Shooting by head-torch

When The North Face Australia comissioned me to photograph their new range of clothing there was a pretty big catch… it glowed in the dark!

Day v Night with The North Face's new Hayes range

The North Face Hayes collection has reflective thread sewn within garments, enabling fashion through the day but safety at night from those hunks of metal on the road we commonly refer to as  cars. When pedalling your ‘fixie’ home from a Friday arvo drink, there is now no need to worry about whether or not to don a council worker style reflective vest to ensure you don’t get taken out by some ‘peak hour prat’.

The clothing looks like normal fabric by day, but the reflective thread illuminates when struck by light at night.

The only problem I had was “how the hell do I photograph this”

A few ideas were thrown around using flash and long exposures and I immediately visualised images based on off-camera remote flashes, however I very quickly ran into a stumbling block… the thread only reflects to direct light and therefore the flash had to come directly from the camera and ideally from the centre of the lens. With no ring-flash at hand I instead hand held a remote SB900 only mm’s from my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens to get the best effect

I also quickly found that higher output flash illuminated the garments too much, and whilst the garment ended well balanced and evenly lit, the intense light nuetralised the reflective properties of the thread. This meant absolute perfect flash output was required to best portray the properties of these unique clothes. The shoot became a balancing act in achieving perfect light output to gain maximum thread luminance.  .

In the end we got some great results, but after further discussions with the marketing manager at The North Face we decided to try and mix in a little more action into the photos.

This should have been easy enough by simply doing a long-exposure-pan photo… however after completing a couple of tests in my garage at home I realised the best luminance of the thread came from a medium intensity constant light source… and the LED headlamps I usually use when stuck in some wierd and wonderful wilderness, worked perfectly for this ‘urban’ shoot.

There were a few ‘interesting’ looks from passers-by when they saw my camera with two headlamps wrapped around my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens to get constant direct light from as close to the lens as possible.

Now the difficulty became getting a sharp image as long exposures and constant light usually mean too much movement for crystal clear action-subjects… and this is when a slight off-camera remote flash became the perfect tool… just to crisp up the rider from the front whilst ensuring no flash illumination fell on the subject.

Yet again we achieved some great results, BUT all the while I had been developing an even bolder concept…. however it was all ‘theory’ and simply in my head.

I wanted to photograph the exact same scene at day and by night and merge the two images in post production to best portray the varying properties of the clothing. This actually meant merging four individual images (two background images and two static portraits) so I quickly backpedaled a little to suggest to The North Face’s marketing manager that whilst I wanted to try this concept, I could by no means guarantee results… the Photoshop work in itself would end up requiring 15 separate layers.

And so with head-torches fixed to lenses and tripods setup on some of Sydney’s busiest CBD streets, I snapped away with and end image in mind, but no idea of whether we could achieve what was in my head or not.

After a combination of flash, ambient daylight, ambient night-lights and widely varying shutter speeds, I managed to secure what had been in my head all along.

Fortunately the post production work was able to merge the all the images and so my clients are as stoked with the results I am.

Flash plus long exposure

Heat-torches, flash and long exposure pan


About inciteimages

A magazine recently profiled my life and pretty much hit the nail on the head: Australian adventure photographer (and occasional journalist) Mark Watson is a liar. He suggests his job is “not so glamorous,” but drop him an email and his ‘out of office auto response’ will inform he’s heli-skiing New Zealand or trekking Patagonia. In downtime he surfs and mountain bikes Sydney’s Northern Beaches or can be spied drinking café latte’s on the beachfront when he should be editing photos. He’s a Nikon Ambassador and Red Bull Australia’s No.1 photographer, and after a few Corona’s, admits, “I photograph cool people, in cool places, doing cool things!” Quickly followed by the disclaimer “It’s not always exciting…” But always said with a mischievous grin. View all posts by inciteimages

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