Photographing Theo Jansen

3 07 2009

A phone call out of the blue yesterday saw me being asked to go and take some photographs of Theo Jansen in the Quarry in Shrewsbury for the Shift-Time Festival’s PR agency, my very first ‘proper job’ so the pressure was on to produce what they wanted.

Theo arrived in the country the day before so that he could unpack, set up and test his creation, Umerus. A quite amazing feat of engineering that sees the 13 metre ‘Strandbeest’ fluidly walk with wind assistance. Earlier tests on a beach in Holland were thwarted when the wind was simply too strong, so a beautifully hot and sunny day was perfect for the day’s testing. Officially, the photo shoot was today (Friday) but having heard the poor weather forecast I decided to go up and meet Theo and get some photographs ‘in the bag’ just in case I was presented with torrential rain. So, Lorna and I hot footed it up to Shrewsbury and went to meet Theo. When we arrived he was due to be speaking to BBC Radio Shropshire so we hung back and took the time too have a close up look at Umerus and have a chat to his co-workers, it also gave me the opportunity to get my camera ready.

Theo Jansen Talks to the BBC

Theo Jansen Talks to the BBC

All seemed fine until I turned on the camera and then it very quickly occurred to me that I had forgotten to bring a memory card…….what a base error to make, maybe thats why I am an amateur 🙂 Luckily, a friend was there too and very kindly lent me a card. Panic over I did a quick scout around looking at the light and the environment and trying to get a feel for the kind of shot I wanted.

When Theo had finished I introduced myself and explained why I was there a day early. What a nice friendly chap Theo is, very warm and soft but in a frame that excudes authority. Within minutes he was posing for me with utter patience as I manouvered Lorna around the scene with the off camera flash. My feeling for the photo was to have quite a dramatic shot with Theo posed with a ‘smug’ impression. I asked him to fold his arms, look right into the camera and say mentally ‘I made this!’

Theo Jansen and Umerus

Theo Jansen and Umerus

I used a circular polariser to give the rich and vibrant sky, off camera flash camera right (held about head height by my wife) to fill in the shadow areas a touch. This was the best of the day for me despite the car in the background! Another of my favorites is this shot which shows some of the detail of Umerus against the beautifully blue sky.

Umerus Detail

Umerus Detail

This morning on the ‘official’ photoshoot the weather delivered as promised and though it wasn’t torrentail rain, it was raining pretty consistently. The skies were varying between dark and light so I knew I had a bit of a job on to balance the exposures. I arrived at the park at 10.30 and just after that I met the contact I had from the PR agency. We had a chat about what kind of shots she wanted, angles, subjects etc and then decided that to get anything decent we needed Umerus to be off its temporary wooden floor and on the grass. Having met and photographed Theo the day before I had no qualms about asking him to get Unerus on the grass. As I expected he obliged without question so I certainly think my previous visit paid dividends.

Walking Umerus onto the grass

Walking Umerus onto the grass

We had decided that a few photographs of Umerus with children would give the creation some scale, so as some willing parents and children were rounded up I thought about angles, light and those damn clouds that were varying in brightness by the second. Soon enough a willing parent arrived with his three children so I set the following shot up with the child looking up at Umerus. This was lit with the diffused flash camera left pointed at the subject.

Childs Play?

Childs Play?

I really wanted to get Theo in front of Umerus again but this time with more of the ‘Strandbeest’ showing than in the previous photo above. So after clearing another photographer out of the way and positioning Theo I was quite happy to hear Theo ask if I wanted him to do the ‘smug pose’ again. This was music to my ears as  I knew that he knew precisely what I wanted.

Theo and Umerus

Theo and Umerus

I took around 70 photos over the two days and selected only the ones that I felt had compositional impact, good light and good colours.

Despite my initial nerves on doing something ‘officially’ for the first time I soon settled down and got on with the job in hand, I struggled a bit with some of the shots that I wanted to get but this was probably more down to my inexperience in this kind of photography than anything else. There was a point where it was suggested that we have a couple of dogs in the picture but I poo pooed that idea fairly quickly, difficult enough working with kids without introducing animals into the equation.

Nerve wracking, stressful and highly enjoyable and I think that I managed to get some decent photos out of the sessions, I’ll wait and see if any get used in the papers this weekend……..keep your eyes peeled!

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7 responses

3 07 2009
Pete Tiley

Great result and well thought out Steve. Thank the lord for the blue skies as that helps tie all the colours together nicely. Well done mate.

3 07 2009
jasondale

Well done Steve, some great shots and poses worthy of any magazine.

7 07 2009
andy bubble

hey steve, top man with the pictures. superb.. keep it up. looking like a pro already.. see you soon mate

7 07 2009
Steve Green

Cheers Andy, still very much the amateur but working on it 😉

13 08 2009
nezza

At least you didn’t do what a certain Mr Ashton did and forget the camera. :o)

13 08 2009
nezza

lol – i always forget I can’t do my normal smileys on here. 😛

2 10 2010
debanan sasmal ,india

Dear Theo Jansen

Wishes you all the best.

debanan,india

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