Never played much with these cinemagraphs, might try to take some more of Indy. They can be nice.
Bonus for having Kurt Vonnegut in the background, I feel.
Never played much with these cinemagraphs, might try to take some more of Indy. They can be nice.
Bonus for having Kurt Vonnegut in the background, I feel.
Around 1928 René Magritte painted a piece titled La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images), a famous picture of a pipe with an inscription in French: Ceci n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe). His point was a good one, possibly one on of the best ever made by a visual artist, and spoke to a common perception fallacy we engage in. A pipe is a real thing, an item with a certain character, size, and dimensionality. It is tangible. Magritte’s picture of the pipe was not a pipe, it was a picture. The fallacy is in our desire to label representations of things we recognize as if they were the things themselves.
And that was almost a century ago at this point. Since the introduction of color printing, the saturation of photography, and the invention and rise of the internet we have become even more exposed to mere representations of items. Pictures in books and magazines have long been substitutes for seeing the actual thing, be it an item, animal, or exotic place. And the prevalence of digital photography and ease of distribution via the internet has only accelerated that. If you want to see something, almost anything in the world, you can. Instantly. At least, that is, you can see an image of the thing. It is now the case that most things we will ever see in our lives are not the thing themselves, but rather the image of the thing. A flattened picture of it.
The art world does not escape this. It is impossible for an individual to see in person every piece of art that they can see in books and online. Many people will never fully understand the difference it makes to see an oil painting in person. Because paint is a different visual experience than a photograph, it has texture, and depth, and it can have layers built through the use of glazes and varnishes that provide a different experience in an environment where you can move and examine them from different perspectives.
But, by and large, we won’t encounter these actual items. We won’t hold the pipe. What we will see are the images. The pictures. The representations of the real item. And that means a handful of lucky few will have a completely different experience of any given work than the majority will, because they will have seen the thing and not merely the image. And, that’s not fair, is it?
In this series I seek to resolve the conflict that Magritte first brought up, and that the digital age has exacerbated. The image is not the thing. Unless, of course, you make it the thing. If the representation of the painting was not just a representation, but the piece itself. In this series, the painting is almost inconsequential as an object. it exists for the purpose of getting the photograph, and then it is no longer needed. To reduce confusion about this, the painting is even destroyed. Leaving only the image behind to examine, to show, and to share. Excepting for variances such as brightness, and monitor calibration, everyone gets what approximates the same image. It’s the same perspective. The texture has been flattened from only one vantage, and everyone examining it minutely will see the same details. The photograph is the piece, and the piece is not a painting.
Because, in this digital age, the painting was unnecessary anyway. It’s the image of it that matters. And in this case, the image is all there is left.
This first entry is called Aglets, and The Smell of Earth After Rain, and was shot at the abode of the lovely Nicholas and Moxie Henry. A video of the prop used to create this image being destroyed will be posted once I get a chance to cut it. Because, really, who doesn’t like seeing things get reduced to itty-bitty pieces? Boring people, that’s who. Besides, I want everyone to know I’m putting things on the line here. The photograph is the work of art, and I have not kept the painting somewhere. That would imply that there was value separate from the photograph remaining still in the painting. Seeing it destroyed is my way of proving to you that there is not. And, since most of you will have never seen any of my paintings in person, you’ll never know the difference anyway.
This is not a painting. It no longer needs to be.
You guys know the drill by now, right? My name is Zed Martinez. I drink way too much coffee. I’m a humanist at heart, even though I often have problems remembering it in practice. I will accept payment in fried pork tenderloin sandwiches. Occasionally I pretend to do art. And I shoot photos for EclecticPond Theatre Company (actually, with input and direction from their artistic director Thomas Cardwell I also do their design and website now, but that’s beside the point here.)
Actually, I shoot lots of photos for them. 2,872 in the past two years. I have headshots of 48 actors now. It’s safe to say a decent chunk of my artistic self is now expressed via the work I have done for (and now with) them. So, to reflect that, I have finally added them as a part of my formal artistic portfolio. Under Photo you’ll find a shiny new gallery called EclecticPond filled with but a scratch into the surface of what I’ve done with them. As always, more pictures will find their way onto 500px, but, at least now you can check out some of the best and strongest examples of what I do with them right here on ZmZ. Woo, right?
Updated 10:36pm June 25, 2013: Added additional BTS shot for Jeremy Grimmer’s shot
I hate mornings. Hate’em. Being awake in the morning means I’ve either interrupted or forgone entirely one of my favorite things in life: sleep. Not even the fact that it’s socially acceptable to drink an entire pot of coffee and swear under your breath during morning hours save them from my animosity. They’re a blight and a curse and if I had my way they’d just cease to exist.
So, when it panned out that my latest shoot for EclecticPond got scheduled at 9:30 (bad enough during the week, but unforgivable on a Sunday), I should have been a lot crankier about the whole thing than I was. I really should’ve been. But, I couldn’t bring myself to be anything but excited, due to the following instructions I’d received from Tom, the artistic director:
We need an image of each cast member looking suitably epic, but also entirely random – think bizarre fashion shoots, like you might see in magazines, to accompany interview features. Also group random epic image. So, clothing-wise, think formal-ish, with a hint of oddness… Hope these give you some ideas…
I like random fashion-ist-y shots. So much so that I’ve made a reputation off of it. But, even more than that, I’d seen where we were shooting– a massive props department full of the most random things. A spherical wire bird cage, a miniature statue of David, an actual rocking horse, a giant turkey on a sled, two boxes labeled “Tweed Trilbys,” a field scythe, rubber barbed wire, fake pies, you name it. It was a wonderland, and I had been asked to come play in it. I looked up from the email body to the headers to see who all was going to be in the shoot. My smile got bigger. I recognized most of the names: Kate Homan and Meagan Matlock from the company itself (and regulars in their imagery), Jeremy Grimmer who I’d recently shot for Much Ado About Nothing and who is quite animated, Scott Russell from Eloisa & Abelard (and who still shows up in my homepage images to this day), Michael Hosp from Dracula: The Panto… There was only one new name in the list, and instant recognition of it from Mr. Nick Henry assured me he’d fit right in with what I was expecting from the others.
Morning or not, it was destined to be a good shoot.
So, Sunday morning Megan and I woke up, dragged ourselves out of bed, packed up my gear and the new bluetooth stereo, filled some coffee mugs and hit the road. We got there a bit early and chatted with Tom for a bit before meeting our person and getting in. I put some music on for the first time at any ETC shoot, got the lights set-up, and Megan and I checked out cameras. I was shooting the company, and for once she was going to help out by shooting me shooting them instead of just being a voice-activated bounce reflector stand and grip. Tom and I grabbed some decorative columns and clamped a roll of ornate (read:tacky) fabric off of it to make the first of many backdrops we’d need. We were just getting everything finished up when the actors arrived, and then it was show-time.
Up first was the new guy, one Mr. Zachary Joyce. He looked at the collection of pre-approved props Tom and I had selected, and wisely chose the croquet set. If his beard and vest hadn’t endeared him to me, that decision would’ve. Croquet is one of my old-people games that I have a curious love for (the other, of course, being shuffleboard.) I positioned him in front of the impromptu background with a simple softbox+bounce set-up, and the day really got going.
The lighting for this one is one of my favorites for this style project. One softbox up and down, with its front diffuser pulled out so it gets just a bit more “edge” to the light. A large silver bounce is set up on the other side to throw back a little of the wasted light as some faint wrap fill without getting the modeling too even. My new flash is behind Zach with a Fong cloud diffuser and cap on it to serve as a background light. The cloth backdrop wouldn’t quite stay taught, which left some obvious folds in it when we tried some looser compositions:
So, in the end I just tightened the framing in, which lost the stake in the rear pocket but also really brought attention to the ridiculous lawn-polo look Zach was giving us. We had our first shot down.
Up next to bat was Mr. Michael Hosp, with a new, twirly villain mustache. And no pants. He picked up the cement-covered trowel and held it diagonally across his chest up to his shoulder. I shook my head. “Do it American Gothic style!” His arm snapped to attention and I had to stifle a giggle. Tom and I rolled out a new backdrop and then we were back to it.
The problem that immediately became apparent was that Michael is tall. Quite so. In fact, he was very nearly as tall as the backdrop Tom and I had made. The only way to keep his head inside the backdrop was to close the distance between him and it. Bye-bye background light. Instead, I took the diffuser off and moved the flash out to provide some much-needed spot lighting directly on the trowel. Otherwise, the set-up remained the same (if much higher, vertically.) One softbox as key, bounce for wrap. Being of a non-impressive height myself I needed a bench to get the shot squared up, but it was quick business once I got that settled.
The third shot was where hiccups finally caught up to us. The backdrop was uncooperative. Even more so than the first one with loved getting swoops in it, so we spent entirely too long trying to add those on purpose. The flash returned as a background light but the shiny fabric looked awful lit by it. Jeremy’s Banksy reference was an absolute riot, and I supported it by putting on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack for him, but the first pose we tried with the banana pointed at the lens wasn’t working. The background still sucked. The depth-of-field didn’t reach back to include Jeremy, and the more of it I added the uglier that background got. Two things changed in short order. One, we turned Jeremy to face right into the light, and shot him from the side. Two, the background had to go, and I shot it in my favorite “blackout” low-key style instead. Final lighting was a strip bank for the key, to better illuminate the height of his torso from the one-direction. The bounce was still set-up, but pushed out of the way into the land of disuse.
Next up was Kate Homan, who’s delightfully hammy nature has earned her the mantle of “my favorite” since Nick no longer accompanies me everywhere my camera goes. She had opted to combine the overtly decorative throne chair with a sword cane for the ultimate in badassery, and Tom and the stage manager set about making a suitably posh backdrop to support the look. This time the background went behind the columns, so that they became elements themselves, and a separate drop went onto the floor. And, if you want to see imperial splendor, observe Kate while a total of four people slave away making the background behind her:
Some day I hope to command that kind of respect. Also, it’s worth pointing out that we actually used giant prop cartoon sandbags to sandbag my lights the whole shoot. That’s worth so many awesome points I can’t calculate them all. Anyway.
Because of the hyper-centered composition the photo was demanding, I wanted to keep it simpler with the primary light almost centered itself, just beating down on her. However, lacking a boom I had to settle for it being a bit more off-center, and ended up with quite an ugly shadow to the left of the frame. After quite a few shots edging the second quadra head in to fill that area I ended up shooting it bare-bulb with just a gaff flag to keep her legs from getting baked while I filled in the shadow.
Before resetting for the fourth photo, Ms Meagan Matlock wanted to jump in and get a shot with Kate. I kicked the B channel head back out and shot it with just the softbox and I regret nothing.
Meagan’s shot was up next, and for it Tom selected a few panels of corrugated sheet metal to be the backdrop. Now, I’m no spring chicken anymore and I could tell right up that shooting large, metallic surfaces with lights was going to make things tricky. So, rather than make Meagan in her full get up suffer while I got it set-up, we swapped her out for my Megan who is getting rather good at helping me while I dial in lights.
To give the Me(a)gans a bit more of a feminine fashion lighting, and to give the metal a more diffuse blasting, I switched to my 64″ PLM I fondly dubbed “Moonraker” with a white diffuser cap, making it act very much like a giant deep octa. Directional, soft light everywhere. And, to help explain how best to hold the
bondage crop invisible dog lead I actually got out there and showed them my own moves.
Wisely they decided to have Meagan do them instead, and we got her posed up and after a quick hairclip to the skirt to tame its poofiness (tiny lady + poofy skirt = silly photos, as Audrey Tautou can testify) we were shooting.
By nature, Meagan Matlock always strikes me as a pretty sweet lady, but given the harsh backdrop and bondage-Bo-Peep outfit I felt we needed to get her away from that for the shot, and we probably spent more time nailing the perfect look of haughty disdain than we did with the weird posing contortions, which probably goes to show something. That she’s getting too used to working with me, probably.
Last up was Scott Russell, whom I turned around to find sporting a lime green scarf on top of a pink apron with kitschy white polka dots. To go with his homemaker apparel, he had selected the fake pies. Which disappointed me, as I’d really hoped to go with the rocking horse. But, he had pie on the mind and so we set to work. I left Moonraker set up as the background light, and tried first (and foolishly) to use the gridded barndoor as key, but quickly saw the liight and went back to the softbox. After that, Scott pretty much stole the show and it was short work.
That just left the “epic group photo,” and Tom and our various friends and help set about raiding the props to build a giant wall of luggage to use as a backdrop. Meanwhile, I dragged a staircase ladder over and lugged Moonraker up it so that I could illuminate such a large area filled with six comically dressed actors. When I got back down, I found that they had made quite an exquisite set of junk, with pretty much everything including a literal kitchen sink.
They had however left out my two favorite props from the pull which hadn’t gotten used: the tiny statue of David and the rocking horse. I asked someone to go fetch me the giant-handed Biblical wonder and then, determined to get my shot of Scott on the rocking horse, dragged it over and made him sit down on it. I ran the B channel from the Quadra into the softbox and pointed it at Scott so I could keep him in the foreground, and only then let myself be concerned with posing the others. It took a bit of careful shuffling to keep David visible in the final shot (though the juxtaposition of the tiny naked classical statue next to the pantsless giant was well worth it,) and we ended up having to find a middle ground area to pose Meagan in to prevent things from just being a flat row of actors. The end result was totally what I was after, though, and is easily the best full cast shot I’ve done for the company yet.
And… that was it. It took three hours, and with the stiff, hot air in the warehouse and all the running around everyone was more than happy to clear out. Megan and I broke down my gear while Tom, Cat (the Managing Director), and Nik (our contact) tidied up the other bits. I got home and did my usual time in Lightroom, made shorter than usual by having very clear picks for each session readily apparent. All that was left was a quick trip into Photoshop to add in the pseudo-poster promotional copy so we could get these out as teasers, and that was that. My first shoot of the first season with me as a full-company member, and, I have to say, if it’s any indication you’re in for a more awesome to come this season.
It might even be worth waking up early for.
Or, “How I Learned To Stop Aperture Prioritizing and Love The S Mode”
While I’m killing some time waiting for my headshot session with my chums at EclecticPond I figured I’d throw a blog post out into the netiverse, particularly one wherein I talk about one of my favorite subjects: the trials and tribulations of lighting in photographs.
You see, recently I’ve been finding more and more of those annoying where my beloved Quadras aren’t quite the right tool for the job, or where they needed a little buddy to help them along. I’ve needed an accent light. I’ve been wanting the lazy luxury of TTL. It was time to face it, I needed a hotshoe flash like a real photo boy. So, since I had some spare cash come in from a project I did for a lovely little English-as-Second-Language group, I decided to get an SB-700.
After a night of harassing the cats, a beer bottle, and my glass of wine, I came to a few conclusions:
Balanced exposure has a time and place, but, man I love me some drama. Give me half the chance to knock the ambient down a stop or three and I will basically every time. But, Nikon’s TTL wasn’t designed to do that. It was designed to round out an exposure, not be the exposure. So, getting that to happen was… tricky.
First, I tried using the camera’s exposure compensation set to a negative value, then added that back as postiive flash compensation. It worked. Sorta. But the results were hinky and unreliable. Some shots were underexposed, a lot. Others had flash burn. It was no bueno.
Luckily, a comment from local photowonder Paul D’Andrea set me down a much better line of thinking that reminded me whatever else, only the shutter speed controls the ambient. And, lo and behold, the camera has a shutter priority mode. Working with Quadras has me pretty comfortable with how much ambient what shutter speeds will leave in, and I’m already used to setting values between 1/30-1/320 in manual anyway. By applying those to S priority, I was able to fix my ambient ratio while keeping the advantage of the system picking an aperture and forcing the flash to fill in the rest. Perfect! Now, I was able to quickly set ratios on the fly, without having to set have of it manually, which always leads to trouble in dynamic shoots. Behold, the results:
On the left, the world’s best trophy shot with off-camera remote flash set to TTL, no compensation, shutter priority at 1/320. On the right, the same set-up but I flipped to aperture priority and let the camera and TTL do what they were built to do. The figure is essentially correctly exposed in both, the only difference is how much the ambient is left in. Awesome. Perfect. I’m in love.
More adventures in small flash to come, I’m sure.
Now that I’m done for the next while with my design-related time commitments, it’s time to play catch up on some photography. Or so my Lightroom workspace would like to believe. Also, some sneak peeks in there of EclecticPond’s upcoming “The Importance of Being Earnest” for you loyal blog-followers. I’ll be leaving them off the “social medias” for the time being. You know, like, until they’re done. And stuff.
This past weekend I did my seventh shoot with local theatre peeps EclecticPond, which has resulted (yet once again) in some genuinely gorgeous photos. But, I can’t show you them yet. They’re slowly posting them on their own FB page for marketing, and it’d be rude of me to jump the gun on them. So, while I’m waiting to show you the new stuff, here’s what their folder in my SkyDrive is looking like these days. Yowza that headshot collection is starting to get sizable, I think.
So, one of the things I aimed to do with this blog was sorta demystify the artistic process, since I feel that most artists still more-or-less work in their own little spaces using thoughts and techniques that are obvious to them–but not so much to the people who will later be looking at their work–and that this hinders the public’s ability to appreciate art in the same way that those trained in this stuff do. And so, while I am off this Valentine’s Day loving this woman:
I am going to leave you guys a gift in the form of my favorite lighting set-up. This is my go-to lighting configuration, and is used a lot in my work to what seems like constant comment from people who see my work. It’s just a really simple, reliable set-up that’s pretty versatile while at the same time giving nice, consistently Caravaggisti results. As a matter of fact, the picture of Megan above was shot using it, and I’ll be showing a lot of examples of it that’ll be familiar to long-time followers.
It’s just a two light set-up (my Quadra kit only having two heads, this makes it easy for me to do without scrounging additional lights) using a small or medium softbox as the key light, and a strip bank as an accent. It looks like this, drawn out:
Used in my typical low-key (which is to say, mostly black with light areas pulled out of the darkness) style, it leads to photos like these:
Note how the softbox being angled slightly down and from a side angle creates some pleasing modeling for features in both short-lighting (top, where the face is away from the light source), and in a more typical broad lighting situation (bottom, where the face is more towards the light source). Also notice how on the right of both subjects there’s a subtle rim of lighting pulling them out of the black. That’s thanks to the strip bank being just behind them, causing the light to wrap around them without being directly on them. And, because the strip is at half the power of the key light, and also much, much larger the light gets spread thinner and ends up being a final ratio of about 1/4 to 1/6 as bright as the key (depending on how far away you have the strip from the subject). Personally, I think this adds just the right amount of isolation for these low-key photos, helping pull them out of the inkiness without losing that air of mystery they have from the strong shadows.
You can also power the lights down a bit to be closer to the ambient for more modeling without the pronounced low-key effect to pretty good effect. And, if you jostle the lights a bit, you’ll find them able to adequately cover two subjects at once.
Above the lights are maybe about 3 stops brighter than the incandescent lighting in the room. Opening the shutter up from 1/250 to something more like 1/100 heps to balance the ambient back into the photo. Now, instead of the inky effect before, you get a more dramatic look where the background falls away a bit, and the modeling on the subjects takes on a strong, contrast-y feel that lets your subjects feel larger than life. In cases like this, with two subjects on the same plane, you might end up having to pull the strip bank forwards a bit to provide more direct side-lighting, but the initial set-up is the same and then you just scoot things to taste.
Obviously, the set-up also works flipped so that the key comes from the right side of the frame.
That variant of the set-up is one I’ve used a lot for EclecticPond’s headshots. And, again, it works well both in broad-lighting:
As well as more of a short-lighting pose:
And, lastly, you can also pull the softbox around to the side (instead of the 3/4 position) for a nice, super-dramatic split effect, as demonstrated below by the lovely Tom Cardwell:
In that photo I’ve turned the strip away even more than usual to accent the “dark side of the moon” feel, but you can see just the faintest glow of it wrapping on his face for that very subtle–but important–isolation effect.
So, there you go. An easy, flexible two light set-up that’s served me reliably for a couple years now. With any luck, that’ll help someone out there out. Now, I’m off. it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve got some lovin’ to do.