Photography Before Photoshop


I am often asked “what is the most difficult job you have done?”

Well without a shadow of a doubt It has to be Audi water drips. The reason is that it was very complicated studio shot with absoulouty no time for retouching. I received the briefing one Friday evening with a Monday morning deadline.

It was shot on a 10×8 Sinar
With bowens and elinchrom studio flash units
With an aperture of f64

It was obvious from the start that this was going to be a great problem to shoot over a weekend and when I accepted the job it wasn’t with my normal confident smile. I also asked for 3-day fee if we were not successful. A larger fee to be paid if all went well.

Firstly a very large and strong plastic sheet was laid out on the studio floor, then the car was rolled back onto it and each wheel raised onto 10 cm blocks. We then supported the walls of the plastic to create a very shallow swimming pool.

Once filled with water, you can see all the imperfections on the plastic so we dyed it back with dye used for clothes.

Then the car was lit in my normal way except in this case with flash (dealt with in studio lighting) the lights set in a way to help lead the eye over the radiator grill down to the rings in the water, hence no number plate to detract attention.

The next step, the difficult one was finding out how to drop 4 drips together from above the car into the water, It became clear that there were two problems the 4 drips falling at exactly the same moment and one of me being able fire the shutter at exactly right moment, (One too many exactlys for my liking).

The first idea was really stupid it was to try and adjust 4 hospital drips that had been attached to a bar just out of shot above the car, well this was disaster with drips seemingly doing what they wanted dropping at very irregular intervals.

A very early Polaroid showing the problems and the setup.

Note the flatness of the water around the car.

By this time I was considering using a drip for a bit of Valium but really needed a syringe full.

Eureka, syringes with these, we got back the right track. Replacing the drips for syringes and loading the point of each needle made 4 drops ready to fall this required an assistant with a very steady hand.

Just a small tap (no pun intended) on the metal bar holding the needles made all the drips fall at the same moment.
It worked just fine and half the problem was over so I ran a few tests to see what it looked like, they really were very good except that if I shot too early We could see water from the splash bouncing up and too late meant that the rings mixed into each other too much. However I was convinced that by doing it enough times we would get it right.

At that moment the client dropped by to see how things were going, well he thought that they were good and said ok, Followed by that little silence that means he is going to make my life even more difficult.

He said ‘well Phil looks good to me but the water around the car is a bit flat what do you think about a few waves’

Two choices really, throw your best client out of the studio or try and do what he wants, as his remark seemed logical I started to think how to solve this one.

I found that stirring the water very slowly with a broom handle made nice waves these only lasted a short time, which was ideal as it allowed the area where my drips were going to fall, to go calm very quickly

So we set about it, and found yet another problem! As the broom handle was removed from the water there was always a drip that fell from its end making a fifth uncontrollable ring.

Then we invented my patent drip eater, a tube that had inside it a towel the broomstick fitted snugly down the tube and through the other end.

By holding the tube just above water level while stirring with the end of the stick, we would withdraw the stick up the tube and avoid the famous extra drip as it was absorbed by the towel..

Now the sequence of events

1, Load each needle with a drop of maximum size.
2, stir the water.
3, withdraw the stick and tube
4, tap on the drip bar.
5, press the cable release at exactly the right moment just after the drops hit the water.

Well believe it or not I got it after 10 tries. Well anyway I thought I had but my client had another little idea. He wanted to do it all over again with rain drops on the cars bonnet headlights on and off etc. well this made around 8 versions of the same shot in the end. So around 200 sheets of 10×8 film at 15 quid a sheet were used and several boxes of 10×8 polaroid. We had in fact worked non stop all weekend at a great stress level, So there was only one thing to do, go out and get p………


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