I’ve known Rich Westley for around a decade now. Rich is one of the founder members of Reverend and the Makers. He was drummer with the band from 2005 to 2008, and we were both part of that ‘small world Sheffield’ scene. Since then, Rich has always followed my work and we’ve kept in touch. I’m a huge admirer of drummers and within that talent pool, Rich is a brilliant musician. He still plays in bands – International Teachers of Pop and Moonlandingz – and also runs a percussion school called Bang the Drums.
Reviewing pictures following a recent session with the band, we spotted a kind of strobe effect in a couple of the shots . The pictures reminded Rich of one of his childhood heroes, Gene Krupa. “I remember seeing an article in a drum magazine about Krupa,” he recalls. “There was a series of photographs of him playing a snare drum and that amazing effect created by multiple exposures.” The photographs Rich is referring to were taken by the legendary Gjon Mili. Back in the 1940s, he applied a similar experimental treatment in photographing prominent figures of that era. Pablo Picasso, Alfred Hitchcock, Sammy Davis Junior are amongst these iconic portraits. So…our mission. To see what we could do between us, with 21st century technology, to recreate the effect.
My normal Nikon flash didn’t offer the functionality we needed for repeat imagery so I did a bit of research and ordered a Nikon Speedlight SB-5000.
I experimented in my own studio with various settings. After some tweaks of timings, exposure and repeat flash frequency, I was really excited to see the strobe effect imagery beginning to emerge.
I headed over to Rich’s and together we got ourselves organised. We used a black-out curtain on the window with just a chink of sunlight so we could see what we were doing. I set up my Nikon D5 on the tripod with a 24-70 zoom and the speedlight connected. Rich stood behind the snare and I focused with the aid of a tungsten light, which was then turned off.
With the camera set at 100 ISO, I worked with an open aperture, varying settings between f/2.8 and f/4. I also varied the exposure length, between 0.5 and 2 seconds. The Speedlight was initially set to 5hz ie flashing 5 times a second but cranking up to 40hz things worked much better.
Rich started playing just the snare drum, initially with elbows out to accentuate the movement, then more naturally. Finally, he added in cymbals.
Reviewing as the session progressed was really fun. I love the moments when Rich looks directly down the lens; a point of stillness and engagement in all the frenetic movement. We also tried some shots from the side. Rich did some stick twirling and we had a look at what kind of effect overlaying the shots would achieve. Ultimately, the more arm movement in the playing, the more dynamic the shot sequence and the more the images dramatically fill the frame.
Following the shoot, I did some additional post production on the pictures, including a black and white treatment. We added several sequences of shots, in stop-frame photography style, to a short soundtrack of Rich playing. We’re both really pleased with what we’ve managed to achieve. Whether we’ve come anywhere close to those original Gjon Mili, Gene Krupa images you’ll have to judge for yourself. For us, the session was a success. I’m really happy to have added a new, creative technique to my professional bag of tricks and hoping I’ll be able to take it further.