Playing around with actors. White background musings.

Outtake during our set up.  No post processing.
 I packed up some lights and went to shoot some photos for "The God of Carnage," at Zach Scott Theater last week.  A quick assignment to shoot two couples against white.  The images will be used online, in a post card and in print ads.  I lit the actors with one big beauty dish from 45 degrees to one side (main light) and a second beauty dish on access with the actors as a fill.  The main beauty dish was 28 inches in diameter and the fill dish was 18 inches in diameter.  Both had white, cloth diffusers  over the front.  All the lights were my new, el cheapo, Elinchrom D-lite 400's.

We were shooting in the rehearsal studio so I had plenty of room to stretch out and to get the white muslin background as far back as I wanted.  I used two lights, one on either side, about ten feet back from the background to light it.  No modifiers on the background lights.  I've become lazy about white backgrounds.  In the old days we had to get them right.  Now, with content aware fill and refine edge in PhotoShop CS5, I think  the images are better off being clipped in post processing.  But that's meat to chew in another post.

I switched back and forth between the Olympus EP3 with the kit lens (and, for my Jedi Knight friend, ATMTX.....I put a trigger in the shoe of the EP3 and used the force by looking on the LCD screen on the back.....the vertigo was almost unbearable...  :-) ), and a Canon 1DSmk2 with an 85mm 1.4 Zeiss ZE.  Both at f8 and both at ISO 200.  That's the sweet spot (ISO-wise) for both cameras.  Looking at the images on the screen the difference isn't that much.  Either set of files would work just fine.  Yes, the Canon is a bit sharper and more detailed if I look at 100% but......  The images have the same overall "look and feel."

I saw the dress rehearsal of the play on Tues. and laughed out loud while I was shooting it.  Fun to have a whole theater as a camera test lab.  If you are in Austin you should see this play.  It's well done.  And if you have not seen The Santaland Diaries  you might want to stop reading in about twenty words and head to the phone to order tickets for you and your closest friends.  It's that good.

Live theater is fun in the way that live music is fun.  You love being in the moment.  You're aware there could be a "train wreck" and you're relieved when it doesn't happen.  Good night.

The dual edge sword of control.

We love to have the illusion of being totally in control.  At least I know I do. (the photographer during a particularly anxious period in my life.)

But my best work is nearly always the result of the things I can't or didn't control.  The move of a model's head, the glowering weather, a mis-set camera that makes a file I didn't expect and can't repeat.  The illusion of being able to control everything around us can be debilitating because we make it so hard for happenstance to have space to enter the equation.

We can't predict a real laugh and we can't engineer it.  We can just be ready when it occurs.  And it's the same with so much in photography.  I can't tell you how many times I've been on location, all set up and ready to go, and had the client run late.  The sun, which was perfect at the agreed upon shoot time, starts to move into the "wrong" position, shadows move over into my perfectly conceived space and everything moves from "planned and controlled" into chaos.  

If I fight it I come away with something that meets the technical constraints of acceptability but mocks my vision of how great it could have been.  But, if I go with the flow of the situation I usually discover some better angle or nearby location that makes an even better image.

In the first photograph I was meticulously metering a location in a courtyard at some really nice convention hotel in Scottsdale, AZ.  The client wanted portraits against the background for attendees of a conference who would walk through the courtyard on their way to the main event.  They funneled everyone through me.   When I got there the wind was strong and the background flapped around, totally out of control.  I couldn't use big umbrellas because the wind would knock them apart and take my lights with them.  Even with the water bags I had positioned on each stand, as ballast.  Eventually I freed the bottom of the backdrop so it could swing and flap in the wind.  I couldn't control it and I certainly couldn't "will" it to stay in position.  But as soon as I gave up control the wind seemed to die down and "schedule" itself only to be exuberant between sessions and not during them.

I hate handing people my cameras and letting them shoot photos of me.  But this time I gave up that control and actually had a great time sharing stories with an executive who was not only interested in photography but also in my role as a photographer.  

In the image of the young woman above I had a list in my head of the expressions I wanted to capture.  Joyous laughter wasn't on the list but it should have been at the top.  When I let go of the list and let the model take control she gave me more than I had planned for.  A wonderful smile that communicated well being and joy, and, incidentally, was the perfect image for a dermatology practice.

I've learned the hard way that the universe likes to toy with people who feel as though they can control everything, in the same way a cat toys with a mouse.  You'll get some slack but eventually the hammer comes down to wipe away your misguided belief in control.  If, instead, you learn to let go of the final result and work to get a good result you'll just about have fighting chance.

As a photographer it's a good idea to know how and why to do the "right" stuff.  The technical steps.  But it's a hell of a lot more important to recognize the overwhelming power (and sometimes hidden blessing) of chance.  The real secret is to be ready to go both ways.

Prepare to follow your plan.  Be prepared to abandon your plan.  Don't take the path of least resistance, take the path of "most fun."

Veiling glare or atmospheric haze or low contrast?

Reader, Nick, commented about the "veiling glare" issue in some older lenses.  And that may well have been his experience with some optics.  I went back to the images I shot for the previous article on the Olympus 150mm lens and tweaked each image with the black slider and the contrast slider in Lightroom 3.6.  Kind of like matching negatives to paper contrast grades in the old days of printing black and white in a darkroom.  I think that what Nick saw in the train shot is a a lot of dust and atmospheric haze (and some bad technique since I hardly nailed focus on the front of the train).  In the other images I think what he saw IS a combination of the lower contrast of the older lenses combined with some atmospheric haze.  They clean up okay when you through some post processing on them and we could probably do quite a bit more in curves, etc.  Just thought I'd throw this up to show a post processed version...... commentary welcome.