A Day at the MBTA

Posted by on Jan 17, 2013 in Photography, Photography Illustration

This poster is part of a Suffolk University campaign that appears in 3 different sizes throughout subway cars in Boston. One of the challenges when shooting for an assignment like this is to shoot to accommodate multiple sizes and uses, and often, the vision doesn’t smoothly fit reality.


We had a plan. We were given access to a subway car that was in an MBTA repair facility enjoying a little TLC after 2.5 million miles. All the lights were working, but we still used 2 flashes and a relatively long exposure to get a combination of movement and definition. We shot tethered to a laptop so we could quickly view the image to see how it fit into the designer’s layout on the computer. Because the composition was critical to the elements that were added later we locked in the camera’s position by shooting from a tripod.

Many times you may have a great looking image, but when you try to use it in an ad, or in this case a poster, the image will present problems in some way. Knowing up front how an image will be used can really help in creating as much as possible in camera. Here it was important to make sure we had the subway car and people in an area that would permit us to later compose in a hand and cell phone, so being able to review on the computer was essential.

We adjusted the 2 flashes—1 behind camera and 1 outside the car pointing in from the right and experimented with shutter speed to get the blur. A slow shutter speed creates blur from any movement while the flash creates detail by freezing the action. While this process was taking place we also worked with the models by adjusting their placement, wardrobe, and accessories to get the best composition. Again, using the laptop to see how the image looked in the layout. Once we were ready we shot a bunch of images, instructing the models to add movement. This movement created a basis of motion and blur that was enhanced and augmented in Photoshop. Setup time was about an hour. Final 43 rough images were done in 3 minutes. Following is the final image we used.


In the following image you can see we have added to the bottom, the left and the right. This was done to create enough image to handle the multiple sizes. Motion blur has been added to augment the original motion. We were somewhat limited with what was going on in the ceiling—lights, support rods, access panels. With a combination of lightening, blurring, and editing out some elements we can simplify this area without it appearing “retouched”.


Suffolk University also wanted to expand their image library. Since we had the use of the subway car for 3 hours we shot a range of hand held closeups and some setups with passengers moving into and off the subway car. Although these images (view samples following) were not used for our main purpose, the posters, we were able to utilize our time to maximum benefit of the client.


We still needed to shoot the hand and the phone plus imagery for another poster. This shoot was all done on a separate day. We created a mini studio in a conference room at the university using seamless paper, 1 flash softened, and a reflector. We shot so we had a good exposure for the hand and separate exposures for the phone and phone face for insurance. We stabilized the model’s hand by giving her a resting spot so she could hold the pose. Once in position I shot from a tripod so I could repeat the same position. All this for safety which actually came in handy. Following are final images used.


The face of the phone needed to be adjusted removing unwanted elements to accommodate and place focus on the Suffolk url. The hand looked great in its main exposure and the shadow it created on the phone face was perfect. I ended up using elements from a number of images so it made life a lot easier when they were reasonably lined up to each other.



  1. Rob
    January 17, 2013

    Cool! Nice work.

  2. Frank Quimby
    January 17, 2013

    Great photography and PhotoShop work Al!!!! You are, indeed, a PhotoShop Guru. This sure does help your clients realize how much time and money you save them with your techniques.
    Hope you can show this to my class this semester.

  3. Terasa Marshall
    January 17, 2013

    Thanks for sharing your process. The final poster is great! It is very interesting to read the blogs of your work.

  4. Sandi Rygiel
    January 17, 2013

    This is fascinating! Always good to be reminded just how INVOLVED a photo shoot can be! Your explanation was invaluable. Hope you get to use this as a teaching tool.

  5. John Winson
    January 17, 2013

    Very cool. Both what you did, and all the explanation. All that and blogging too!