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Life Before Photoshop: Merit Cigarettes

Look ma, no Photoshop!

Look ma, no Photoshop!

I love writing posts for “Life Before Photoshop” as it continues to get a lot of feedback from fellow photographers that up to this point are convinced digital photography and Photoshop go hand in hand. Somewhat reminiscent to a symbiotic relationship where one hand scratches the other; the result being a photo that could not have been created  without post processing.

After teaching with the online PPSOP school for the past three years, and taking my “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” workshops around the planet I have come to the conclusion that most of the lovers of photography were either born or became interested after the advent of the digital age, and can’t fathom the idea of actually creating photos “in the camera”.

I’m very lucky in a way because I’m not a product of: Dynamic Range, HDR, WB, Histograms, Masking, Lightroom, AF, Photoshop, and any other knob, dial, selector, mode, and who know what else I’ve forgotten to mention or just blocked out of my mind.  Now I’m not suggesting that these won’t help you, because they will and I do use Photoshop to some degree all the time. I’m talking about those photographers that think you have to know and use all the terms I just mentioned. Especially those photographers that are either scared to take the “Baraban Challenge” of creating photos in the camera, or two lazy to try to create said photos and prefer to wait until they’re back home in front of a computer. After all, why use up all that energy in moving over to the right to create a better composition when you can just crop later.

So sad.


No Photoshop here either!

No Photoshop here either!

Years ago, cigarette advertising was the big thing in advertising photography, and if you could latch on to one of the many campaigns, you would not only travel around the world first class, but make a hell of a lot of money in the process.

For a year, I worked on the Merit Cigarette account out of Chicago and we traveled around the world shooting pictures of small freighters in action that would eventually wind up on billboards around the country. Besides shooting these vessels, we also traveled with a professional model that was designated as the Captain. Part of the campaign was to show this man doing what was referred to as the “light-up”. This smaller photo was placed in the corner of the larger photo of the freighter. From Europe, to the United States, down to Puerto Rico, and South America, we searched for just the right kind of ship.

In order to create the “light-up” in the photo of the captain, My assistant took apart a small Vivitar flash. The kind that went on top of the camera. He took out the flash element and rewired it back to the main unit, only with a lot more wire. We taped it to the palm of the captains hand and ran the wire down his sleeve to where we had the rest of the flash. I positioned myself as close as the minimum distance from the 300mm F/2.8 lens so I could compress him against the sky and give the look created by a long lens. I also didn’t want anything else in focus.

I had a remote synch cord with a slave attached so that when I fired the camera, the tiny element hidden in his cupped hands would fire. I couldn’t use a real match because there wouldn’t be a bright enough light coming from either a match or lighter, I wouldn’t have enough time to shoot, and I couldn’t control the different exposures from the background and his face.

By using a flash I could make the sky as dark as I wanted. I just took a reading of his face and the background separately and made the exposure based on the light from the flash. I could increase the power on the flash, underexpose it and create the effect I wanted in the sky. As you can see in the production photo, It was late afternoon but still fairly bright.

Those were the days when the challenge of creating the photo in the camera was a lot more fun than sitting in front of a computer to get the same results. I’d much rather be a good photographer than a good computer artist.

Visit my website at: www.joebaraban.com and check out my workshop schedule at the top of this blog. I’ll be back at the Santa Fe Workshop this year starting July 17th, and beginning July 28th, I’ll be at the Maine Media Workshop for my 18th year. Come shoot with me and have some fun!!!

Don’t forget to send me a question and photo to: AskJoeB@gmail.com. You can get the information at the top of this blog.


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    { 2 comments… add one }
    • Valeriano June 13, 2013, 4:59 pm

      Looks like it was shot in ambient light! Incredible. How do you get such a moody color cast with the flash?
      Amazing portraiture. Did you shoot this back in the ’80s? 

      • Joe June 14, 2013, 12:34 pm


        It was shot in available light. I put a small piece of CT ( a gelled piece of acetate) over the flash. It comes in a variety of color temperatures.

        Yes, this was shot way back then before the digital era and all the “baggage” that came with it!!!


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