Thursday, December 31, 2009

Neil Johnson on Blue light martinis and the art of photography

Neil Johnson,
Originally uploaded by trudeau
Shreveport photographer and author Neil Johnson writes a background piece each month to accompany a photo sent to his email list. We are happy to publish this month's column:


The assignment was to shoot a series of photos of a new product line by Southern Aluminum, a southern Arkansas manufacturer that makes aluminum tables. The new products are a series of tables with lighted panels. There are small tables with one panel and a larger serving table with three panels. The panel light color can be changed.

There is a very elegant restaurant, The Village Grille, almost next door to my studio. It only opens for the dinner crowd and the owners were generous enough to let us use it as a setting for the shoot. It was the perfect restaurant setting because it has no windows, which meant I could totally control the light. The company reps brought the tables to town and we set them up in the restaurant one morning. While shooting the tables with the glowing panels, we decided the panels looked best with drink glasses on the panels to better communicate the panel lighting. We liked how the glass “pulled” the light up from below.

Then we needed a few “effect” images that would not show the brushed aluminum tables, but would show the sexy lighting effect only. This was one of those situations where I had to dive in, explore it, view the result and just see what I would get. We were all delightfully surprised by how nice the images looked on the laptop screen.

This is where the fun part of photography really kicks in and where the technology of both digital instant gratification and shooting tethered to a laptop are worth the price of admission. Once we determined it was working, I tuned out the commercial part of the shoot and let the artist in me cut loose. It became a matter of playing with the tools at hand: various lenses, composition, line, shape, pattern, form and color. What color works the best for this subject matter? Blue? Green? Purple? Yellow? Red? A little bit of tungsten light from way in the background provided a touch of gold in each glass. I loved that subtle touch of gold against blue, two colors on the opposite sides of the color wheel. With each composition that I liked, I shot all colors, just in case.
I must say that when photographing light, it looks supremely better on a computer screen than it does with ink on paper. Ink on paper does not glow. It reflects light. A completely different animal.

Also, with this image, I felt something like Alfred Stieglitz might have felt in 1922 with his “Equivalent” cloud image series. The glowing pixels here give me a feeling of “equivalence,” a theory which has abstract forms, lines, and colors representing corresponding inner states, emotions, ideas and emotive "vibrations of the soul."

I use the word “playing” because the “work” of shooting the tables was done. It is indeed a challenge to light and communicate the metal tables for a catalog and website, as well as show the effect of the lit panels. Those images were in the can. Creating images of almost nothing but light exhilarates me and in no way would I describe it as work. And it is exciting when a client trusts me (and my muse) with creative images. These glasses are empty of liquid, but filled with light. And they are filled, not from above, but from below, and from the inside out. My heart rate increases when I watch how light enters and caresses glass and interacts with it top to bottom. I am playing with light, darkness, color, depth of field, composition, unusual subject matter, glowing pixels.

This is why I do what I do. I am playing with all that is exciting about photography. Photography has the power to sometimes make me literally a bit giddy. That afternoon, I packed up the photography and lighting gear, straightened up the restaurant and wobbled back to the studio to sober up.

Ya really gotta watch out for those blue ones. Especially when you’ve had three.

Neil Johnson
January 2010

1 comment:

Neil said...

Anyone wishing to added to the "photo of the month" list, go to and add your email address. The photo of the month this january is #70! cheers!