Sunday, July 21, 2013

Beach Blanket Babylon: Inside and Out

Beach Blanket Babylon is a cultural landmark of the first order.  The show began its run in 1974 at Club Savoy Tivoli and has since moved to the larger Club Fugazi in the North Beach district of San Francisco. It is America's longest-running musical revue.  Every year, three $10,000 Steve Silver High School Scholarships are awarded to encourage high school students to pursue their educations in the performing arts. This year, one of the finalists was Ms. Candy Tong from a high school in our service area, and my editor and I hoped to get a shot of her holding one of those checks.

Before we went into the theater, I introduced myself to all of Ms. Tong's friends and asked them to please PLEASE wait on the street in front of the club after the show was over so I could make a photo for the paper.

Indoors: Club Fugazi is a relatively small theater as seen in the lead photograph. Because of the wide variety of artificial light sources, I decided to let the camera select the proper white balance. The camera settings on the Nikon were Automatic White Balance, F2.8, 1/15 if a second, ISO 3200, with a Tokina 11-16 2.8 zoom. This shot was stretching my ability to hold still, and despite the signs of subject movement, this shot gives you a feeling for the audience's excitement before the competition began.

The guest judges include a number of local luminaries, including former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. If you look closely in the shadows of his jacket, you can see that some of the accent lights were definitely blue, which adds to the problem of obtaining an acceptable color balance. I set the camera to Incandescent and hoped for the best. At least this way, the white balance would be relatively consistent.

Shortly before the performance, I was directed (escorted, if you will), to the "photographer's area", up in the balcony near the back of the theater. I switched to a 70-200 2.8, and was saved not so much by the focal length but by the vibration reduction. Without it, all the photos taken from this vantage point would probably shown some camera motion. F 4.0, 1/200, ISO 800. The relatively short exposure time helped freeze the action, since subject motion can be a real problem when shooting indoors under available/house lighting conditions.

Ms. Tong gave a lovely performance during the competition. I made over two dozen photos during her routine, but kept this one because of the light fell directly on her face. Whenever possible, make your photos when the subject is look towards the light. This was the only acceptable shot I made of her that evening.

There is never a shortage of "drama" among show people, as this former scholarship recipient clearly demonstrates. The gentleman with the microphone is Don Bleu, a local morning radio personality.

One of the winners,  Reilly O'Flynn is seen here receiving his check. It sure looks to me like he couldn't believe he really won.

Outdoors: The competition ended, so I headed out the front door. Thankfully, all of Ms. Tong's friends were already in front, waiting for her to emerge from the theater. When she did, she was greeted by a wonderful, hand-painted sign, a surprise her friends managed to keep from her throughout the evening. Although she didn't win a scholarship, she was very pleased at this showing of support by her classmates. Incidentally, those shapes in the foreground are the backs of the hand painted signs held by her friends.

Now I had to start setting up the shot. I wanted the "Club Fugazi" sign in the background, so I re-arranged her friends in front of the stairs. The naturally fell into line, so I decided to take the shot as they were, even though I had another arrangement in mind.

In this first pose, it was difficult to see Ms.Tong standing in the background. After I made this shot, I asked that the signs be held over their heads. I moved Ms. Tong to the foreground so she would appear larger. The juxtaposition of her head, while corny, seemed to work, so the shot was done. You can see the final, corrected shot, below.

Only three shots were taken of this particular arrangement, and luckily for me, her feet weren't completely cut off, as it was the only shot where the "O" sign was fully visible, so I was especially thankful to the Photography Gods who let me slip by with this one. Just having that little bit of curve from the shoes made a huge difference.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Lighting was provided by a single Nikon speedlight held high overhead with a monopod. The extended exposure setting of 1/15 resulted in some blur but great background separation provided by the lamp above the front door. The framing error and the camera shake may have been the result of trying to hold the monopod while shooting with one hand, not the steadiest shooting combination.