Friday, February 24, 2012

Back in the saddle


Hiatus. Apologies. Let’s get back to work…
I’ve made a bunch of lighting purchases low these many months, and I’ll be getting to the details of that soon. But for now let me talk about this week. As I’ve mentioned many, many times before; I’m a giant Zack Arias fanboy… so, earlier this week when he posted his walkthrough of shooting the CEO of Coke, it didn’t go un-noticed. What that line… “great artists steal”? Well, I may not have the “great” part down yet, but I figured I could handle the stealing part. More after the jump…

So – the short version… Zack has been shooting close portraits against pure white backgrounds. In his recent posting he was foolish enough to show a setup shot, and it’s easy to see that there isn’t much too it. Somewhere inside I’d like to think that – had I given it any real thought – it should have been easy to reverse-engineer. But looking at that single picture of his setup, I was hit with one of those “ah, ha!” moments. And later the next afternoon found myself wandering the hallways of my office building, looking for a clean white wall.
Of course, neither clean nor pure white are really necessary. You throw enough light at anything and it will go pure white. So, like in so many other situations, what I was looking for was room. Specifically somewhere with tall ceilings and no nearby walls. Nothing for the light to bounce off of, and contaminate the subject.
And as it just so happens, we have a space that fits that bill just about perfectly. It’s an access hallway that sits between the backstage of our main stage theatre and our scene shop. Both areas – the theatre and the shop – have these huge two story doors to allow for giant set pieces to be moved into place. So what you end up with is 20 by 20 foot area, with (guessing) 30 foot ceilings. I’d make it my apartment, but that might be weird.
About the only thing that made it less than perfect was the loading door for the scene shop. This was the door I wanted to use as my background (as it’s one giant door, as opposed to the theatre which is two, with a seem running down the middle). The door I wanted to use is painted this awful cooperate/industrial beige, and heavily scuff-marked. But, again, you just gotta throw enough light at that sucker, and the problems – literally– disappear.
In one sense I had plenty of room to work – certainly more than I’ve had on other, more important, shoots. But I didn’t have unlimited room. I would have liked to use my 80-200 for these portrait shots, but didn’t think I had the space. My 24-70 is a workhorse, but for portrait stuff it has a real tendency to distort. The just left my 50mm 1.8. The fifty it is, then.
I also knew that I wanted to shoot at a fairly tight aperture – f/8 for starters. That meant my flashes would have to kick out even more light, but wadda ya gonna do?  One SB800 on a short light stand pointed at the wall, set to 1/4th power about four feet away to give the light enough room to spread out. A second SB800 in my go-to 25” Wescott Apollo softbox, attached to a boom on a C-Stand. Initially I set that key light to ½ figuring…. well, I don’t know what I figuring. Turns out the key is going to be so close to the subject that I didn’t need the extra power – setting the key to 1/4th got the ratio pretty close.

Portrait setup
SB800 pointed at the background - another in the softbox.
All that was left was to start grabbing anyone that was foolish enough to walk by. Several hapless souls fell victim to me just grabbing them, sternly saying “stand here, look at me”. Then click, click, boom. Shot a bunch of people, never for more than a few frames. Less than 30 minutes after setting up, I was breaking down; a half-dozen portraits in the can.
A few notes about post processing. 90% of all the post was done in Lightroom (which was weird!). All I really had to do was clean up the edges of the background a little to get it uniformly pure-white. Add a little sharpening, increase the black levels, perhaps a little crop and spot. That’s it. Once I had a look I liked a copy & paste of the Develop settings cut my time down to nothing… save for obsessive tweaking. Once or twice I had a spot-removal situation that LR couldn’t handle, but that’s why god invented PS.







So the moral of this story? Stealing if fun.I’ve got more stuff in the pipeline… jobs and gear, and incessant rambelings. Stay tuned…

End of Line.

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