is the base frame which I built up the lighting around:


There are a number of reasons for this exposure, firstly I didn't want too much of the ambient lighting being exposed, and secondly the light outside was very changeable, from strong sunlight beaming in to no sunlight. The above frame would mean if the sun made an appearance the highlights would still be exposed properly. With these stitched composited shots there are anywhere between 4 and eight frames per shift, and three shifts per image, top middle and bottom, more if it's a hybrid panorama, that's another blog post in the making though. Each frame in one shift set has to be stitched easily into the corresponding frame in the other shift sets, which can very quickly get quite confusing, at least for me anyway, you have to remember the sequence and make sure you have all the shots in each shift set, otherwise post production is going to be a nightmare. With the base exposure for the flash frame, having the highlights in check is very important, the ambient exposures not so much as I usually take a few of these, and with the latitude in RAW files, I'll always get what I need from those frames. Here is the same exposure with the flashes fired:


A good whack of fill light. If you look back at the BTS shot you'll see I've tripled the lights up camera left, doubled up camera right, and I had another set double up down at the windows which you can't see from the BTS shot, all of them probably between 70% and 95% power. Which gave me a really good starting point to blend in the other frames and get to the finished article here:.


I had to cut in screen frames for the four displays amongst other finishing touches, I did miss one or two annoying details, it was a difficult shot to make due to the changing light and fairly constant traffic moving through the space, time was ticking, you can end up being up to an hour at times waiting on people moving and conditions ripening. The flash you see in the middle of the BTS image was creating the highlight necessary to pick out the branded lettering on the feature wall behind the counters, I did have to move it around a bit and take more frames to get it all lit up as the wall was slightly curved. Next up was the shot from the top taking in the window space, here's the base exposure I built the lighting round:


Had to pull the window exposure here, I know it's not that interesting, and I am quite happy to let windows blow out a bit when there isn't much of interest there, but the branding on the outside was of interest to the client and in order to keep the lines sharp, I decided to pull it. Here is the flash filled frame:


You can clearly see where the lights are from the hot spots, nothing that can't be composited out, you'll notice the blue sky that has been dropped in as well, in order to get this in the realms of credible and still be able to blend in some of the ambient frames around the windows, I had to cut this mask:


Well worth the effort, it didn't take too long to be honest, you're going to have to get familiar with the pen tool to make these shots, there's no short cuts, I've tried everything over the years, the pen tool is the quickest and most versatile way to make these kind of masks. You have the option to tweak them where necessary after you've made them, make sure you save the work path though. Here's the next step with the hot spots removed and some of the ambient exposures blended in to bring back a more natural feel, notice the feature wall behind the counters has been dialled back and the text highlighted again:


At this point it's a quick skew to straighten the verts, some contrast, sharpening and colour adjustments to get the final image:


Here was another feature wall that was part of the brief, again the foam board reflector set up came in handy here as I'd used all the brollies lighting up other parts of the scene:


These flex arms are really handy, definitely getting more of those, obviously they fit into a universal g-clamp, and are only a tenner on line:


Saved me more unnecessary compositing, here's the camera set up:


There was a bit of on axis fill from that one light, most of the hard work was being done to either side of the camera, and out of frame to the right to light up that distant space there, quite a straight forward shot, but one I was glad I took down all the card and foam board reflectors, they came in handy a few times throughout the shoot. Brollies can be a real cumbersome pain the arse sometimes, more so in tight spaces, but the foam board solution worked well even in these big spaces. The next feature wall was no where near as straight froward, here is the base stitched image starting point:


Loads if issues to start with, can't really see the text, the yellow tungsten lights are bleeding all over the image, there's reflections on the glass divide where the sleep pod is and also on the windows. The text is obviously the biggest issue, it has to be readable. As with all problem images tackling it in stages is the best bet. I decided to get all the peripheral problems sorted first. I couldn't turn the lights off, which is my preference for dealing with unwanted tungsten, there are other ways to deal with it though, pull the shutter let less of the ambient in and fill more with the flashes, here's the next frame with a good number of the distractions sorted, nearly ready to deal with the text on the wall:


First thing that was evident was a mask would be required:


Next up was the trial and error of pulling the gloss text out of the matt background, after moving some lihgts around and switching some of them off, I got the back lighting to start working as you can see from this single frame:


Notice the both near corners are cut, I was well aware of this from the first test exposures, I knew I'd be able to fill these out later with gradients and other layers. Here's the isolated image from the mask:


With this dropped in, all I had to do was back light from different positions to mitigate the reflections, here's the next part showing the process almost complete with the corners graded in and matching the original background:


At this point is was pretty straight forward to then get as many of the reflections out as possible, there is still a little reflection there which I don't mind, it shows the nature of the materials used:


The Manfrotto 161mk2b is a great work horse for the kind of work I spend most of my time doing. As you can see from this image, you can get it into some tight corners, and the additional weight really helps when you're making composite images:


The downside, it's a heavy bulky cumbersome bit of kit to schlepping about all day, and by the time I'd got to this final shot on my first visit, I was pretty much up for trying out the sleep pods I was photographing. Keeps you fit no doubt, and the full height of 2.87M comes in real handy at times, but the trade off is it will knacker you before the end of the day. It very rarely moves once you have it set up, which is another reason why it is my go to tripod for most of my work, but I really do need to find something lighter and less cumbersome for some of the landscape work. I have dragged this thing up hills before, really sapped the fun out of the situation though. These sleep pods were tricky as you can imagine, anything parabolic and reflective can cause loads of problems:


It took a fair bit of work getting to this point, and then it was back to Glasgow, only to get a call back after the first few edits were delivered to go back down the next week and complete the set before the offices were populated with staff. It's always a boon when the effort gets noticed, and you get repeat work so quickly. It was another full second day, probably more frantic than this first one, pretty sure I walked about ten miles according to my phone app. A lot of those miles were carrying hefty lights and tripods. Anyone who thinks this photography lark is a breeze can come and help me on a shoot like this, I'll have them in one of those sleep pods by half time! ;)

You can see the full set of images on my website here.