When I first started photo school at Atlanta's Portfolio Center, just after leaving the service, I and my fellow students were under the impression that we'd immediately be taught how to create images using strobes, in a big studio, with models, stylists, hair and makeup artists, props, assistants, and all the other trappings of a large studio operation.
Needless to say we were a bit disappointed (at least I was...) when we were told to "get some empty paint cans, one by one posts, and some concrete." From this odd assemblage we made cheap but functional light stands. Since each of us was assigned a small booth about 12' x 15' in size, we didn't have room for lots of traditional light stands anyway, nor the money to afford them, truth be told.
From these rather humble beginnings, we learned that it's really not about the stuff, per se, but what you do with it in photography that counts. The paint can stands proved to be more than adequate for our needs, were cheap and easily replaceable, and fit the space provided admirably.
The following year, we went on a "field trip" to New York City, where one of our instructors had previously worked. Again, I was surprised to find that many commercial photography studios were rather drafty and cramped, with wooden floors, several stories up from the street. It was a revelation that some of the best photographers in the world also had to be realistic about what the could afford to pay for studio space, and that they "made do" with what they had.
I mention all of this in relation to the image above. It was made with one light, in the corner of a warehouse turned aircraft factory, on a hot and steamy summer day. I was sweating profusely, as I often do when the atmosphere is "clammy." I wanted to show the panel as it would appear in the aircraft, lit up with the various readouts on the flat screens. To do that, a solid connection to the overhead GPS satellites was required, which we couldn't get inside the warehouse.
What to do? The bench that the panel was built on had wheels, and Terry (the avionics technician) was smart enough to have rather lengthy leads on the attached antennas. We decided to wheel the bench over the large roll up door and placed the antennas outside, where a signal could be acquired. The door was then closed, the overhead lights in that portion of the warehouse were turned off, and Boom, instant studio!
A single large, diffused light source was placed high and just to the left of center. A large piece of black duvetyn (black fabric used in studios/movie productions, because it's fire retardant, and soaks up light) was placed under the panel to cut down on reflections from the table, and to hide the wires, battery, etc. in the background.
It was then a simple process to determine the proper exposure for the panel itself, and the extended exposure needed to "burn in" the screens. The strobe modeling light was turned off (so as to not affect the exposure/color temperature), and with the camera on a steady tripod, the shutter was tripped. This fired the strobe, which gave the overall exposure, and the shutter remained open for 1/15th of a second, to burn in the screens. The image was all one exposure, and required little in the way of retouching, aside from some dust.
Because we were in a darkened corner, no other light interfered with the exposure. In all, it took about 30 minutes to organize and execute. Could the screens have been shot separately and then placed into the panel? Yes, of course. But there are times when it is much more efficient and cost effective to use a bit of "old school" techniques to get the job done.
Such was the case here, as we had other images to create, within a limited time window. Sometimes simple is the best way to get a job done, and despite all the trappings one might otherwise yearn for, it often is the best solution to a photographic problem.