How do you take a bad photo of a beautiful…
Your regularly scheduled host, Rachel “The Glove” Hulin is getting some well-deserved R&R this week, and she foolishly tapped me to fill the void to give you some photo blog crack. But before we get started, let’s get a few things straight: Although I’m the CEO/Co-Founder of PhotoShelter, I am not nearly as cool nor as knowledgeable about photos as Rachel. So when I tell you that I’ve found a really great scenic photographer named Ansel Adams, don’t let the tomatoes fly. I’m just trying to impart some photo love upon you.
Today is officially science day here on Shoot! The Blog, and truth be told, I’m a bit of a closet nerd. While I’m not particularly bright, I subscribe to three (count ‘em) science magazines: 1) Scientific American, 2) Discover, and most recently 3) Seed Magazine.
Seed is a real departure from the density of most science magazines because of their superior graphic design and art direction, but also because of their mantra of “Science is Culture.” They are very interested in science as it relates to humanity, and in that respect, they are hoping to make science more relevant to everyone. I can dig that.
When I hopped on my morning subway commute and opened up the August 2008 issue, I’ was happily surprised to see a photo essay by PhotoShelter contributor Noah Kalina, who you might know better as the guy who took a picture of himself for six years. Noah’s covered the rather prosaic topic of “Labs at Night.” Let’s take a little chat.
Social Robotics Laboratory at Yale University. Photo by Noah Kalina.
I love Seed. How the heck did they find you? Was it because of your
project to try to shoot every restaurant in NYC?
I got a call from the Art Director Jeffrey Docherty. He told me he had been following my work on flickr for quite some time, back when he was working at the New York Times Magazine. He wasn’t ever able to get me any work there, but when he took over the AD spot at SEED he gave me a ring. I initially did a series of portraits for their March/April issue and then this project came up and he thought I was perfect for it.
I think I need to clear up the “shoot every restaurant in NYC empty” project. For about 4 years I was the primary photographer for AOL CityGuide, Zagat.com and Eater.com. I also contributed work to every other city guide or magazine you can imagine. I shot a lot of restaurant interiors. Over 3,000. I always preferred to shoot the spaces empty, and since I have so many of them with that particular look, it seemed like it could have been an actual project. The fact of the matter is it was just my main job.
Momofuku Ko. Photo by Noah Kalina.
That said, my experience shooting empty spaces was probably the reason Jeff thought I was a good fit for this assignment.
This was the last issue Jeff worked on for Seed, he is now the AD at Visionaire. Jeff is awesome. Jeff and I are currently working on a book of my photographs together.:
Since it is a science magazine, let’s get a little geeky. The light
in the Stanford Linear Accelerator and the Hetzer Laboratory looks
really white, whereas I would imagine that sodium vapor lights would be
more common. Did you do some crazy white balancing?
The corridor shot that was published is actually a new tunnel that they
are building and it is currently under construction. They had those
construction type lights running the length of the tunnel. They weren’t
Sodium Vapor, I think they were just florescent bulbs. So to the eyes,
they were white. But yes, I do color correct my photos and probably
shifted it a little bluer than it actually appeared.
Photos by Noah Kalina.
Have you experimented at all with HDR (high dynamic range) for any architectural shots? Any opinions on HDR in general?
When I first heard of HDR I thought the concept was really cool but the application always looked way too artificial. I did experiment with it to see if I could make it work with some of my interiors, but in my trials, again, it just looked fake. I believe if you want the sky to match the exposure of the foreground, just wait until the light actually matches in real life. Sometimes it pays off to be patient when you are making pictures. Everything doesn’t need to be done with a computer.
Did you read up on the labs or the research before visiting?
I received a brief from the magazine that explained what was going on at each lab and what I could expect to find. I did look up more information on each place, but I didn’t get too deep with it. At a few of the labs, the experiments they were conducting was more complicated than I could understand, so there was only so much I could read before becoming disinterested. I was primarily focused on trying to make interesting photographs, the science and research was secondary.
Were you in any biohazardous areas? Did you see any Ebola around?
Man, I wish I saw Ebola, I have been obsessed with Ebola ever since I read the Hot Zone in middle school. Unfortunately the labs that deal in killer viruses weren’t on my list.
At SLAC I had to wear a radiation detector tag. If something went horribly wrong when we were in the tunnels, and I got blasted with a dose of lethal radiation, that thing would have detected it. We wouldn’t know right away if it actually happend, the tag had a sheet of film in it, and they have to send it in to get developed. I asked what would happen if it came back positive, and my guide told me I would probably just receive a letter that says “Sorry, you won’t be having any children”. It’s been a few months and I still haven’t gotten a letter so I think I will be okay. Beyond that I just had to wear a hard hat and steel toe boots when we were in the construction site. No big deal.
Every other place I photographed was safe.
What’s the atmosphere of these labs like at night? Are there people around just out of the frame of your camera?
The main idea of the essay was to go to these labs after everyone went home. So I tried to set up times when that was the case. Usually the only people left were my contacts who showed me around. As a result the Labs were very quiet, but I wouldn’t say creepy.
Burgess Laboratory, National Institute of Health. Photo by Noah Kalina.
Given that you don’t really know what the lab is going to look like when you showed up, how much gear did you haul with you? Did you bring anything special to make the places look really “science-y?”
I like to pack light, and I always shoot my interiors with available lighting. All I brought with me was my camera, tripod, and shutter release cable. These were all shot with the Canon 1DS Mark III with either my 24mm L or 17-40mm L.