Behind the scenes shots of our marketing shoot for "The King and I."

Mel Maghuyop as "The King."

I was happy to see "The King and I" on the 2014-2015 season listing at Zach Theatre. It's one of the most enjoyable and visually enchanting musicals from Rodgers and Hammerstein. On a show like this one we'll end up doing two or three different kinds of photographic shoots to help visually charge the marketing. Last week I covered an event that brought in a group of VIPs and donors to see a typical evening rehearsal. No costumes and no full band, but lots of energy and hard work. I was able to capture images of the interplay between the director and the cast. I was also able to get reaction images showing this small audience's appreciation of the details that go into bringing a rich and complex show like this to life. 

On Friday last week we had a fun, little shoot. Just the kind I like. We were able to photograph the two adult leads and one of the lead children, together and separately, for marketing images that Zach Theatre will use on the web and in direct mail (which still seems to be very effective). 

I thought it would fun for VSL readers to look at a little bit of "behind the scenes" to see how I handled what is really a very straightforward project. All of the "behind the scenes" shots below were done with an Olympus EM-5 camera and the Olympus 17mm f1.8 lens, a combination that I am very happy with for documentary work. 

Mel. King.

We set up in the Theatre's Kleberg stage which is one of the original theaters in the Zach complex. I set up a white, muslin background to serve as the back drop for all of the images. In other situations, especially those where we might need tons of images that are ready to go straight out of camera, I would have used white seamless paper instead and lit it with the classic, four lights in umbrellas along with scrims to keep back light off the main subjects. I knew that our marketing team would select just a handful of images from this shoot and would drop out the backgrounds before using the images. That works for me since I get to bring less lighting gear. I cheated a bit by putting one light directly behind the muslin drape which creates more contrast and makes clipping the subjects easier. 

The basic lighting consisted of a large, silver beauty dish (27 inches) used bare on the left hand side as the main light. The dish was used on one of three Elinchrom D-Lites.  I chose a harder light modifier than I would for a conventional ad image because I wanted the increase in perceived sharpness that comes from a more direct and specular source. But I still wanted a graceful transition from highlights to mid-tones. 

My fill light (above) came from a perennial favorite, the Fotodiox 72 inch umbrella. Soft white on the inside and opaque black on the outside. When I first set up the light I had an umbrella reflector on the flash unit but I found that I could use the light in a bare set up and "tune" the light to the umbrella so there was very little spill. That allowed me to use the entire surface of the umbrella while keeping the umbrella position on the stand more balanced. I used a lower lighting ratio that I usually do because I wanted the shadows to be very open and detailed. 

I used the zero reflector option because using a reflector would have required me to move the light further back from the umbrella to efficiently fill it. When you do that with a big, heavy umbrella it puts the light stand/umbrella and light out of balance. This was a good compromise. 

Beauty dish with pebbled silver interior. 

About twelve feet behind the muslin background I used a third light with a wide angle reflector to push light through the background. This "blow through" light helped kill any soft shadows from the main or fill light and created a better edge between background and subject which makes outlining or clipping the background from foreground that much easier. I am quickly going to patent this methodology before "you know who" gets wind of this miraculous technique (sarcasm). 

Here's a view of the set up from the other side. 

I chose to use the Nikon D7100 for this project just to get some more experience with this camera. I also used the 18-140mm lens (with the latest firmware upgrade for distortion correction: Go Nikon UK!). Note the primitive trigger on the camera. It is a Wein SSR infra-red trigger. The flashes' optical slave sensors see the IR burst and trigger. The device is reliable, has lasted for over 20 years, takes double A batteries and works on any camera with a hot shoe.  I've taped the hot shoe cover that comes with the camera to the top of the trigger so I'll remember to replace it when I'm done.

(above) I've finished my lighting and set up my shooting camera, while I'm waiting for the director and art director to finish briefing the actors I like getting wide shots that show bits of the set and people's spatial relationship to it. This is helpful for those times when a client comes back years later and asks you to duplicate something you've previously done...

(Above) The new Topfer Stage. This is the flagship of the theater complex and was opened three years ago. It's a gorgeous building. An added bonus is two good coffee shops within 100 yards of the theater. I grabbed coffee before we started our shoot. The play will open at the Topfer in less than two weeks..


The file were incredibly detailed and sharp. I did a custom white balance and metered with a Sekonic L-508 meter so I was comfortable setting the camera to Jpeg/fine/large at 100ISO (1/125th, f7.1) and working with the pristine 24 megapixel files (camera profile: neutral). I've added one notch of sharpness to the parameters and that, in conjunction with no AA filter means I do little, if any, sharpening in post.

Jill Blackwood as "Anna."

I'll deliver about 500 files to the art director. They'll be the Jpegs from the camera with trip through Lightroom to tag them with, well, tags and copyright data, etc. The files I deliver will have the backgrounds intact. The reason for the large number of images is to provide a wide range of great expressions from all three characters at once. The majority of the files are various groupings of the three actors together. The marketing team will winnow down the take to their favorites and drop out the backgrounds before using the images. 

While the theatre will most assuredly use the images in a different way I had fun dropping out the backgrounds on a few of the images that I'm sharing here and dropping in different gradients. It's fun to play around with the tools in PhotoShop. I think the images tend to be boring as photos with white backgrounds because they seem like pieces of a puzzle and you aren't seeing the whole puzzle. By dropping in the backgrounds I also get a good double check on my selection techniques. Not matting?
Good job. Jagged edges and fuzzy white matting lines around the subject? Bad job.

Rylie, Jill and Mel.
Exactly in character. 

The team will use selected images from the shoot for all manner of marketing. The more the better. We'll go back in to the dress rehearsal in a week and a half and photograph the entire show as they do their final run through without an audience. That's a whole different set of techniques. I'll be sure to post a blog about that one for continuity. I love photographing actors and theater. It's one of the best jobs you can get as a photographer. The collaboration makes everything more than the sum of the parts. 

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Tom Judd said...

Interesting story Kirk.
Those muslin backgrounds always seem to be wrinkled. A while ago I bought a white "fleece" blanket that seems to be quite resistant to wrinkles. I just roll it up between uses. If it does get a bit wrinkled, put it in the dryer for half an hour to tumble out any creases.

ZACH Theatre said...

Kirk, your shots are brilliant. Love the bonus shot of the Topfer which is taken from an angle not captured before. Many thanks for your expertise and artistic eye.