I believe that as artists we should EXPERIMENT with new techniques, to DISCOVER imagery that resonates with us on a personal level, until we REALISE what it is that we want to say or do, at which point we can DEFINE it, and then REFINE it to become masters at our craft.” – Natalie Field
In-camera techniques and surrealism
How do in-camera effects emphasize the surreal nature of your work?
I explore these mercurial and ephemeral themes using motion blur and slow-sync flash, as these techniques allow me to physically capture this transient energy through movement. In fact, it was my need to illustrate narratives around consciousness and the transmigration of the soul that led to my exploration into in-camera techniques in the first place.
With which in-camera techniques are you experimenting and why?
Once I started experimenting with in-camera techniques, I was hooked. I’ve tried everything I can think: multiple exposures, freeze photography, slow-sync flash and motion blur, toy-town effects with a tilt-shift lens, shooting through objects like glass, creating diffraction with mirrors, applying colour gels to the lights, stop-motion, cinemagraphs and, of course, a combination thereof! I got a little side-tracked with all the fun of experimentation, but I am finally at the point where I know what my core narratives are and what techniques to use to tell those stories.
How do you know when to use in-camera effects and when it’s best left for post-production?
I enjoy the more hands-on aspects of photography more than retouching, which is another reason I shifted from doing all the work in post-production to shooting with in-camera effects. So, if it’s feasible to do it in-camera, that is the first option, but my stories are often surreal, in which case I digitally enhance the work.
The Animal Within Series
In the Animal Within series, how did you create the double exposure/motion blur photographs?
The double and multiple exposures were pretty simple to create in-camera with the built-in app as mentioned. The motion blur, on the other hand, is a bit trickier, as you need to have both ambient and flash light falling on the subject to achieve successful slow-sync flash. Flash is a near-instantaneous pulse offering more light than enters through long exposure and is controlled through ISO, aperture and flash settings. Because the shutter speed does not factor into the exposure for the flash, you can extend the shutter duration to capture the motion blur.
Your settings for this would be something like ISO 100 (for best quality) and f/16 (to capture the depth of field of possible movement), combined with a 4-sec exposure. Also, set your flash to rear-sync fire as this will capture a sharper image over the motion blur to keep the focus on the subject. With these shots, the speed and direction of movement from the model are important aspects to consider. Working with dancer Samantha Supra on this project added value to the narrative beyond what the techniques can achieve by themselves.
The lighting in the Animal Within series is quite tricky – how did you light your subjects to support the overall effect?
For this project I focused mostly on side lighting, using barn doors with colour gels. The colours added visual interest, but also allowed me to mask issues with the white balance due to only using the modelling lamp on the one side. Using a dedicated continuous light would solve that problem. The trick is not to have the ambient and flash light overlap on the subject.
How much is post-production manipulation necessary even after using in-camera effects?
There is no post-production in Animal Within, except a little clean-up and my favourite stylistic tool: dodging and burning.
In-camera effects were often used with older, non-digital cameras, but it seems to have made a comeback. What exciting new possibilities do in-camera effects offer photography that is not otherwise possible or difficult to recreate?
In the film days, multiple exposure was achieved by taking two photos on the same frame of film. As this would expose the film twice, much care needed to be taken to not overexpose the film. However, today’s high-end DSLRs (like my Nikon D810), have a built-in application for multiple exposures with a GAIN function that will do the maths and correct the exposure for me.
Do you predict any trends in in-camera effects in commercial fashion and beauty photography? What is the fascination with in-camera effects?
These techniques are practised by a few commercial photographers, especially those working with Lens-Baby. I think it offers a dreamlike element to the work, and what are we selling as commercial photographers if not dreams?!
What gear do you use to achieve your work?
Camera and support
The Nikon D810 allows me to shoot up to 10 frames per Multiple Exposure. A sturdy tripod is a must for pretty much all in-camera techniques. I use the Vanguard ABEO Pro 283AGH Aluminium Tripod with GH-300T Grip Head for studio work and the much lighter Vanguard VEO 235AP for location work.
This style of shooting is quite gear intensive. You will need a great bag to lug all your gear around. I have a bag for every occasion, but my favourite is the Heralder 51T as it doubles as a trolley bag and backpack.
Flash and continuous lighting
I use Photon lighting for studio work and Nikon speedlights for location work. I recently shot with the Rotolight AEOS which offers continuous and flash lighting in one unit, which is very exciting!
Do you have any tips for other photographers who’d like to experiment with in-camera effects?
When experimenting, note what works and what doesn’t. Note the settings used with the coordinating image number, and draw Lighting Diagrams for recreating the same lighting next time!
If you’re new to in-camera techniques, but feel like trying it out, we do run workshops on conceptual portraiture and creative lighting techniques that encourages the group to participate in the creative process. For example, our Conceptual Portraiture Masterclass saw the entire audience involved, bringing motion to the backdrop, swinging flowers, etc. It was a lot of fun!
What is next for Natalie Field?
My most exciting project up to date, entitled Human.Nature, is a culmination of my studies into experimental photographic techniques. Two years in the making, this body of work will be on show as my first solo exhibition at the Berman Contemporary Gallery in Sandton from 5-19 April 2018! So please do follow me on social media or sign up to my newsletter on the website if you are curious!