While London Sleeps


While London Sleeps: How some magazine photoshoots actually happen

30 Oct , 2011  

'London Lights' photoshoot, Borough Market, London by Ken Sparkes

22:39 Rohini: hello! hellO!
22:42 me: hi
22:43 Rohini: I am thinking about our future big pho­toshoots on Spaces and i don’t think we will get to do any­thing amazing with the budget but i really want to do a big lighting shoot…

That’s how Rohini and I ended up pho­to­graphing in the debris of deepest Camberwell in the middle of the night waiting for the break­down ser­vice to come and rescue us. Our IM tran­scripts and the fin­ished images provide some revealing insights into the cre­ative process.

Top photo: Dream More, Work Less
Borough Market, London SE1 — ‘Ribbon’ table lamp by Claire Norcross, £99, Habitat.

22:45  me: Lights in the studio are mostly ter­rible, very hard work for not much return. How about lighting out­side in the street or some­thing?
22:46  Rohini: That’s exactly what i meant, and now that it is get­ting dark early i think it would be really worth doing in these months, kind of twi­lighty
ideally i’d like to do it in an urban street where all the lights are like street­lights, like down a road with a brick wall or down an alley

Photo: I’m Here For You
Roupell Street, Waterloo, London SE1 — ‘Lamp a Poser’ mouth-blown glass table lamps, The Conran Shop.

‘Lamp a Poser’ mouth-blown glass table lamps: I'm Here For You, Spaces photoshoot, Roupell Street, Waterloo, London SE1

22:48  me: sure — sorry am a bit zapped — trying to find lib­rary shot for another magazine cover & listening to some wicked Danish band
Rohini: ha
me: ok, head­phones off
Rohini: no wor­ries, it was just a whim

Photo: I Am The Happiest That I Have Ever Been — Belgrave Road, Victoria, London Sw1 — ‘Bakelite Telephone Lamp’ by Alex Randall of Jericho Hands, Deptford

'Bakelite Telephone Lamp' by Alex Randall of Jericho Hands: I Am The Happiest That I Have Ever Been, Spaces photoshoot, Belgrave Road, Victoria, London Sw1

22:51  me: doing stuff around London would be fab if we can do it well without being arrested.
22:52  Rohini: yeah i know — i would love to — but how did u light lights in the woods at Westerham?
22:54 me: We used a car and an elec­tronic inverter that con­verts the bat­tery into mains voltage.
me: the other choice was to replace all the bulbs with low voltage bulbs, but that was just plain fiddly.

Photo: ‘I don’t heart Banksy’
St George’s Drive, London SW1 — ‘Cuboluce’ light boxes by Franco Bettonica and Mario Melocchi.

‘Cuboluce’ light boxes by Franco Bettonica and Mario Melocchi - Photo: Ken Sparkes
Rohini: i will start plan­ning, but it’s more about loc­a­tion isn’t it?
22:55  me: yeah — I envi­sion hanging things off the exterior bal­conies of the Royal Festival Hall etc
Rohini: ha!
22:56  me: only need one shot rohini, just fling it over the parapet & shoot!
22:57  Rohini: maybe we should make that our aim — just to do it in really great loc­a­tions then leg it
22:58  me: maybe dress like art students

Caution: Love Hurts
Greenheath Business Centre, London E2
Holo Mexico’ by Catherine Grandidier, Dix Heures Dix.

‘Holo Mexico’ by Catherine Grandidier, Dix Heures Dix: Caution, Love Hurts: Spaces photoshoot Greenheath Business Centre, London E2

Rohini: ok what are the easiest places to do it?
23:00  I really want to do one down a London alleyway so u can see floor lamp after floor lamp in a row — as though growing out of the ground
23:01  me: London back­grounds at dusk: the Thames, blocks of flats in Peckham, Brick Lane area or Whitechapel…
me: would like to make it VERY london if poss
Rohini: yeah ok

Photo: Don’t pass me by
Henly House, Swanfield Street, London E2
’Lucellino’ table lamp by Ingo Maurer.

'Lucellino' table lamp by Ingo Maurer: Don't pass me by, Spaces photoshoot, Henly House, Swanfield Street, London E2

23:08  sug­gest we start very soon and do it over sev­eral ses­sions, one light per shot, one page per shot
23:09  Rohini: ok — i am free most mondays and tues­days, we can start week after cur­rent shoot, but we really need to plan
23:12  me: only need a good car bat­tery & a little wheelie shop­ping trolley

Photo: I Can’t Explain & I Won’t Even Try
Wheatsheaf Community Centre, Camberwell Rd, London SW8
‘25 Karat Blau’ T table lamp by Axel Schmid, Ingo Maurer

‘25 Karat Blau’ T table lamp by Axel Schmid, Ingo Maurer - photo: Ken Sparkes

23:17  if we went to Paris or Rome, how would we do it?
Rohini: how would we go there? or how would we do it?
23:18  me: well, just thinking to do London the way we would do a for­eign city (always dif­ferent approach when you go away)
23:19  but now you men­tion it… might have a look at Ryanair!
Rohini: ur a loon! — right i am going to research cool lights this week — u think of do-able loc­a­tions, okay?
23:21  me: ser­i­ously, if we save £400 on a studio, that pays for a Ryanair spe­cial + accom. Course, there’s the products…
me: have to work on that one
23:24  Rohini: will see u on Tues with some ideas for light shoot — we are starting next Mon. We must do a sum­mery shoot soon
23:28  me: yeah — fed up with dark shoots, want some bright­ness
Rohini: just this last one…

Photos: © Ken Sparkes. Stylist: Rohini Wahi  Shot on loc­a­tion for Spaces magazine. All Rights Reserved
The titles of the photos come from mes­sages embedded in the pic­tures while waiting for some huge high-res files to upload on ftp.

How To: I used a 500W power inverter from Amazon con­nected to Rohini’s car bat­tery and a long mains exten­sion to reach the lighting. It con­verts the 12V bat­tery to mains voltage. To bal­ance the expos­ures, the light was toggled off before the frame had fully exposed. I also shot the scene with the light off in case I needed to com­posite the two shots in Photoshop. The camera was a Nikon DSLR, on a light­weight tripod, set to manual. In order to pre­serve the ori­ginal ambi­ance, no addi­tional lighting was used. In the end, we didn’t get arrested; we didn’t even meet any parking wardens.


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