For the past several weeks I’ve been sharing some of the work I’ve done during the ‘COVID days’ – I guess at some point I have to stop calling it that because it’s really just *life* at this point, right? – anyway, I’m continuing that this week and next, but changing gears slightly (see what I did there?).  During the lock down period here in East Tennessee I was really struggling for a creative outlet, especially with the national park being closed, inspiration was in short supply.  It did push me to try work on some aspects of photography that I don’t usually mess with though, and in that sense it was a total win. One such example of this is working with flash photography.  Now, if you’re not a photographer you might not get this, but there are generally two camps of photographers: those who use a flash regularly, and those who don’t.  I’m definitely in the latter.  For me, the reason is I don’t generally take pictures of people, and the landscapes / cityscapes I gravitate toward are more natural light scenes.  It’s also fair to say that I’m not terribly comfortable with a flash, as it takes some work to get good with one so that it looks natural, and not like a spot light.  In any case, the subject of these experiments were cars, a subject I enjoy shooting but don’t do nearly that often, so I hope you’ll humor me with two weeks of car images.

In the past when I’ve worked on car images, I’ve tried to do mashups with the night sky (two of my favorite muses) and with varying degrees of success (you can see two examples, here and here). As I’ve thought about these scenes, I felt like they just didn’t make sense.  Fun to shoot… but not intuitive to look at.  The conclusion I’ve come to is that cars need to be in the city or city type scenes to really make sense, thus the idea above.

Now, what does any of this have to do with the lock down?  Well, at the height of the lock down period, downtown Knoxville was, understandably, a ghost town, and really made for some fun shooting.  There is basically never a time when you can shoot the lights of the Tennessee Theatre and not have other cars or people on the streets.  On this particular night, there was one other photographer there actually doing a prom shoot – in the center of Gay St – which would be completely impossible under normal circumstances.  My nephew joined me for the shoot to help with the lights, and on this end of Gay Street it was basically us, and a couple of Knoxville’s homeless population, who stopped to chat for a minute and then went on their way.  That was it.   It was definitely odd, but also a really cool opportunity.

Here’s the details of the shoot.  To get the base image I shot a single, long exposure to get the lighting of the street scene the way I wanted it.  Then I switched to shooting short exposures to accommodate the use of flash.  Using a flash with a soft box and remote, my nephew moved down the side of the vehicle (several times actually to make sure we got it lit the way we wanted it), while I snapped multiple images.  Each of the flash frames were then “added” to the base image, to get the creation you see above.  By shooting it this way, you can control and shape exactly the way the flash looks, and how it interacts with the scene around it.

Special thanks to my nephew Andrew Irwin for the help with the flash, and to Matt Trombley for helping me think through using the flash and blending it all in Photoshop.  This one took a tribe!  🙂

More next week from an iconic stop in Maryville!

–Dan Thompson

Title Address Description
Tennessee Theatre
604 S Gay St, Knoxville, TN 37902, USA

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