Jim Gets a Tatoo

My friend Jim retired from his job as assistant chief constable for East London and turned 50 so he decided, over his wife’s objections, to get a tatoo. I immediately asked if I could come and photograph the process. On Wednesday he came round for me and we went to the tatoo shop above the Atlantic Cafe in Bude. Jim already knew what he wanted – a yin and yang symbol on his upper bicept.

The shoot was a challenging one for me. The place is small, dark and crowded. I had to be certain not to bump into any of the clients or the artists as they worked. Also, space limited the angles and light I could use. I started taking trial shots while we waited because I was concerned about the ISO. Initially it seemed I could use 640; however, once Jim was in place it was clear that wouldn’t be enough so I bumped up to 1600.

There were other customers present in the limited space. One didn’t mind being photographed, but the other did so I had to take care to set up my shots accordingly.  One of the bigger challenges was managing clutter. I wanted to leave some in to give an idea of the space, but too much would mar the shot.


This shot was taken at f/16, 1/10s, ISO 1600 at 35mm with an 18-108mm lens. There were large windows behind me so the natural light augmented the rather poor artificial light.

What I like in this shot are the tatoos on the artist’s hands as they place the template on Jim’s shoulder.

I unually shoot on aperture priority; however, when I checked my shots, the focus was poor because the artist was moving so quickly so I switched to Speed priority and set the shutter at 250. This photo was taken at f/4, s 1/250 with an ISO of 2500. On previous shots I noticed noise. I had forgotten to set the noise reduction button so I set the normal one as well as the noise reduction for high ISO which solved the problem. I cropped this photo somewhat to focus in on Jim and the artist. Otherwise the general clutter of the studio detracted from the central image. As you can see, there is still plenty of clutter to give the shot atmosphere.

This isn’t the final product, but almost there. The artist rubbed some Vaseline on Jim’s arm, which added interesting texture and reflections. Also, I managed to get a dark background.

This shot was taken at f/5.3, s1/250, ISO 2500.

This was a really fun shoot for me. The technical challenges forced me to pull togetether the things I’ve been learning in the last few months. In particular, the use of ISO and the dangers of noise. I selected shutter priority speed of 250 from what I learned in my London Street Shoting workshop. 250 gave me enough speed to catch the artist’s motions without adding to the noise problem.

I don’t know what Jim’s wife had to say about the tatoo. Unfortunately, it was impossible to take a photo of her reaction. Too bad.




About idaswears

I left the U.S. for Cornwall 4 years ago. Since then I have spent my time writing, walking and studying the English. It's not always easy being a Yank in Cornwall, but it's always fun and rewarding.
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