I do my own stunts.

I don't know if you've been there before but if you are doing a solo set up and shoot for a corporate client there's a point where you are in a big conference room setting up lights all by yourself and wondering if you're getting the lights right.  And there's no one to use for a stand in.  And you really want to see how the light looks, and whether you're going to get that little reflection in the top right hand corner of your subject's glasses....  But you knew it was silly to bring an assistant along just to have someone to aim your camera at for a few seconds.

I was setting up at a high tech company today.  We were shooting a key executive in two locations.  This was the first location.  I set up a light on the back wall nearly 30 feet behind the spot where the subject would stand.  It was an Elinchrom monolight set at its lowest power and firing through a small, small softbox.  I had a light to the left of my camera and up high enough so that the bottom edge of the Varistar 41 inch modifier would be just at chin height for my subject.  And everyone was off checking e-mail and waiting for the appointed time and I really wanted to see what I was getting.

I know you'll probably say to yourself,  "What a doofus.  He's been doing this for 25 years and he still wants to preview his set up?  Why, in the name of all that's holy and photographic, am I reading this blog???"   This is a good question but it's beyond the scope of our article of the moment.

But I really did want to make sure there were no glitches that might bite me later.  Like that reflection in the glasses...

I set the zoom lens on my camera to 12 feet (thank goodness I still own a zoom lens with a real distance scale) and I set the camera to manual focus.  Then I set the drive menu to "10 second self-timer" and I scurried over to the shiny quarter I'd left on the floor when I paced out the twelve feet.  The shutter fired and the flashes fired and I scurried back over to the camera to set what I'd gotten.

At that point I added a very weak backlight.  And I adjusted my exposure just a bit.  And I did a few cleaning cycles on the camera to knock the gunk off the sensor that was starting to come into focus at f8.  When my client came in I was nearly ready.  I forgot to switch the camera back to single frame advance so my first button push was a bit anti-climactic.  We got that straightened out quickly.

Knowing I had everything set up correctly before the "star" stepped in to the room helped me to be calm and to concentrate on building a rapport with him.  It was easy.  We talked about his kids.

The one thing I did absolutely right today was to bring along an "Apple Box."  You'll rarely hear the fancy photography blogs mention "Apple Boxes," but they sure come in handy whether you're shooting film or digital.  They are wooden boxes, originally used by the film industry, and they are great for people of absolutely normal height of....say, about five feet, eight inches tall, to stand on when photographing abnormally tall people (anyone over five feet, ten inches tall....).

Since my subject was about 6'2" or better I can't think of a better $25 piece of gear.  So, I do my own stunts with the help of the self-timer and, I like to stand on wooden boxes when I make portraits.  It all seems like a very strange business to me.

This is an Apple Crate or Apple Box.  I felt smart because I packed one today.


  1. Is that a Berlebach tripod I see? I thought I was the only guy using one of those (usually for medium format). They're lovely aren't they?

  2. Kenneth, I've been using two Berlebach tripods for a while now. I wrote about them here: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2010/07/tripods-love-em-or-hate-em-sometimes.html

    They are a delight to use.

  3. Lol, the tripod was my first thought too ("A wooden tripod on a corporate shoot?!"). I spent ten years shooting exclusively 4x5 so I'm intimately familiar with carrying and using large tripods, but I've never had the opportunity to try a wooden one. Off now to read your 2010 tripod post. :]

  4. Funny. The shot of the Apple box was really from a job we did last summer. I use the Berlebachs all the time but yesterday I used the "car" tripod which is an old Tiltall. It was convenient.

  5. Kirk, I really enjoyed this posting! I've been there, and done that - with the self timer issue. I could also see where that apple box would make a great footrest for the shorter people perched upon my posing stool. Where does a person buy such a nice wooden box?

  6. Gregg, in Austin a shop called, GEAR, has then in all three common sizes. Look them up online. They are waaaay east on Cesar Chavez. It's Austin's biggest movie supply house. You'll be amazed at all the stuff they have. Their primary business is renting giant lights and 18 wheelers full of lighting gear to movie productions and commercial TV producers.

  7. "Don´t forget to bring a towell" :)

  8. Kirk,
    Discovered TOP recently. Discovered VSL from there, while doing a bit of catching up reading. Love your blog and am learning some good things here. Thank you



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