“The Chemist” is one of my favourite shots I’ve taken, both for the final portrait photograph as well as for the technical aspects involved in creating it. It was taken quite early in my photographic “career” & you can see how it has influenced some of my later work with other science folks such as Matthew Tosh; especially these portraits the Skyburst photo shoot & Pyrotechnics Lecture.
WARNING: Please don’t try to replicate the reaction at home, Declan is a fully trained and qualified Chemist (the type that does Chemistry not the type who fills your prescriptions) and followed all the relevant safety protocols for handling our shoot.
I’ve known Declan Fleming a few years now, we met when we both joined a local strobist photography group, & I’ve followed his exploits (of both the photographic & chemistry varieties) with great interest. We’d discussed doing a couple of photo shoots together before but Life always seemed to get in the way. So, when Declan randomly called me one night to talked about updating his profile photographs (he writes science articles for various sources including the Royal Society of Chemistry), I wanted in right away. We quickly finalised a date & format for the shoot as well as settling on the location (just outside the Bristol University School of Chemistry), all we needed was to work out how we would shoot it.
WARNING: Photography & strobist geekery ahead… Sorry!
The setup was a bit problematic as the key “light” was from the chemical reaction. This was a once only effect for the two sets so we first got the rim lights lined up, set the camera Aperture and Shutter speed in Manual to expose the rims correctly and then got the focus fixed on the correct point.
I decided to shoot bracketed so that we could get a few different exposures and maybe catch the correct one. Then Declan suggested I switch the camera to Aperture priority so that for each bracketed set the camera made the (hasty) decision on shutter speed for me as I would not have time to make the decision myself (the first reaction was only to last about 20 seconds).
I’ve almost completely gone Manual for most of my shooting but Declan’s idea made this shoot work, hands down – the best way to shoot this was Aperture Priority. There is no way I could have judged the exposure, set the camera in fully Manual, shot the bracket set and then re-exposed all over again fast enough to get enough shots before the reaction died down. In the end I shot 8 sets of 3 bracketed images.
You can see how the keylight impacted on the image in the shot below. This is a preparation shot taken to see how the ambient light would look along with the rim lights.
Strobist info, for those of you who may be interested:
Camera: Aperture Priority @ f5.6 – Bracketing a set of 3 images: -1, 0 & +1
Subject position: At the top of a flight of stairs with me looking up toward him (the night sky is the background).
Triggers: YongNuo RF-602
Keylight: Large flask containing Oxygen to which Phosphorous was added. The reaction caused a very bright white light to be emitted from the flask.
Rim: 2 x SB900 – 1st cam right very high, bare and gelled with 1/8 cut CT Blue. 2nd behind subject, bare and gelled with 1/4 cut CT Blue.
Below is a version of the photograph with minimal post production work aside from some tweaking exposure & colour correction (the colour had to be spot on as it’s meant to represent the actually colour for the reaction).
Photography & strobist geekery
The artist Stuart Luke Gatherer & his “Sins & Virtues” series influenced the creation of this photograph for both Declan & myself (thanks to Declan for introducing me to Stuart’s work). As you can see in the Sins & Virtues series Stuart has an amazing way of capturing the light & it’s effects on a scene.
Right, well I hope you like the shot & (for those who’re interested) enjoyed learning the techniques used. Keep an eye out for the photo in Chemistry industry/trade magazines as it is likely now being used to advertise the Royal Society of Chemistry! Happy me!