I’m certainly at work on something here, and for EclecticPond, nonetheless. What oh what could I be doing with a giant now-blue door and a theatre company? Other than, if my count is correct, my 60th extant oil painting. What oh what indeed. Stay tuned, and keep your eyes on the Twitter hashtag #ETCMcB.
I’m not shy about admitting I’m a huge proponent of post production. Sure, getting a photo as close to right as you can in camera is important, but I’d say at best a straight-out-of-camera image can only ever realize 70% of its true potential. The difference between an OK photo and a great photo is usually found in pushing the right sliders. And, because the original goal of this blog was to show the secretive invisible work behind making art, here’s a side-by-side of a test shot for my upcoming blur screen project showing the photo as rendered from raw by LR, and the final develop decisions for the series. Bit of a difference.
The props for two more This Is Not A Painting pieces are done and I’m scheduling with people to shoot the final pieces for them, so, stay tuned. These two are “The Title of This Piece Is Derived From My Whims” and “It May Be Confused But I Can Still Spell It.”
So, recently I had one of those super-awesome opportunities that are so prone to giving me impostor-syndrome: thanks to my ETC peeps I ended up helping the Indianapolis Repertory Theatre out by shooting their annual fund-raising Radio Show. I guess shooting it fell off their usual guy’s radar, so, I was helping them out at as a last-minute fill-in. But really, given that the Radio Show is a fun little night of local celebrities and Indy big whigs, it was really them doing me a solid.
I knew going in I was going to have to grab a photo for a cast of 30, and in a hurry at that. Not an easy task under normal circumstances, and in an unfamiliar place and with a time-crunch I thought it was a good excuse to finally try the epic 86″ version of my beloved parabolic umbrella. The 64″ extreme silver I have has served me well for years now, and with a diffuser cap on it did an admirable job shooting the much smaller cast for ETC’s “Shakespeare Wrote What?” last summer.
64″ Extreme Silver PLM with diffuser about 20′ from cast on top of a metal stair ladder.
Since the medium PLM did such a good job with a small cast, I figured the larger version with the softer silver would probably be a good choice with a larger cast. So, I dragged it out to the IRT, and set-it up a good distance from the stage and about as high as I could get it:
Actually, I got it a bit higher than this, and reduced the angle a bit in the end.
And, sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. Because of the rush I had it slightly off center, so, I had about a 1 stop gradient across the frame, but nothing LR couldn’t handle in post. The shadows cast by the umbrella were, for the context, just perfect. Hard enough for definition, soft enough to be pleasant still.
Can you guess who everyone is? I sure couldn’t.
It wasn’t until the actual performance I learned who the cast was for the evening. The sudden realization that you just took a picture of the CEO of Lily and his wife, one half of the infamous Bob and Tom radio show, one of the newer member of the Colts, and a bunch of other People who are People To Know is a bit of a terrifying rush, let me just say.
But boy, a lot of people made it out to see them (and, you know, to help the IRT raise money for little things like underwriting tickets and transportation costs so students can see more live theatre).
After an hour or so running around through two packed floors of guests and cast mingling (shot with a Fong Cloudsphere, love those things), it was back into the main theatre to catch the Radio Show on the One America Main Stage. It was a delightful “parody” of Downton Abbey (“Downtown Abbey”), with lots of good cracks at Indianapolis foibles and follies. Fun was had, and quite a deal of money was raised very quickly to help underwrite those student tickets. I was glad to be there for it, and glad to see how strong the theatre patronage in Indy really is.
And, boy, am I glad with work like this I made the jump those years ago to a D700. Everyone assumes the problem with working in theatres like this is the dark, but you know, very rarely did I have to go above ISO 3200 (thanks in part to the awesome new Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 VC I was giving a spin). The real problem with theatres is actually the light in the dark, if that makes sense. It’s the stage lights, which aren’t by themselves technically bright, but they are much, much brighter than the dark without them, creating a pretty big EV range to try to capture. And the dirty secret of high ISO too few people think about is that as ISO increases, dynamic range decreases. So, the trick of shooting these conditions isn’t to just ramp up the ISO and call it a day. If you do that, you end up either only having the highlights exposed and just massive stretches of pure black blah, or else you get the shadows but your highlights are too blown to recover. The D700 has much better headroom for highlights in RAW than my E-3 ever did, and that’s made shooting like this possible. I usually try to split the difference these days, where the shadows are a bit dark and the highlights slightly blown then I fix them in post to have something that looks more, well, natural than a pure “in the camera” process could ever give me.
Shooting theatre is fun, but it’s definitely got its own flow. Most of your attention has to be on the performance itself, trying to watch the actors, how they behave, who does interesting things, and trying to predict where the action is going to move on you. So, you don’t have a lot of time for focusing on the technical. Which, thanks to the decreased DR of the higher ISOs you need but the expanded range of the actual scene thanks to the stage lights means you have to take a lot of shortcuts. The big one is that I only use stabilized lenses, both tele and wide/standard, when I shoot like this. Sure, stabilization doesn’t compensate for actors moving, but at slower speeds like 1/50 it sure does take out a lot of the slop my own shakey hands would otherwise be introducing to the mix. Speak of 1/50, that’s about as slow as I care to go shooting theatre. Slower than that and you get too much blur too often. It’s nice to go faster when you can, but, once it requires raising the ISO the lack of blur is compromised by further compressed dynamic range, so, I prefer to err on the side of motion blur. So, what little time I do have to devote to the technical mostly goes to constantly fiddling the shutter up and down a few stops to compensate for the rapidly changing (and meter-baffling) stage lights.
With handshake blur canceled by stabilization, you’d be surprised what’ll come out sharp even at slower shutter speeds.
All-in-all, I shot well over a thousand frames at the Radio Show. Mostly because, heck, I was having fun. It was a cool event, and one I was glad to be present for–even if I was technically working it. And, hey, the gal handling the audience cue cards totally rocked it with the best dress in the house and green hair. Take that, things.
Sure, you might’ve missed out on owning quite a few of my paintings, including a few rather popular ones. But, surely it’ll be comforting then to know I’m already back to work making new ones you’ll someday be able to pick from instead. Like this, the as-of-yet untitled third painting in my Scenes From Antropolis series. And, if you’re not sure you’re the sort of person who wants a painting of a girl in a bikini in a car with a gimp picking up a squirrel hooker from an oppossum madame… well, then I’m not sure we can be bestest of friends….
I have today sold an eleventh total piece as a result of my Life In Flux show, and I wish “Albert Speer” happiness with the lovely couple who now own it. You may all mentally extend them your jealousy for their totally excellent choice in paintings, and cry a single sad tear that you now won’t be able to own this one yourselves.
But, never fear, I should have a new post going up after this one in about 5… 4… 3… 2…
Whew. Just took down my show at New Day Meadery today, and what a show it was. In addition to picking up a fiancée from the deal, I sold eight (can I count? I think not) pieces at the show, with another two pending. So, I dedicate this brief post to the faithful works that have found themselves better, more different homes to live in now. If you’re reading this and recognize yourself as one of the happy owners I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting, drop me a line. I love meeting the people who collect my stuff. They’re easier to market to ;) But seriously, I’d like to tell you thanks myself for your purchase. Hit me up.
I don’t honestly remember when I met Megan the first time. Certainly it was back in the booze-soaked, couch-surfing days at the end of the Grimey Studios. Almost certainly at a party, because that’s what we did. She was Liz’s friend from the bio department, and in that context I’ve known Megan (or, at least, of her) for quite a few years now.
But, for the past two, she’s been a considerably larger part of my life. What started as an interest finally pursued after Liz’s wedding rapidly became her practically living at my apartment. Then it was actually living there. Then there were cats. Total elapsed time? A few months, tops. It happened fast, when it finally happened. Which isn’t really the interesting part. I’ve done fast before. I went from never being kissed to losing my virginity in three days, fast isn’t new.
What was new was the way everything immediately felt familiar and comfortable. A few weeks felt more like having known her a month, and rapidly we began to joke that each next month was like having been together another year. We watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, and I made cavatappi and meatballs. We went for walks in the various parks nearby, and drank coffee.
Over the course of the next 23 months, we’d deal with everything you could ask a couple to. After dating for four months, we had to drive Megan out to Texas on a broke budget so she could do some field research. She was gone all summer. We used video chat a lot.
We’ve dealt with unemployment, and moving to a new apartment. The death of a cat. Getting her first full-time job in her field. Me joining EclecticPond, and the time commitment that came with that. More field research, more weekends away. A vacation to New Orleans where my car died in Meridian, Mississippi some nine hours from home.
It was in her second field season, actually, that I realized I wasn’t bothered by the notion of marrying Megan. It took me only a drive home to decide how I would like to propose, and three months to pull it off. If I, as legendarily vocal about the nature of marriage as I am, was going to get engaged, I wanted my friends to witness it. I wanted them to be a part, and I wanted it to be a very public affirmation. I was going to need an excuse to have a lot of people around.
So I did what it is I do best. I put on a show, and was able to use it as my excuse for all my planning, worrying, and guests. Jennifer Spurgin got me a connection with Tia, who runs New Day Meadery in Fountain Square. She loved my idea and just happened to have a spare two weeks at the end of November following an auction I could use. Then the auction canceled and my little smokescreen became a full-fledged First Friday show.
Photo by Jennifer & Chris Spurgin
I made it a retrospective, and hung thirty pieces. One for each year of my life. On the sly, I painted a thirty-first piece, the culmination to my green man series. Halfway into the show, I unveiled it. Thanks to a bit of fussing by Nick, the ring was on it. And, to end my speech, I showed everyone what I really meant by life in flux.
Photo by Jennifer & Chris Spurgin
Fortunately, she said yes. Thank you, Megan,for deciding to commit your life to me. I love you so much. Here’s to the next thirty years, and the next thirty after that.
Photo by Jennifer & Chris Spurgin
Thanks to the joys of the modern world, you can watch the thing itself right here, if you’re into that.