I was recently hired to do an on location session for a Seattle Theatre company which needed publicity photographs for “Assassins” which is a play about those who have attempted or succeeded in the assassinations of US Presidents. My primary questions whenever a client asks for imagery is always “What is the mood I’m to create?” In this case the client’s response was “gritty and dark.”
Getting ready for the group shot.There are always a ton of restrictions when shooting for a client. In this particular case I had two hours to shoot six different scenarios with the talent, the money shot they were seeking was a group photo of all the assassins. This calculates out to 20 minutes per person which would include the group shot. The second restriction is where I was to conduct all of the sessions, which was the alley just behind the theatre. Moving the talent/hair/makeup/wardrobe further than the location just adjacent to the theatre was out of the question based on time and expense.
I had been through the alley on many occasions, but determining different locations in the same 300 foot space is not an easy task. I knew that I wanted to add atmosphere to the environment so I inquired about using the theatre’s smoke machine. Due to union rules I could not use their unit so I checked my own smoke machine in airline checked luggage. In addition I knew that creating the look of differing areas would require me to use a light gobo which I have fabricated to use with my strobes. The final element is I wanted each shot to appear as if it were nighttime or the inside of a building. My time slots for each shot was just past mid day so using various ND filters would solve the problem of high ambient light.
In my world that isn’t a reality. One assistant and only hours to scout a location is my normal operation. I walked the alley the night before the shoot to determine how it actually looks in the evening. I don’t use a large assistant group and in this case I only had the evening before to scout the location and determine what gear I needed and where it would be lit. I often marvel at BTS videos of other photographers who have the luxury of four to 10 assistants and days to scout locations.
For all of these shots I used a variety of light modifiers including my fabricated gobo modifier for patterns and some PCB PLM parabolic umbrellas. I avoided diffused light through scrims as I wanted a harder more specular look for the images. All of the images were shot with a Pentax 645Z and the strobes used are my go to PCB Einsteins.
Going over the mood of the shot with Laura.
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme Coned strobe with barn doors camera left 3 feet away from wall to create deep shadows.
Giuseppe Zangara Jail gobo used with Einstein strobe camera right. I wanted him to appear as if he is a jail cell reading the headline of his crime.
John Wilkes Booth Key light camera right using the PCB PLM 64″ Extreme Silver parabolic umbrella. Smoke machine pointed toward the wall and fanned with cardboard to create the pattern of smoke.
I’ve always been a huge proponent of learning via hands on and have advocated to many on forums or to aspiring photographers to find a mentor. One of the very best ways to learn the craft of photography is to assist a photographer as their assistant.
This is much more difficult than it sounds and for anyone who has reached out to commercial shooters to offer ‘assistance’ you may or may not have encountered resistance and in some cases even reluctance when you’ve offered help. Having been on both sides of the ‘offering’ and the ‘recipient of offers’ I wanted to explain some of my concerns and what I look for in any potential assistant.
This applies primarily to non paid of ‘volunteer’ assistants. Professional paid assistants are invaluable and there is a reason why they can command hi day rates. It’s also very common for me to ask for references from paid pro assistants and meet with them prior to considering them for any session. More on why later….
As I wait for the Godox AD600BM remote head I fabricated a focusing rod for my Westcott Zeppelins. The AD360 fills the modifier well.
I know that the most popular use for the AD360s will be as key lights for portraits. But I was recently asked to do an environmental portrait of an owner/chef in his diner. The time of day was very specific and I could not pick what I thought was the optimum time of day to conduct the session. At the time of the shoot, the sun was almost directly overhead of his establishment and the table I wanted to shoot him at was shaded. So I opted to use one AD360 paired with a Westcott Rapidbox Octa 36″ shot through the window to recreate window light. Each of his windows have awnings over them which shaded the actual window light more.