Howdy gang! Thanks for stopping by! May has been a nice and busy month for me, shooting for both my business and personal work. The month started off with a rare opportunity to photograph the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. A world leader! Not just follow him around and document him, but literally light him, pose him, and of course take his portrait! Such an amazing honor and experience for me! That and being surrounded by the hundreds of U.S. Secret Service! So cool! However, that is a story for another time. If you’re interested, ask me later or when you see me.
As for this post, this one is all about my recent portrait shoot with director Snehal Desai, who is currently directing East West Players’ (EWP) “Tommy” by The Who, in Little Tokyo. EWP and Snehal contacted me because they needed photos of him for an upcoming article for the “Stage Directors and Choreographers Society” journal. They needed “action” photos of Snehal as well as portraits of him for the publication.
As a former stage actor and performer, I kinda, sorta, know my way around stages and stage lighting. So when I was asked to photograph Snehal, thankfully, our set was literally the stage at EWP, complete with (almost) any lights I wanted – so long as they were already part of the current production! Of course, I brought my own lighting, which was going to be used as the key, fill, and rim, but the EWP lights were just a happy bonus! Moral of the story – always bring your own lights!
My initial plan was to do three full set-ups, using no less than my Paul C. Buff Parabolic umbrella and a fill or two. Our first set was the stage complete with a staircase prop-piece that we were able to use and re-position for our shoot. Here’s what the set-up looked like with my para:
My plan was to have Snehal sit or stand on the staircase, and have my parabolic light him as the key. I added the diffusion panel to soften the light a bit (personal preference for this shoot). Here’s what it looked like after I set up my light(s):
AMAZING light huh?!!! Right out of the box!!! I literally hit it out of the park! Woo hoo!!!! [Packs up and leaves; not before dropping his mic].
Yup, this was what I got from the set-up above. Grade “C-” or even a “D”. Then again, my Einstein strobe inside my parabolic wasn’t set to what I really wanted, but I thought that I’d be getting a little bit more light than just this! Guess not. Nonetheless, this was an easy fix. I figured I’d meter the scene once I had Snehal in place, and my main/key light would be just fine.
The next thing I noticed was that most likely, we would lose Snehal’s shape due to the dark, unlit stair background. So, I decided to add a little hair/rim light at the very top of the stairs, clamped to a railing on the set. Here’s what it looked like:
With the addition of this hair/rim light, I knew that we could separate Snehal and give him some nice lighting to set him apart from the background. But wait! There’s more! I couldn’t just leave it solid white! It’s a theater for goodness sake! I added a purple gel to simulate the stage lighting surrounding him, and to give the photo a little pop of color:
These images are straight out of the camera BTW, with no processing. You can see how the purple gel adds the “flavor” of the photo now.
Put all these elements together, and voila! A perfect photo!!!! Woo hoo… wait… what the?!!! That’s right folks, still no cigar. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to turn on some of the existing stage lights (the light tower to the right of the above photo), and the LED strip to the top. Despite all this, I still have a deep shadow on the right of Snehal’s face.
Now, some people may like this contrasty look. Deep shadows to add drama to the shot. But as you can see, this wasn’t a mysterious, dramatic set-up. This was for a magazine, so we needed something a little brighter, and more lit. So what do you do when this happens? Add another light! That’s all! I don’t have a photo of it, but I added a bare strobe to camera left, on the floor pointing straight at Snehal to fill in those shadows. You can see the highlight from this strobe in Snehal’s eyes in the finished photos below. Here’s what I got:
Ta da!!! Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. I knew I could adjust that fill light to open up the shadows a bit more on the right side of Snehal’s face, so I was good to go from here.
So, from the first photo I showed you, to the previous one, I adjusted all my settings, got it to where I wanted them to be, and here’s what we made, working the “scene” a little:
Simple and easy right?!! All done within a matter of seconds! Yeah RIGHT! That’s why you arrive early to a session so you can work out the details before you bring in the talent. Thankfully I didn’t make Snehal wait too long as the entire set-up probably took about 15 minutes max. That’s what I get from all the weddings I’ve done – rush rush RUSH!!!
From there, I basically applied the same principles to my next set-up, Snehal in the audience. Here’s the BTS and one of the final photos:
Note the strobe in the background for fill/fim (used the same gel as last time), and my humongous PCB Parabolic camera left. (Excuse the iPhone photo of this BTS)
There you have it! Easy peasy. We worked this set-up for a short stint, and got some really great photos. I have to say that it’s easy to do your job when you have such great talent in front of you!
The last set-up we did was a headshot done outside the theater in open shade. Sure, open shade is fine and all, but when you go that extra step to make it a better photo, you get BETTER results. Here was our set-up:
Here’s the shot without my umbrella for fill/separation – okay, but kind of “blah” light wise:
Still works right? Even lighting, exposure works, but there’s really no “zing” to it. Sure, I could “photoshop” it, but only amateurs think that way, GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA!
Add the umbrella in the previous photo, direct your subject to “squinch” his eyes for dramatic effect, take the shot again, LIGHTLY touch it up in post, and you get THIS result instead:
Which photo would you choose?
There you have it folks! Another “anatomy of a shoot” post. Hope it helped you “see” better, and get an idea of how I light things. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or drop me a message, Facebook or otherwise.
A HUGE thanks to Snehal Desai, Kat Carrido, Andy Lowe, and East West Players for the opportunity. Great team = great results!
Have a great week, and thanks for stopping by again