The Purple Buffalo

February 26, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

A couple of months ago, I was visiting Buffalo Gap and happened by a little row of shops and restaurants I’d never visited. I was in a hurry and so I took a few photos of the outside and moved on, making a mental note to come back soon.

One of the shops was called The Purple Buffalo, and after doing some digging, I learned that it was an antique shop that specialized in homemade stained glass. I was working on a project at the time and thought this might fit in nicely. So I called the owner, Jonnette Speegle, and made arrangements to photograph the interior.

When I arrived, I immediately saw that the interior was overflowing with character and the charm of another era. So the first order of business was to not lose the warmth and character of the way the shop felt.

First decision: ambient light. The shop had mixed lighting. There were a number of little tungsten (incandescent) lamps around the shop, but overhead were some bare bulb compact fluorescent lamps. When you have both, if you have a choice, pick one and nix the other. I will nearly always nix the fluorescents if I have a choice. It’s just too hard (impossible) to balance for both, so I asked the owner if we could turn off the overhead fluorescents. No problem. Now, apart from some daylight bleeding in from the windows in the back, I had something I could work with.

It would be tempting to shift the camera to a tungsten white balance to match the lamps, but that would have shifted the look of the lamps to a neutral daylight and killed a lot of the warmth of the shop. Not the look I was going for. So I kept the camera in auto white balance, which did a fairly good job of holding things together.

I decided on f/11 to retain detail front to back, and I dialed in -1 exposure compensation on the camera, because I knew the camera would respond to all that darkness by overexposing it. In aperture priority, I ended up with a 1-second exposure. Here’s one of the first shots with the fluorescents turned off and the camera in auto white balance.

Pretty nice, but there’s a big dark blob in the back of the shop, and I know what’s back there. There’s a couple of banks of antique, wooden post office boxes, from the interior of an old post office. They were gorgeous, and added immensely to the feel of the place. But they were swallowed up in darkness. No good. Time to add some light.

So I placed a speedlight in the back to the right of the counter, and aimed it obliquely toward the mailboxes, feathered out slightly so as not to be too harsh. I dialed in -2/3 exposure compensation on the flash, which, when added to the -1 EV on the camera, meant that the flash was running at -1 2/3. I didn’t want to nuke those mailboxes, just wanted to make them visible. Here’s the result:

Not too bad. That little flash did more than just illuminate the mailboxes. It brightened that whole back corner nicely. I tweaked things around a bit more, deciding ultimately that the whole exposure needed to be brought up a bit. I also moved the tripod around and so forth, and ended up here:

Pretty nice. After I was finished, I took a portrait of Jonnette to finish the job. Just a simple umbrella, high and camera right, to bring some soft light to her face.

If you’re ever in Buffalo Gap, Texas, be sure to stop by The Purple Buffalo. Besides being a really neat place with lots of fantastic stuff, Jonnette and her husband Jay are great people with some incredible stories to tell. I guarantee you won’t regret it.



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