What a difference a few years can make. Ten years ago, Brooklyn-based photographer Robert Clark started a story for the Geographic on the beautifully and eerily preserved 2,000-year-old bodies unearthed from European peat bogs.
For various reasons the story was shelved before Rob was finished. Then last year, when a call went out for new archeology story ideas, Rob and photo editor Susan Welchman proposed returning to the subject to complete the coverage.
But something had changed. Rob’s lighting technique had improved so significantly since the original coverage, that it became clear, as he began shooting the additional bodies, that the older work would no longer fit aesthetically with the new.
“In the past I was using a broad soft light, when what was called for was actually focused hard light,” Rob explains. “The skin of the bodies was so dark that it was like trying to light onyx.”
So Rob went back and re-shot most of the original situations.
Rob used as many as ten individual strobes equipped with either directional grids or focusable irises. The photograph of “Clonycavan Man” was particularly challenging because it was in a glass box and could not be removed. Rob had to shoot down through the top panel of glass and then edge the lights around the body to avoid any reflections. “This shot took over six hours to get the lighting just right.” Rob said. The body is also laying on a sheet of glass which contributes to the effect of it floating in air. Watch the video, below, to see a time lapse montage of the various lighting adjustments Rob went through to achieve the final image.
Rob also noted that this kind of fine adjustments of the lights could not have been accomplished as easily without the use of digital cameras. He was able to review each subtle change of strobe position and intensity immediately so he could tweak to his satisfaction.
It is this pursuit of uncompromising perfection that is a hallmark of the best of the photographers that National Geographic magazine is so fortunate to be working with.
— David Griffin, Director of Photography