As part of my support for Dunedin Gasworks Museum, I went this week to take some shots of children there. We're trying to focus our marketing on kids and family, rather than the engineering and steam enthusiasts that the place traditionally attracts.
Miss C(7) was definitely up for the job, but I thought it would be good to have a young lad along for balance, so she suggested one of her classmates, Mr M(7). Now it just happened that he had a very important play date scheduled with Mr C(7) (no relation). And so it was that I set forth on Tuesday with 3 youngsters, my camera and lighting kit and just an hour to get some usable shots. I also had a bag of sweet bribes and energy supplies. Keeping kids well fueled is essential if you want them to work. I just don't know how they got children to labour hard in Dickensian times on starvation diets. Another useful secret lost to history there.
Now like Gremlins, there are risks to feeding children - it's easy to overfuel them, which is what I think I may have done. Either that or the two lads were simply overwhelmed by the steampunk wonder that the DGM is. Whatever the reason, my plan for a few well-lit scenes rapidly devolved to get-what-you-can.
The Engine House is a complex mix of window light and different overhead sources, which makes pictures taken with the ambient light pretty unattractive. My first setup had me trying to highlight the machines with bare strobes and the kids with a strobe and shoot-thru umbrella for some soft light. Nice idea, and the test shot above of Mr M(7) is one of the results. Unfortunately, test pops were about all I could get, as the minute I went to adjust my light, the youngsters raced off to explore some machinery (I can't blame them) or boiled over with giggling, jumping, song and dance (I still can't blame them). As you can see, the umbrella gave me the nice soft light but spilt everywhere, including the shiny walls. I decided the best course of action was just to light some machinery dramatically, hope it provided some highlights to the kids wherever I managed to get them to stand still, and use my ring flash adapter to fill the harsh shadows on their faces.
It was a step in the right direction. Losing the shoot-thru lost the distracting and unattractive background and the tools and machines look good in hard raking light. That left me to try and get a performance out of the kids. What I learned here is that you don't have to worry about them under-performing. It's pulling them back from rolling their eyes, sticking out tongues and making faces down the barrel that is the hard part.
Oh what I wouldn't give for some professional models and the time to light them but considering we only had an hour or so between the end of school and the museum closing, I'm satisfied with what we got here. Thanks to our design wizard, our brochures are going to look great.
Model Mayhem is a web community where fashion-interested creatives like models, photogs and other artists can meet. But this was real model mayhem. Everything they say about working with kids is true, it's not easy but before I make this sound like anything less than fun, let me summarise: I spent the afternoon in a life-size 19th century Meccano set, with all my favourite electronic and digital toys, with three other people just as excited, bursting to laugh and play at the first opportunity. And to cap it off, the kids may not be as professional as working models, but they work for pikelets. Big tick.