Wanna buy the Brooklyn Bridge? How about a theater seat?

In my "welcome back" article yesterday I mentioned that I recently had an assignment to photograph one of Austin's greatest actors in order to "sell" theater seats as a way of funding a much needed, new theater building.  The marketing people knew that showing a seat by itself would be boring but a seat with Martin would sell.  I showed up to the shoot with several things that might interest you as a photographer.  First of all I've all but given up using white, seamless background paper on location. It's a pain in the butt to transport and, with the new selection tools in PhotoShop CS5 and CS6 as long as you get enough light on your background to get it near white making a drop out is a piece of cake. White cake. I bought a white, muslin background years ago for an annual report project.  It came from Calumet.  When it gets dirty I toss it in the washing machine with some detergent and a bit of bleach and it comes out clean and white, white, white.  I probably spent $60 on the cloth background in 2002 and I've used it hundreds of times since then.  When Ben was young he used it often to build tents in the living room....

I brought four Elinchrom D-Lite 4IT monolights but I only used three of them.  I used one on either side of Martin because the marketing folks at Zachary Scott Theatre like bright, high key light for stuff like this.  The light on the left is coming through a small, Elinchrom Varistar which is a like a shoot through umbrella but the back is enclosed so there's no backward light scatter.  A white interior re-directs light to the front for more efficiency.  It's soft but directional.  And the Varistars set up as quickly as a regular umbrella.  That seemed easy enough so I used another, larger (41 inch diameter) Varistar on the other side.  Usually I use two lights on a white background, bounced out of black-backed umbrellas.  Today I had enough room to try something different so I put one D-Lite 4IT with a standard reflector behind the background and shot it through the fabric.  I tried to balance the exposure so that the area directly behind Martin would go white without too much spill coming forward onto Martin.  I think it worked out just fine.

I brought along one of the Sony A77 cameras with a 16-50mm f2.8 zoom lens and shot all of the images here with that lens and camera combination.  I like the Sony A77 camera even more than I thought I would for studio work.  You get to pre-chimp every shot and then see a post shot  review immediately.  I had the camera set up so that I'd see a review for two seconds after every shot.  But a touch of the shutter button would cancel the review and return you to the live image.  At one point in the shoot one of the front monolights stopped firing.  I saw it on the very first review.  I was  able to quickly fix the issue (dead or dying battery in a radio trigger....).  Shooting in the "old school" OVF method I would probably have shot a long volley of shots before stopping to review and we would have lost many good shots to a technical problem. 

The shots here are presented as 1800 pixel (long axis) images but I can assure you that at 4000 by 6000 pixels the images are exhilaratingly sharp.  In fact, now that I've untangled the "jpeg rubric" of the Sony hive mind I love what I'm getting from the camera and rarely, if ever, need to sharpen images in post. What you see in the EVF or on the rear screen is such a close approximation of what I eventually see on the studio computer screen that I've stopped worrying about technical details that fall outside of the binary "fail/succeed" paradigm.

But the real magic of a shoot with Martin is Martin.  He's a pro and that really makes getting wonderful images easy as pie.  My big complaint from the marketing department?  Too much great stuff to choose from.  I wish all my photography problems were like that...

Information to Sony Alpha shooters... I'm kinda shocked at how good some of Sony's cheaper (more cost effective?) lenses are.  I was going to buy the Zeiss 85mm 1.4 for the Alpha cameras but I tested the 85mm 2.8 SAL lens and found it to be terrific. Even wide open. The Zeiss is around $1500 while the Sony SAL lens is just $249.  When I first dallied with the system I also bought a cheap, 55-200mm SAL lens for around $250 just to have something longer and light weight. I eventually bought their big Kahuna, the 70-200 f2.8, with its glorious white finish (and dense, wrist straining, beefy construction) but after I saw how sharp the cheap zoom is I've left the other lens in the drawer for every assignment except the low light theater work.  Amazing how good the consumer stuff is... All the Canon and Nikon shooters can ignore this.



  1. So what is the JPEG rubric of the A77? Really? I am looking for ideas. I am transitioning from an Olympus E-5 to the A77.

  2. What adapter are you using with alpha lens.
    Status on your book on video?

  3. Lsummers, no adapter required for the Alpha lenses. They are made fot the a77. The one adapter I use is a Fotodiox adapter for using the Hasselblad lenses from time to time.

    Stephen, I use Standard, plus one on sharpening and try to always set the white balance manually if I'm in mixed light.

  4. I've been told the Sony 85mm f/2.8 is very much like the old Contax 85mm f/2.8. Would love to see some portraits done with the Sony. This might push me over the edge to get into the system again.

  5. Gee Bee, It's sharp wide open. It's cheap and it works. win, win, win.

  6. Hmmm intereting. I wasn't very interested after your first posts on the a77, but after buying my new (old) OM-2N with that terrific and big viewfinder, a look through my E-520 was like a shock, and finally I understood the term "tunnel view". Then I learned that those Sonys, both the a77 and the a65 have that huge EVF, comparable to a Canon 1DS3. That feature alone makes them interesting indeed. Add to this all the pre-shot information like on the Pens, and even that Sony focus peaking, ... I think if I'd look through one, that could get expensive again.


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