Interview in Savoir Tout Faire en Photographie

James Abbott interview in Savoir Tout Faire en Photographie

In 2013 I was interviewed about my photo ‘The Fencer’ by the French photography magazine, ‘Savoir Tout Faire en Photographie’. Having interviewed many photographers in the past it was an interesting experience to be on the other side for a change. Here’s the interview in English:

Can you tell me the context of the Fencer ?
I came up with the idea for ‘The Fencer’ after learning that a fellow photographer fences for the senior GB fencing team. I appreciate the classic image of two blurred or even frozen fencers fighting against a plain black background, but wanted to create a more arresting photo full of tension. I decided that a head and shoulders portrait of the fencer in his kit, holding up his foil would confront the viewer with a more intimidating image.

What kind of difficulties did you meet to make the photo ?
I had a clear idea of the composition and the lighting I wanted for the final result, so the process should have been quite simple. The main difficulty came in the form of logistics – finding a time when both the fencer and I were free to shoot took about three months. When the day to shoot finally came it was the height of summer, and the temperature outside was high. To top things of the studio air conditioning wasn’t working, so the studio was hot and uncomfortable to say the least. For me as the photographer this wasn’t a huge problem, but the subject was wearing full fencing kit, including a mask so I had to work fast so he didn’t overheat.

With what kind of camera and lenses did you work with for the picture ?
I took this photo with a Nikon D3s and 70-200mm lens. The advantage of using the 70-200mm was that I could work at a distance from the fencer and by focusing on the foil I could allow the fencer’s mask to drop slightly out of focus, even at f/11. At the time I wanted shot wider open, but in hindsight the aperture I used was perfect.

How did you define the lights ?
When I first studied photography, one of my lecturers taught me to keep lighting simple and build lighting one light at a time. This is something that has stuck with ever since – if I need one light this is all I use, but if I need four or five I just build up to them. This photo was taken using just a single light above and slightly behing the fencer on a boom. A small softbox was used to diffuse light and keep it directed onto the subject. To light the front of the fencer I simply placed a reflector on the floor in front of him. Although it looks like the fencer is standing, he’s actually kneeling down and this is why the reflector has been so successful in bouncing light back onto him.

Did you make a lot of work with an image editing software after the shooting ?
The RAW image was first processed in Lightroom 4 and then exported into Photoshop CS6. Here I simply cloned out a few specs of dirt on the fencers suit, and dodged and burned a few areas. The foil itself was dodged more than other areas to make it stand out as much as possible without being to bright. I finally desaturated a few areas and added my preferred contrast technique to improve the overall look of the image. Processing RAW files in LR4, and then finishing images in Photoshop is my standard workflow for all photos.

What is the life of this picture ?
The Fencer was shot as personal work, but it has received a lot of attention since I took it. I was lucky enough to be a runner up in the G-technology Driven Creativity Competition, and it has been used on the front cover of a German photography magazine. I hope it will be used in as many places as possible because the ultimate goal for any photographer is to have their work seen by as many people as possible.

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