Living a dream as a photographer & filmmaker

Photoshoot at an abandoned hospital - Nikon D4 in the field

Nikon D4 field test: photoshoot at an abandoned hospital in Maryland, USA

I wasn't sure what to expect going to a location like an abandoned hospital in Maryland to do my first field test of the Nikon D4.  First, I haven't done a shoot with people for some time now; then there's the issue of photographing at an abandoned building.  It was starting to look like a challenge.

After finally receiving the D4 in June 2012 ( ordered it in January ), I was looking forward to field testing it. I wanted to find a unique location to use as a backdrop. A friend of mine checked out an abandoned Insane Asylum a few years back and told me about it, so I decided to find an abandoned hospital to put D4 to the field test.

Location Background

Initially I have found an abandoned power generation station not too far from where I live, but after doing some research I found out that the building has been demolished.  Too bad, because it was my Choice A location.  So, moving on to Location B - Henryton State Hospital.  I have spend a bit of time to research the location.  This is what I found out (in part on Wikipedia):
Henryton State Hospital is a now-closed hospital complex in Marriottsville, in southern Carroll County, Maryland, just across the Howard County line. The Henryton State Hospital center, or the Henryton Tuberculosis Sanatorium as it was called, was erected in 1922 by the Maryland Board of Mental Hygiene. It was established as a facility to treat African Americans suffering from tuberculosis. This was one of the first such facilities in Maryland erected to provide African Americans with the same level of treatment as whites.

Will not use tripod or speedlites - going to plan B

On the day of the shoot myself, my assistant, and two first-time models set out to find this hospital.  The location was easy to find, although the vehicular gate was closed, we parked the car and continued on foot.  The buildings were in bad shape with no windows, debris everywhere, peeling paint, and an eerie feeling.

My plan was to find one or two locations within the hospital complex, setup tripod, backlight flash, as well as key flash.  Going through the abandoned building gave me the unsettling feeling.  It was a feeling like you're being watched.  I didn't like that, but we were there, so we continued.

I realized that we'll have to move fast, taking a few shots at different locations within the hospital.  So the tripod never got setup.  I like using tripod for the simple purpose that it makes you slow down, think about the shots, plan things.

This was turning into run-and-gun shoot, which was fine, considering that I wanted to leave the place the second I got there.  I also decided to ditch the flashes and use available light, once again realizing that it was taking to long to setup, and I didn't want to be there any longer than I had to.  Oh, and did I mention that it was so freaking hot, I was sweating like a pig.

D4 becomes an extension of me

The models were tense as well; I think it showed throughout the whole shoot.  Usually, the model will be tense in the beginning, but then loosen up - that's when the photographer will get the best shots, usually towards the end of the shoot.

Now, the models being tense a bit might have been a good thing because this tension can be felt in the photographs, so considering the location and the whole background of the shoot, it seems ok to me.

I took just over 400 photos in couple of hours, shooting both inside the building and outside.  The light outside was harsh and direct, because it was mid-day - not the ideal conditions for the shoot.

The camera became my extension, I didn't have to think much about the settings, as it was second nature.  I concentrated on directing the models, with varying degree of success.  The camera performed really well, considering the high contrast situations I encountered.

After coming back, I processed the images in Camera Bag 2 on my Mac. Considering how fast the shoot went, the bad lighting conditions, models and myself being tense, this was a good shoot.

D4 low light / high ISO performance

Just as I expected the D4 performed so well in not-so-good lighting conditions. Low light performance as well as ISO performance were absolutely superb!

I was shooting with 50mm 1.4 Nikkor lens (great lens) most of the time, so that helped to get little bit more light on the sensor.  I was able to raise the ISO up to 6400 with no problems, although I mostly shot at 800 ISO.

Some images were a bit soft: could be because I've used the 50mm Nikkor lens fully opened at 1.4.  This lens is not the sharpest, especially at 1.4 setting.  It also could be that there was no sharpening applied to the images in camera, and I didn't do any in post.


Overall, the shoot went well.  The main point was to see how the D4 holds up in the field.  It did as advertised.  I love this camera.  Its built like a tank, it's fast and accurate, and it's a pleasure to use!

Bottom line - we had fun (sort of), and the D4 had its first field experience!


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