Possibly the oddest picture I ever took…

©Neil Turner/TSL | London | January 2006

The story was simple: we were doing an anonymous interview with a man who needed to remain unidentifiable for legal reasons and we had to shoot a picture of him at a time and a place that wouldn’t give his identity away. It seemed to be important that it was actually him in the picture and that became obvious when I had to shoot a proper portrait at the same time just in case the court case was decided and we needed a proper picture of him to go with a future follow-up article. Still with me?

The reporter arranged that I meet the subject at a London tube station and to get around the problems of finding someone whose name you don’t know and who you don’t have a picture of I always describe myself and what I’m likely to be carrying and wearing because a) I’m probably going to be there first and b) I’m probably going to be easier to spot (being big and carrying a lot of kit).

The venue turned out to be quite close to where he works and we decided that if any of his colleagues happened to spot us the cover story was that we were doing a fashion vox-pop on what the well-dressed office worker was wearing that season. The cloak and dagger details just kept multiplying.

I decided to go with a silhouette (you can read my thoughts on them here) and just for good measure I added an extra twist with a bit of motion blur too. The result was quite striking if bafflingly anonymous!

The technique is pretty simple. It was a dull winter’s morning in the city and we found a under cover area. I used a Lumedyne flash kit to light the brick pillar and silhouetted the subject against it. Without the flash, he would still have been a shadowy outline but so would the pillar and the picture would have been pointless.

The light that was coming from either side of the pillar was OK but it wasn’t plentiful and so I decided to give it a bit of movement blur by zooming the lens whilst the shutter was open. I ended up with an exposure of 1/8th of a second at f13 on 200 ISO using a Canon EOS1D MkII with a Canon 16-35 f2.8L lens triggering the flash with a pair of Pocket Wizards. Zooming during an exposure as relatively short as 1/8th of a second means that you have to have quite a few attempts to get it right and it also pays to tell the subject what you are doing if you don’t want them to think that you are a lunatic!

In the end I was very happy with this genuinely odd picture. I had arrived at the assignment with almost no idea what I was going to do and pretty much made it up as I went along. That’s why I love my job…