I was recently commissioned to photograph a live/work space in Downtown LA for insanely talented tattoo artist Jun Cha. It was set up as a loft, with the living quarters upstairs, and his tattoo studio in the commercial space downstairs. The space was absolutely beautiful, and I’ve never quite seen a tattoo studio or parlor as elegant as this was - a gorgeously clean monochromatic space adorned with Greek mythological statues and replica busts of everyone from David to the Virgin Mary, classy leather-bound art books, Roman columns. It was stunning.
Cha's articulate attention to detail in his artwork transferred over to his borderline obsessive attention to every detail in this space. Hell, he even lay the tile down himself, a feat he made sure to remind me was NO small task. And this tile, this gorgeous black tile adorned with extremely contrasting white veins leading from one side of the room to the other, provided me with the biggest challenge of the space. The issue was that it was so highly reflective, and the overhead lights that were in the studio were so predominant, that if you looked at the floor, it was impossible not to see the reflections of these necessary lights.
Since the main point he understandably continued to hammer home was to ‘make sure to focus on and bring out the detail in the tiles, specifically the white veins,’ I had to figure out how I was going to do this. One thought was to shoot an exposure with the lights off, and one with the lights on, and then paint in the floor in a composite, but that seemed like much more work than it was worth, and the last thing I wanted to do was make it seem unnatural. There had to be a more organic way to do it. Then I thought maybe we’d dim the lights, so at least it would minimize the reflections, but that would still be distracting enough to take away from the focus of what he wanted the images to be…the white veins.
Immediately following the day that I scouted the location, I found myself on an impromptu trip to the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, specifically in Mammoth Lakes, Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows, and Mono Lake. I know, strange segway right? But this is where it hit me. Yes, Cha’s studio was in the concrete jungle of Downtown Los Angeles, and yes, where I found myself 24 hours later was the complete opposite of that, but I have a set of filters that I use in almost all landscape and outdoor shots, and one of the filters that gets the most action, which I happened to pull out for a sunset on a lake shot, is the circular polarizing filter. Why? well, it’s designed to minimize reflections, especially in water.
I had found my solution. For the first time in my photographic life, I was going to use the polarizing filter indoors for an architectural interior shoot. And I must say, it worked brilliantly. There were a few instances in which I had to clone out some particularly strong ceiling lights in post, but it was a mere fraction of the retouching job that would have lay ahead without those polarizers. The reflections were 90% gone, the tile was the star of the show, and, most importantly, the client was happy.
So yes, if you happen to be shooting real estate or architectural interiors, and the reflections get to be too much, taking away from the detail of the texture or design, whether it be in tile, or glass, or distressed concrete, or waxy hardwood floors or shiny metal surfaces, don’t be afraid to reach for that polarizer. It can save the day (and the shoot).