Getting Wet. A quick look at a fun shoot.

If you've read my previous posts you'll know that I shoot the advertising materials for Zachary Scott Theater here in Austin, Texas.  This year we did a season brochure project that called for images from each of the upcoming productions.  One production is an incredibly interesting play, called Metamorphosis, which combines ancient mythology with modern psychiatry. The play will take place in a round pool of water that the theater will build on stage.

We wanted to show the protagonist standing in the soaking rain to give potential audiences a glimpse of what was to come.

To backtrack for just a second, the overall project called for 36 different shots.  This is not the kind of shoot that you just show up for with a shoulder bag full of Vivitar 283's and the best of intentions.  It calls for a sense of continuity between the look and feel of all the shots that will be used together.  It requires the scheduling of 50-60 people as well as the efforts of costuming and prop professionals.

Since many of the supporters and other non-actors that needed to be included in the brochure were politicians, people from large corporations and sought after professionals we needed to set aside a number of alternative days to accomodate everyone's schedules.

We met with the marketing staff several times to trade collaborative ideas about lighting, background and the general visual direction of the materials.  When the time came to do this shot we'd already done six other principal shots that day and had plowed through several thousand digital captures.  But we were prepared and ready.

My background is thirty feet from the camera position.  The spot on the background comes from a focusable spot light.  It's a Desisti fixture with a 300 watt bulb.  This is not a flash.  It's a continuous tungsten light.  The main light is a 1000 watt tungsten light from the Profoto company, called a ProTungsten.  It's one of the few fan cooled continuous lighting fixtures I know of.  We used a Magnum reflector to spread the light evenly over an 84 by 84 inch Photoflex panel with a translucent white diffusion cloth.  The diffusion panel was as close to our actor as we could get it but our light was a good 8 feet from the opposite side of the panel.  This ensured that the spread of light was optimum.

We did get a little spill from this main light toward the camera position but we created a "barn door" with pieces of Black Wrap (a heavy duty, black anodized aluminum foil used by the film industry) clamped on to the magnum reflector with small, metal clamps.  You have to plan for these kinds of contingencies and pack everything that you "might" need because the schedule is not flexible enough to be able to send out for stuff in the middle of a tightly scheduled day.

We created rain by taking a large gardening water can filled with warm water up a 12 foot ladder and just pouring it on the actor.  We tried it again and again and again until the distribution of drops was just right and coincided with the perfect expression.  This is my select from the shoot but it might not be the one that ended up in the brochure because the marketing director knows his final audience better than me and chooses images accordingly.

So,  why continuous lighting instead of flash?  Easy, I wanted the drops of water to elongate over time and give a much more immediate impression of rain drops.  Flash would freeze the water too well and it would look different than the way your mind would envision rain drops.  I also wanted the option to shoot this shot and several others at five frames per second.  Impossible with flash over the course of a long shoot.

This shot took about an hour from start to finish.  When we were done I shook hands with the actor then jumped in to help clean up the mess and reset for the next session.

Our clients in this case were true professionals.  There were trays of cheese, crackers, fresh fruit and other snacks for people who might arrive early for their sessions.  There was also wine, water, sodas and coffee for the talent and the crew.  Video interviews were done with each principal actor.  (Another reason to use continuous lighting......thinking in advance of need).  Every prop was ready and standing by.  They booked multiple make up artists so we could have one on set for touch ups while another readied the next talent.  The scheduling was immaculate.

When I go into a shoot like this I want to feel a real collaboration between myself, the subjects and the marketing team.  We all leave our egos at the front door.  The objective is not to win awards (although many of our past brochures have won Addy awards) the objective is to put paying audiences in the theater seats over the course of a year.  Everyone needs to be clear about that from the beginning of the project.  I ask for what I know we will need and not one inch more.

Each of the shots in the project were done with two or three lights.  The example above is done with two lights and a white, foam core reflector panel to one side.  Metering is always done with a Sekonic incident light meter.  In this case the image was created with a Nikon D700 camera and an 85mm lens.  We shot large, fine jpegs.

When you do a job like this you may be on your feet from the set up in the early morning until you pull the last case back into the safe confines of the studio, after dark.  But you have to approach each component shot with the same focus and commitment at each moment of the day.  The reason is that the energy of each shot will be directly comparable by the final viewer and it must be consistent.  The shot at the end of the day must be as polished and emotionally connected as the first.  Not easy to do without lots of practice.

When I walk into our house at the very end of the day I am sometimes too tired to talk.  I've been entertaining, cajoling and pushing people all day long.  I've been making constant decisions:  Should I go lighter or darker?  More fill or less?  Push for an over the top smile or go for the subtle nuance?  Laugh at the 20 or 30 times people say, "I hope I don't break your camera!" Or, commiserate with the ten or so who, "Hate the way I look in pictures!"

And when the sexy part of the shoot is over and everyone has toasted the effort with Champagne and then gone off for an early dinner my assistant and I are the ones who spend the next hour or so knocking down the set, packing the lights, labeling the envelopes with the memory cards in them and then packing everything into the car(s).

And when I've had a good night's sleep I get up the next morning, grab my coffee and then head into the office because there are 6,000 files that need to get off the memory cards onto a hard drive, edited, burned to an archive disk, then sized and prepped for initial delivery.  That's another day.  And when the client makes final selections the real fun begins as I sit down for a day long session of correcting contrast and color for each chosen file.  Some will have notes attached that ask me to do "just a little" retouching on an actor's face or because of some sort of costume or prop failure.

It just goes with the territory.

People ask me if I can't just farm out all of the post production and I guess you could if your clients had the time and you had the budget.  But in the real world you get to do all the "butt" work.  And that's the anatomy and overview of the shot above as part of a bigger project.  Just thought you'd like to know.

Edit. 01/03/2010:  Some people have asked for a link to more zach photos from this project:
Near the top right hand of the page is a link to a pdf for the entire brochure.


Bill Beebe said...

It's stories like this that just go to show why you get paid the "big bucks". :) Thanks for sharing, it was certainly appreciated.

sirshannon said...

I saw Metamorphosis here in Charlotte last Summer, it was great, though a bit humid thanks to the pool. I can imagine how complicated it would be to get all of the characters involved into 1 photo session. If the rest of the photos are posted online, be sure to give us a link to them.

kirk tuck said...

Sirshannon, I added an edit to the end with a link back to the Zach page. There's a link on that page to a PDF of the whole brochure......Thanks for prodding me to do that.

Eduardo said...

This is something many should read, the "I have a -wedding/event/model/actor or actress/- photoshoot tomorrow and I dunno what to do HELP" people should be reading as you said you don´t go with whatever equipment and praying god you will come with something... you need a plan, tests to see if it works and later organize, schedule, prepare, etc. to shoot... a pro is someone reliable and ready to do what´s needed and prepares him/herself to what the clients needs... it isn´t a makeshift dude that comes up with last minute solutions.

Beautiful photo Kirk and great article!.

Anonymous said...

Great information, Kirk.

I had no idea such a project would be this complicated--and I don't mean the photography of it, just the sheer logistics and cooperation involved.

As another said, this is a great example of why people need to use a professional.

Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

While the technical details might be interesting, the photo that you posted is simply amazing.

Dave Jenkins said...

You have probably already thought of this, Kirk, but with a little selecting, organizing, and editing, I think your blog posts would make a great book. I would buy it.

In a different vein, I have a “friend” who sometimes picks up assignments at low-ball rates from local ad agencies. After booking a gig, he would frequently call me and ask how to do the shoot. Being a soft-hearted sucker, I would usually tell him. But I often thought of calling the agency and asking them if they wouldn’t rather pay a little more money to hire someone who actually knows how to do the job!

(Unfortunately, in our local market the answer would probably be a no. The bottom line overrules everything.)

Anonymous said...

Thinking of going pro, this post (well, the whole blog) is a blessing.
And a nice therapy for the ego too.


matt s said...

Too bad I'm 1500 miles away. I'd love to come be a (working) fly on the wall for one of these large efforts. And as usual, the results are superb.

David D. said...

Great post as always. Your previous comments made me dig out my Hedler circa 1970 650w fan cooled halogen lights...so nice to have a contemplative approach to lighting.

Also fan cooled halogens are not all gone. Hensel has a 1000w that uses their flash accessories.

However of more interest are the contemporary Hedler fan cooled units that incorporate two lamps for variable power. Of particular interest are models HT 19s and H 25s.
They can be seen here, http://www.hedler.com/produkte/h-leuchte/h-lightunits.htm#HF65 , along with a new Fresnel unit.

They have a US agent also in Long Island NY.

ginsbu said...

I found this post really fascinating. It gives me a whole new appreciation for the sort of work you do.

I assume this shoot took place before your move to Olympus -- but if not, is there something about D700 that made it preferable for this particular assignment? I'm curious because you have generally emphasized your system choice as a matter of personal preference rather than any technical need, but the mention of the D700 got me wondering if there was an exception in this case.

Anonymous said...

Hello Kirk,

Thank for your blog. Your writing is very interesting and your photos are great.

I would like to harass you with some film/continuous light questions.

When using a large tungsten light source do you filter it to match daylight?

Or do you use tungsten film? Filters on the lens?

What is your approach when mixing daylight from a window with a large tungsten light source?