MIC Q&A-2017 September

Joe Howell is senior photographer at Vanderbilt. His photo "Human Motion for Power" won Best In Show in the September 2017 Monthly Image Competition. We wanted to find out more about the tech and the thinking that went into his winning image. (All photos by Joe Howell)


Tell us a little of how this assignment got onto your plate...was it a client request, your idea, or a combo of both?  Was everyone on board with your idea or did you have to do some persuading?

I was approached by one of our magazine designers to come up with a photo that would illustrate one of Vanderbilt’s research initiatives to create energy-producing clothing that could potentially power a cell phone of other mobile devices.  The designer wanted to know if I could produce an image that would give a sense of motion and power that is generated by the clothing. I told her that a sense of motion could be achieved by taping lights to a model, having the model move in a dark room, and then use flash photography to show a proper view of the person inside of the movement.  The editor of the magazine and the designer thought that idea was intriguing, but they need to see the results to feel confident in the concept.  They trusted me to come up with a cool shot but they needed assistance to visualize the image.

Tell us about the image from a technical perspective?  Where did you shoot, (studio? location?) how did you light it, and how much post-processing?  (If you want to share any behind the scenes photos or a 'straight from camera' version, that'd be spiffy.)  Were there any "fun" logistics challenges involved?


Once inside the studio, I had to make sure that there was no ambient light leaking in through the front doors. I used a photo backdrop with black paper to block the doors. Then I set the camera on a tripod, taped lights onto our subject and established my focus. I turned off the overhead lights and in total darkness we started to work. Before I introduced a flash I had the model run in place at different speeds, then twirl in place, and do exaggerated movements. After establishing the right type and amount of movement, I had the model take one step forward and hold up the phone. At that point I fired a flash through a small circular grid to illuminate the subject’s face, arm, and phone.  My idea was simple, essentially I was painting with light to show movement, and using a small amount of flash to light the areas I wanted to standout or show.  One of the challenges to the shoot is that my Canon 1DX does not have rear curtain sync. Therefore, I would have to determine the amount of time needed for the photo, fire the strobe by remote, and then turn the camera off.  This was just a small technical work around.

Are you thinking of the MIC while you're shooting? How much--if at all--does the contest motivate or inspire you to push for more than might be required?

I am motivated by the monthly image contest in a couple of ways. The first reason is that it gives me an outlet to show off images that I love, even if they do not get used in our digital or print publications. For example, the editor of the magazine rejected this image, because it had too much movement and did not show enough of the clothing. I was totally bummed, but I knew I would get a chance to share it with my photo colleagues through the UPAA competition. Also, don’t be surprised if a reshoot of the photo is entered in an upcoming competition. Healthy competition is a catalyst to taking that extra picture, pushing boundaries, and getting inspired.

And lastly, if you weren't a photographer, what would your alternate career be?

If I weren’t a photographer I would enjoy being a teacher.