To liven up factory construction images for solar voltaic manufacturer HelioVolt, Park Street turned to Lightroom and developed an innovative new look. After his first shoot in a darkened shell of a space, the client overwhelmingly embraced the post-processed samples presented next to traditional shots. Street thinks of his Lightroom adjustments in musical terms — compress the dynamics and then expand them back out in a different way. His ability to temper the look to a particular taste lessens the risk for clients and makes it a win/win scenario for everyone involved.
Web site: www.parkstreets.com
Project: Documenting the construction of a factory for HelioVolt, using Lightroom to enhance a basic image, and giving the client a fresh visual look.
All images in this article © Park Street
ASMP: How long have you been in business?
PS: Twenty years.
ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?
PS: Twenty years. When I first made the change to doing photography professionally, I was blessed to know Reagan Bradshaw, and he sponsored me.
ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?
PS: Architecture and Corporate/Industrial right now. I worked in quite a few different areas over the years though and can do just about anything that might come up.
ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?
PS: The Canon 24 TS-E lens. I love tilt shifts and they are indispensable for doing architectural work, in my opinion. Of course my most important piece of equipment is my brain.
ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.
PS: Take one great tripod like the Gitzo 540 that I use, and attach a Canon 1Ds Mark III with a 24 or 45 tilt/shift lens. Next, set the camera up for Live View and find the composition you want. Decide on the amount of blur you want the workers to have and set the ISO, shutter speed, and f-stop relationship. Sometimes I will tether to a laptop, but often I will be moving too fast to work that way, especially if I am working without an assistant. Most of the work on this project was done without an assistant. Come back to the office and import the images into Lightroom. Start finding the right look for each shot.
ASMP: Tell us about your client and the project to document the construction of the client’s factory.
PS: HelioVolt is a thin-film solar voltaic manufacturer in Austin that has gained enormous publicity both in Austin and internationally. Fortune magazine named it as one the companies that could change the world. Their long-range plan is to incorporate thin-film solar cells into building materials so that you can buy roofing or other exterior building materials with or without a solar film built in. I have been shooting for the company since its early stages.
They had decided to build their first factory in Austin and leased a 120,000 square-foot building that was an empty shell. As part of my documentation of the company, they asked me to shoot the construction.
I wanted to do something more creative than to simply document the progress in a traditional way. I felt I would hate going week-after-week and doing something akin to the time-lapse construction cameras already there. So after the first shoot, I worked to find a way to give a dirty, dark facility some life and make some fun out of it.
It took me a day of working in Lightroom to find a look that I didn’t just like, but loved.
ASMP: What lighting and logistical problems did you encounter as you began to shoot the factory construction?
PS: Initially, the lack of lighting and the size of the facility — over 120,000 square feet — dictated creating a flexible workflow that did not depend on lighting anything beyond a touch of fill flash. After lighting was installed in the facility even fill flash simply added another light source color, because the lighting was a mix of tungsten, fluorescents and other sources at a variety of color temperatures, combined with outside light coming through bays.
ASMP: Please describe your interactions with the client to pitch this new technique. Did the issue of costs or fees enter into the equation when discussing stylistic approach?
PS: After the first shoot I put together large prints and showed HelioVolt what I proposed. I presented the traditional looking shots and the same shot processed in the more illustrative style and asked which they liked. In every comparison they picked the stylistic example. I was happy. They were happy. It was a win/win.
ASMP: Please describe the techniques you used to capture and enhance your images, including the Lightroom tools and processes used.
PS: I’ve already talked about the camera work so I will discuss post-processing here. I really think of it in terms of music. You compress the dynamics and then expand them back out in a different way. In the develop module, I use the recovery and fill light to compress the image. I then use a combination of the blacks and the tone curve to add back in contrast. I often use both the vibrance and saturation to season and the hsl — hue, saturation and luminance — to work with specific colors. I then use clarity and the sharpening in the detail section. I want to keep the bottom end/shadow areas while moving much of the balance of the photo toward the higher midrange. I get a light airy feeling with still some blacks. I then start adjusting the color palette. With many different light sources and color balances, Lightroom’s ability to adjust HSL is a great way of adjusting the light sources. Sometimes I would need to go to Photoshop, but not often.
ASMP: This image has a very distinctive color palette with lots of high key neutrals balanced by bright red. Is this palette used throughout the series? Do you manipulate the colors independently from working with the exposure?
PS: The color palette varied depending upon the scene. Remember that nothing was staged. This is straight documentary photography in the aspect. Not one worker was ever asked to pose. As the construction work progressed and changed so did the color palette. I do work with manipulating the colors, usually through the HSL options in the develop module.
ASMP: How did you become proficient in Lightroom? What educational resources would you recommend for increasing Lightroom skills?
PS: I read and played with the software. A long time ago a friend, who was one of the best Photoshop retouchers I have ever seen, told me he learned by trying since, no matter what he did, he could not break the software or the machine. He pushed buttons and watched the effect. The best Lightroom resource I recommend is the Lightroom video tutorials by Michael Reichmann and Jeff Schewe found at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/.
ASMP: What steps did you take to become proficient in working with HDR imaging? Do you have any recommended educational resources for this?
PS: Quite a bit of trial and error. I actually do not really consider myself using traditional HDR processing, as I am not using multiple exposures but processing one shot. I really do not like the look of most of the HDR examples I see.
The best resource I know is fellow Austinite, Trey Radcliff’s Web site http://www.stuckincustoms.com. He does some of the nicest HDR work I know of. He has a book coming out around Christmas-time that I am looking forward to reading.
ASMP: What was the timeframe for this assignment? How much time was spent shooting vs postproduction?
PS: I shot one morning each week for usually two to three hours. Processing would take a similar amount of time, though as I went through the project it got shorter. I would come out when there was something special being done if my schedule permitted. I then ftp’d images to a protected Web site. Then images would have to pass through a committee to determine which included proprietary information and those are being held for a time when it is no longer proprietary.
ASMP: Do you now shoot any differently, either artistically or technically, based upon this new style and your experience with Lightroom enhancements?
PS: Absolutely! I have found myself always using some of the style I found through this project. How much of the style varies depending on the client and use. The great thing is that it is all post processing so I can flavor the final dish to suit the client.
ASMP: How have you adjusted your fee structure to reflect the extra digital production costs of your enhanced processing and post production work? Do you do the post processing work yourself or employ a digital tech / Photoshop expert?
PS: I do all the Lightroom processing myself, although I do outsource some Photoshop work on occasion. None of this work for HelioVolt was outsourced. I have adjusted my fee structure and make it clear to clients that there may be additional post processing fees depending upon circumstance and the final look needed.
ASMP: Are you using any special avenues to market your new style of image making? Do you use any particular approaches or targets that differ from the strategies used to market your past work?
PS: I have been marketing locally and regionally right now using an old method. I schedule portfolio reviews and then go in and show 13x17-inch prints. I want to meet and talk to people face-to-face if at all possible. I believe I can do far better in establishing a relationship that way than any other way I know. I have also approached very large construction companies and this has worked out well. I have a number of projects scheduled.
ASMP: What was the response to your enhanced imaging after the project was completed? Have you experienced any competitive advantages with other clients from being skilled in these techniques?
PS: I should mention the project is still not final as far the factory being complete. We are still waiting on some of the manufacturing equipment to be delivered. One of the most interesting things was the response I got even before the project was complete. After a month I brought some prints in to show the HelioVolt project manager before the weekly meeting in the construction site trailer. He loved the work and asked me to show them at the meeting of all the contractors and subcontractors later that day.
I went out to do some shooting and then returned to find a table of a dozen guys in hard hats. I laid the prints out on the table and was amazed to watch them ooohhh and ahhhh. They loved them. I showed new work every two weeks or so and they ooohhh’d and ahhh’d each time.
Since the completion of the initial phase, I have shown the work to a variety of companies ranging from ad agencies to architects and builders. I have gotten great response to the work and quite a bit of new work and a number of new clients. I expect to do even better when the economy improves because there are now quite a few projects delayed because of the economic uncertainty.
I think the fact that I can provide the images from the same raw file in a variety of flavors, from straight photographic to something that looks like illustration, takes a lot of the risk out of it for my clients. They can truly have their cake and eat it too.
ASMP: Given this recent experience with developing a new style, do you have any thoughts about how or where you see your work progressing in the next five to ten years?
PS: I really hope that I will continue to grow and experiment with new looks and styles. I love digital photography! I would not go back to film for anything. I can do things easily that I could never do when shooting film. I hope I will be like Irving Penn — still shooting when I’m 90.