What do you do when you get a D1 Air Kit for Christmas? Peter Kemmer, who describes himself as an “avid photographer, gamer, programmer, and wannabe artist,” broke it open and got right to it, with an adorably quirky portrait of his pet rat, Cheryl. Read below how he got the shot, what he loves about the D1 Air, and his thoughts on rat stereotypes.
I’m on an ongoing mission to rectify rats’ terrible PR. I’ve kept pet rats on and off since I was a teenager working at a pet store, and of all the small domesticated animals, I feel they are by far the most intelligent, loving, playful, quiet, and clean. Rats are beautiful creatures, and move with the grace of a cat with hands. I try to capture their charm in photography to fight the greasy, chittering, Hollywood stereotype… to show rats for what they are, without all the makeup and foley! As an avid hobbyist and would-be artist, they have been a frequent and beloved subject of mine.
For this photograph of my rat Cheryl, I wanted to use carefully controlled lighting to emphasize her elegance, going for a sleek, clean look. In a small tabletop studio crammed behind my living room couch, I removed the background with extremely directional lights so I could focus attention on her form as she interacted with the camera and a snack-filled mug. First, I picked up the gloss of her fine fur and added a highlight to the curves of her tail using dual D1 Air units, placed behind the scene with 5° grids, which acted as miniature hair/rim lights. I then used a small Chimera stripbox horizontally on a D4 Air-driven ProHead, boomed over the camera for a diffuse, revealing key light with very little spill, but still allowing her to move side to side in the scene without radically altering the shadows. These three strobes also served to cleanly light the mug, showing how it’s eggy curves mirrored Cheryl’s own, without adding any distracting reflected detail.
Photographing small subjects can require very careful light placement, and the slightest bump would have easily meant time wasted putting my lights back where they belong. Shooting in a small space also means very careful stand placement to get everything where you want it, and a much harder to navigate set, which makes the bumping issue even worse. The distance of the lights also becomes more of a factor at this scale, since light falls off rapidly when you’re super close to the source.
Fortunately, making adjustments to compensate for this as Cheryl moved around the mug was painless. Using the Air system (my favorite part!) meant I could easily adjust all my output settings remotely without having to move any of my lights or work myself into a cramped space to get at their controls. Once I had everything positioned relative to the scene, tweaking the lighting was as easy as pushing buttons on my camera.
I’ve been excitedly teaching myself photography and sharing photography information with others for a number of years now. Profoto has been a part of that enjoyment ever since I was lucky enough to open up a D1 Air Kit one awesome Christmas morning. Moving from fidgety speedlights to predictable, controllable studio gear has helped me see what I’ve been doing more clearly and removed a lot of everyday frustrations. The gear has been an inspiration in and of itself!
As cliché as it may sound, when I showed this portrait to some freshly former coworkers (I needed free time to build an indie art career, go figure) one of them complained about her lack of a DSLR, because mine took such clear photos. Always on the lookout for a teaching moment, I immediately explained that it’s not really about the camera in this photo, it’s the light that makes the difference. To prove it, I shot a similar scene that night, using exactly the same lighting, a toy rat, the built-in optical slaves, and a point and shoot, with my hand carefully cupped over the flash. No surprises, the toy looked almost as good as Cheryl!
After taking that doppelgänger of a photograph, I was struck with the idea of deliberately posing the plush toy to mirror the portraits I’d already taken of Cheryl, and pairing them. After a lot of careful bending, prodding, and toothpicking, I came up with a series of diptychs that I adore, every image tied strongly together by consistent light. If it hadn’t been for my love affair with studio gear, I would never have created them. Profoto made it easy to experiment my way into a satisfying project!
All images in this post are ©Peter Kemmer, all rights reserved; story is ©Profoto. Please respect photographers’ rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or re-post elsewhere without written permission.
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