Photographer Richard Stanton talks about capturing the journey of a barrel – from a roll of sheet metal to a pressure-tested spray-painted cask – which featured in edition four of Doghouse


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– Behind the scenes, with Richard Stanton –

I’ve worked with Doghouse for over 18 months now, and every shoot we undertake has always been enjoyable and varied, offering results – that once on the printed page – look great. Each edition has a key editorial feature within it – a brewery or a journey along a specific route visiting various pubs on the way for example – but for edition two we featured an in-depth article on one of the country’s leading beer cask manufacturers – Hereford Casks.

This offered all the potential of a diverse shoot, on location in the quiet backwaters of Herefordshire – and on a damp and cool Monday morning in late January 2013, Jon and I set off to capture each aspect of the barrel’s journey – from a sheet of aluminium to the completed barrel, as it was pressure-tested for leaks, cleaned and finally stamped with the brewery’s name that would use the barrel for their beer.

Working within industrial areas is always a challenge. Often lighting is limited – most certainly ambient light levels can be low at best, and certain work areas can be particularly dark. Industrial workshops (by the very nature of what they do) are often dirty, with sparks flying, grease & grime on every surface you touch, with fork lift trucks bombing about the factory floor and the ever present threat of liquids or spillages potentially being damaging to photographic kit. When working within such places you need eyes in the back of your head!

When working in such industrial areas I tend to keep the kit I use to a minimum – one small camera bag and the minimal amount of lighting kit unpacked at anyone time. It just makes everything that much easier to keep an eye on.

On this occasion I used three light stands, each with a Canon Speedlite (a ‘traditional’ camera flash gun) mounted on top, set in a hot shoe. The respective hot shoe was linked to a wireless radio transmitter, which in turn was fired (wirelessly) by a trigger mounted on the camera’s own hot shoe. An external battery pack plugged into the flash guns help with recycling times and greatly increases the number of flashes you’ll get prior to having to change the batteries. This is a lightweight and very workable way of adding light to images, without the need for larger monobloc flash heads to be used on this occasion, which would have required the need for cables to have been run around the place.

By cleverly locating the flash guns – something that comes with experience alone – you can light many areas of a subject and work efficiently & quickly using flash to enhance (as well as light) set ups without the hassle of large amounts of kit.

Thankfully the casks were reflective, being aluminum, and this helped in many areas, allowing light to be bounced around the subject’s area and reflect off the shiny surfaces.

When undertaking such a shoot it is hugely important to ‘pace’ the pictures. If you have too may taken on the same focal length or from the same height for example, once laid out on the page all the images will look too similar and the page just won’t work.

I try to mix detailed and busy shots with less detailed and busy shots. I also try to photograph people at work in different ways – framing them through the equipment or the product they are manufacturing for example. It’s good to add a few portraits too, as well as people moving around the factory floor – some were shot on a slower shutter speed to capture some movement blur.

It soon became clear that a theme of circles could help tie the entire shoot together.

Such shoots take a lot of time, and a large part of this time is in observing what people are doing, and only then trying to capture it – perhaps carefully restaging a movement or process, keeping it authentic, but watching what is happening in the background of the picture too. ‘Clutter’ can spoil a well composed shot.

I am always asking myself questions: ‘would this be better from a different angle?’ ‘Is that rail in the background going to catch the light and distract from the foreground?’ ‘Can I add another light to this image to raise the shadow detail?’

Attention to detail is key.

I always work together with Jon when on location like this. It is Jon who will be telling the story of the manufacturing process in his words, and it is my job to illustrate those words. Teamwork is important.

We often bounce ideas off one another too, and if a shot isn’t quite working we move on to the next and don’t worry too much about it – time is important when working on location and often experience tells you that a particular shot – that you discussed or envisaged – simply won’t work when you physically go ahead and try it.

With a vast number of images in the bag, a good three hour shoot in total, we left the premises.

I ran a tighter edit past Jon for him to look at and from this Jon chose enough images that would work on the page layouts. As the design came together, Jon asked for a few more images here and there to fill certain areas of the page and to swap around so that the ‘pace’ of the piece was right.

Having a diverse range of images available to edit from helps with this process. Like all great movies, not all the scenes, scenarios and set ups that I completed made the final cut of the printed page, but by having them available to swap in and out of the page design helps ensure that the best are chosen and work together as a final feature.

See below for the finished feature, as laid out in Doghouse magazine: