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.
Chairs. Oh so many chairs. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
A carefully curated collection of madness. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
Tall. Definitely tall. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
Some ideas don’t work out. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
This is the exact set-up and ambient lighting that yielded the shot below. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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:
Eat you heart out, Leon Kennedy. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
Meet ETC’s Education Team. No, really.
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.
For once it’s a photo of Megan Caylor
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.
Photos by Megan Caylor. Sarcasm by me.
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.
She does it better. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
He was so proud of the heel kick, and I couldn’t fit it in. Sigh. Photo by Megan Caylor.
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.
The cast of “Shakespeare Wrote What…?”
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.
Follow the production itself on ETC’s site, and give a shout out to Megan for all her awesome behind-the-scenes shots on Twitter at @myotislucy!