Back at Zach. Playing around with quasi-traditional lights and having a blast.

Sometimes I throw "hipster" caution to the wind, leave the battery powered flashes and massive LED panels at home, disregard available light and just muddle my way thru an assignment with a crate full of traditional studio flashes.  Oh my.  There go all of my "wanna-be cool" credentials.  It is possible to do work with "old fashioned" tools.  I proved it to myself yesterday evening.

Here's the way I decided to handle yesterday's assignment for ongoing client, Zachary Scott Theater.  We needed to do promo shots for an upcoming version of the musical play, Hairspray.  The play has already been cast but we didn't have sets and we're still weeks away from dress rehearsals.  Our brief was to shoot various actors against a white background.  We needed to shoot on location at the theater so we could take advantage of hair and make-up professionals in house, as well as having access to the full costume shop.  We were very limited on actual time with the actors because of rehearsal schedules and actors who were also in the final stages of rehearsal for the Suzan Lori-Parks play, The Book of Grace.

I packed up a white muslin background with stands, four regular light stands, two strobe systems and my cameras.  To light up the background I used two Profoto Acute heads running off a single Acute 600e pack, using standard zoom reflectors.  I plugged both heads into the "B" channel to reduce overall output power.  I like to shoot at f5.6 so I like to keep the photons a bit tame.

Just to the left of the camera I used one Elinchrom head with a 33 inch Varistar umbrella/softbox modifier as a main light and a second Elinchrom head with a 60 inch Softlighter 2 umbrella as a fill light just to the right of the camera.  I used an asymmetrical Ranger RX AS pack so their is always a 2:1 power distribution between main and fill.  The Ranger pack is capable of 1100 watt seconds per flash at full power but on a scale where 7.0 is full power I found myself working mostly around 4.2.  This ensured 1.5 second recycle times and more than enough charge in the battery to easily handle the 680 frames we ended up doing.

Lately I've been working with my bigger Canons and I felt that I was neglecting my APS-C cameras so I used the Canon 7D with the 24-105mm L lens.  The 7D snaps into focus quickly and it's very easy to program in specific focusing spots.  Since we had total control of power I was able to set the camera at ISO 200.  While the Canon 5Dmk2 might be better at ISO of 1600 and up it didn't matter in this set up and I gave the nod to the 7D for its ability to lock focus much quicker in dim lighting.

Speaking of dim light, we were working on a bare stage with only the ceiling mounted work lights for illumination.  I added a small, battery powered LED light down on the floor just to light up the front of the actors enough to take away any last struggles for the autofocus but also the stop down the irises of the actors a bit.  A smaller iris makes the eyes look more natural.  Why was this necessary?  Because the Elinchrom system I was using for the front lights is battery powered and the modeling lights automatically shut off after 15 seconds.  We shot a whole range of images with six different actors but these ladies were my favorites for the evening.

Once you have the lights set up and you've figured out the exposures you can get to the harder work which is the posing and expressions.  There aren't as many quantitative "how-to" books around about those subjects so you really have to work at it if you are as linear and logical as I tend to be. 

We set up at 5pm and we wrapped the whole shoot at 7pm.  I was back home in time for dinner.  I prepped the files this morning and turned my attention to other business.  It felt good to get another one under my belt.  This evening I get to shoot the last dress rehearsal for the Suzan Lori-Parks play.  I've been told the play is "intense."  My job is to translate and convey "intense" into images that will drive audiences to take a chance and see some real, dramatic theater.

Do I like all the stuff I get to shoot and watch at the theater?  Nope.  But I will say that every time I stretch and pay attention to something I didn't think I'd like I learn a lot.  And it's mostly about me.  And self knowledge is a valuable gift.

Hairspray will be a fun play.  The Book of Grace might actually make me think....

Thinking about buying a 17-55 EFS 2.8 for the 7D.  Anyone have experience with this optic?  Can you tell me what you think?


Bold Photography said...

Everyone that I know that has that lens loves it. Fast, IS works (most of the time), but it has a consumer grade build (don't use it to fend off thieves or to drive nails with and apparently, it doesn't bounce well on concrete).

But, I still have a severe allergy to shooting with zooms, and now that my main camera is FF, I have no interest in dropping that kind of cash on that lens...

silence said...

I've had the 17-55 since shortly after it came out. I love it. Heck, even skunks love it.

It doesn't come with a hood, and I did have the zoom mechanism jam enough that I had to send it back to Canon for a repair about a year ago.

If you're thinking about using it as a carry-around type lens while on walks, be aware that it is quite bulky, and the shoulder strap feels a bit unbalanced when the 17-55 is mounted on a 7D.

Ken Bennett said...

Nice shoot. The white background flash stuff is basic photography, and I'm still surprised when I meet a photographer who has no idea how to light it. ("Why is my white seamless background gray in all these photos?") I love being able to work with the subject and ignore the background completely.

I bought the 17-55 with a 40D several years ago as a personal camera. It's a very nice lens, quick and sharp. The build quality is not the same as the 24-70/2.8L, but it's plenty good enough for anything but a war zone.

Ira said...

I adore the 17-55. It's a fabulous walk-around lens w/the 7D--sharp & lightweight. It's on my camera 90% of the time. I'm not a pro though, so your mileage may vary.

Some people claim that it sucks up dust but I used it for several weeks in the desert at Burning Man (with a good filter) and didn't have any problems.

Dave Jenkins said...

Unless there's some reason I need to go minimalist on a session, I often prefer to use studio lights, even on location. Set-up can be faster, because there aren't all those little bits and pieces to fool with, and you can definitely shoot faster than with the small battery-powered flashes (unless you have battery packs, which is more bits and pieces).

Joe McNally does amazing things with multiple small flashes, but I've watched him demonstrate setting up eight or nine Nikon SBs to light something and thought to myself that I could do the same thing in half the time with a set of DynaLites. More reliable, too.

Waytao Shing said...

I love the 17-55. I am the photographer that approached you during Eeyore's Birthday. The 17-55 lives on my 7d. I chose it over the 24-70 as I felt the images were sharper and I wanted wider shots over more zoom. I haven't found the lens to be a dust magnet. Doesn't suck in any dust either.
The course and fine focus rings are nice they arn't loose but I feel they have more play than the 24-70.

Other than that its a nice lens and if you need the IS there is that option on the lens. :)

Happy Hunting

kirk tuck said...

Thanks Waytao, And by the way it was fun to see you at Eeyore's. I love IS and am seriously considering getting the lens. I appreciate everyone's quick feedback.

SimonL said...

I've had a 30D and a 17-55 2.8 IS since they were both introduced and they're rarely separated unless I'm going very wide or, rarely longer. It's pretty good wide open and the f/2.8 locks the [slightly dated] AF with impressive speed even in difficult conditions. The IS makes good shots as easy as can be with the relatively slow shutter speeds we get in UK at the height of summer :o)

No dust problems and the build quality is fine unless you are hard on your gear

Jessica said...

I love my 17-55. Before I went full frame it was hard for me to pry it off the camera and use anything else. Last summer I spent six weeks in Manhattan and created one of my favorite bodies of work with it. And on the streets at night I can handhold it for a second or more (using really good technique, not breathing, and often taking more than one shot) and get a sharp shot.

Now that I spend more time with my 5d than my 60D, it doesn't get as much play. But I still think it's fantastic.

Here are a couple examples, if you're interested (all shot without a tripod):

Too many! Sorry, hope you can wade through them.

Jessica said...

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, I bought my lens used, and yes there is some dust in it. I'm not a cleaning freak when it comes to my gear and so it doesn't bother me. But I can't say that the dust problem is a myth.