Jun 10, 2010

Things I did wrong on my last shoot, Vol. 2

... or, "How I Became a Muslin Extremist".

With a charity shoot, it's usually up to you to come up with the idea and see it through. And since nobody's paying the piper, you generally get to call the tune.

So make it a jam session..

On my last shoot, what was required was a pay-per-shot "photo booth" for a large party. I figured on some formal stuff and some crazy stuff. The perfect time to stretch out a little.

Last year at Lobsterfest, I kicked the tires on a 9' white seamless, complete with shiny tileboard on the floor. Pure Arias. Definitely a classy look, but—as it turns out—impractical on location. (You can read about that set-up here.)

This year, I decided to forgo the seamless headache, and try a black muslin—no flooring. Basically, the exact opposite of last year. 90% for practicality, 10% because I wanted to try something different.

[Special thanks to Headshots in Toronto, by the way, who donated the muslin and a floor stand for the weekend. Love these guys.]

Because I already knew the location, I didn't re-scout it. I cetainly should have, but there were no surprises. (Last year I got to compete with people crowding the line of an all-you-can-eat lobster buffet. It actually worked out pretty well, but I still have nightmares involving melted butter and a slippery tileboard. Hello liability insurance.)

The new space was better in many ways, slightly worse in others. I had a little alcove right by the main entrance; a cul-du-sac with zero chance of cross-traffic. It was about seven feet across, twenty feet deep, with tons of height.

  • Right by the entrance means people notice you and remember to drop by.
  • I'll take ceiling height over any other dimension. In this case, I had height to spare for a backdrop, plus a hairlight. Hell, I probably could have snuck a hammock up there.
  • A deep space means lots of distance between the b/g and the subject. Way awesome.
  • No width means no rim lights.
  • No width means no wide group group shots. I think that's actually a "pro", come to think of it.
  • No width means people are tripping over light stands and props on their way in.
A 24"x24" softbox (SB-800) was my key light. No problem there. I set it for TTL, since I knew the light-to-subject distance would vary depending on the number of people in the shot. I wanted the key close to people for two reasons: a larger apparent light source, and less illumination of the dark grey black muslin, due to fall-off. 

Getting it right in-camera is the way to avoid aneurisms in post—especially when you're talking about 300 frames or so when it's all over.

I wanted reasonable depth of field, so I shot at f/11. I bumped the ISO up to 400 to improve my recycle time on the strobes. and set shutter for 1/200, as I recall. After that, it was all up to the lighting.

Just like exposing white seamless for the brightest (usable) whites, when you use a black backdrop, the closer you can get it to pure black, the easier it is to burn it in post if it catches some reflection. Unlike white seamless, you cannot over-darken a background. There is no inverse to lens flare.

So, I shoot a grey card...

... then promptly forget to shoot any set-up shots. Argh. (I don't know where my brain goes when I'm on location. If I were shooting on the set of Iron Man 4, with Joe McNally holding the bounce card and Scarlett Johansson manning the wind machine, I would still probably forget to take a set-up shot. Tunnel-vision, anyone?)

After chimping, I bounce the key light with a Tri-Grip taped up on the right wall—again because of width limitations.

Not using rim lights was a drag, mostly because David Hobby had just whet my appetite the day before with this post. But I still needed separation light—lots of black suits and dresses to consider. That meant: speedlight... high, and to the back. I couldn't find a clamp, so I used a light stand at its highest reach, then dropped the muslin by about 6 inches to accommodate.

For lens flare,  I gobo'd the SB-800 with a Honl snoot, sitting up top like a baseball cap. I went back to my shooting location, and made sure I wasn't getting flare. 

This was the look for most of the shoot. I locked the stobe on Manual. If I did it again, I would try a Lumiquest softbox (or two!) to get more even coverage. (I'd probably back off on the nuke factor, too.)

For only a two-light shoot, I was happy with the results, but if I could go back and do it again, I'd bring along my ringflash to fill in those eyes.

Eyes. Eyes. Eyes. It's all about the eyes.

So what went wrong? Not much, actually. I could have used more separation light on the sides and a glint of ringflash would have iced the cake nicely. My full-length shots illustrate the need for a kicker on the floor, but I generally wasn't looking for full length, anyway. (I certainly wasn't cropping for it.) Having the guests bring along some props was a life-saver, too.

What went right? Almost everything.

Everyone had a blast, and the tickle-trunk let people get creative after their formal shots. The guests were nicely lubricated after dinner, and if you're ever looking to generate a little traffic, you could do worse than having a bunch of women, dressed to the nines, shreiking about who gets the samurai sword. We raised a whack of cash for our daycare, and I stuffed my business card in as many fists as possible.

Most importantly... I didn't have to pack a fracking 8'x4' tileboard into my Hyundai at the end of the night.

The full shoot is here.