Sunday, June 28, 2015

Beach Blanket Babylon 2015

Photo #1

Each year Jo Schuman Silver, producer of Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon, presents The Steve Silver Foundation’s “Beach Blanket Babylon Scholarship for the Arts” to three Bay Area high school seniors. Three winners, one each from the categories of Acting, Dance, and Voice, receives a $10,000 scholarship, and would be selected from three finalists by a panel of celebrity judges at the Club Fugazi, BBB’s long time venue.

In an unusual Trifecta, three of the nine finalists were from the Journal's service area, and a writer was assigned to write a feature article on them. Great! Now I wouldn't have to write a caption. But there was the pressure of producing an image to accompany the piece. There would be no editor to pull my image should I blew the shot. The result was Photo #1. But I digress.

I really wanted to do something special with both the location and lighting . Since they were all "San Mateo" residents, I wanted it to have an urban flavor. I was hoping to get an "Uptown Funk" look, but was also aware that I hadn't budgeted funds to completely close off any prime visual real estate. Cissie and I scouted out possible locations in San Mateo, and found a promenade aptly named Main Street that was closed to automobile traffic. There was also a parking garage just behind our chosen location, so moving equipment onto the set was a snap.

Next came the lighting. I wanted to make the sky as dark as I could make it, so I would need lots of flash power. Also, I wanted an overall "cold" rendition of the street, and have my subjects lit normally so they would stand out from the background. For my main light, I used a Quantum X head, powered by a Norman 200B power pack, and bounced it from a 72" Westcott silver umbrella. To achieve a "cold" look on the background, I placed a Rosco 3407 Gel (aka Full CTO) over the flash head and set the White Balance on my Nikon D600 to 2940 degrees Kelvin, the closest I could get to the 2900 degree value suggested by the manufacturer. This gave me an accurate rendition of my subjects while giving me a cold(er) rendition of the ambient background light. But more on that later.

B&H Photo. Click here.

To obtain a "performers on stage" look I used a Norman 2H 8" 15 Degree Telephoto Reflectorthat I purchased on e-Bay a few years back. You also need to install the special spacer between the flash tube and the head for maximum efficiency. Once mounted, it throws a cylinder of light bright enough to suggest a spotlight beam coming from behind. This light wouldn't be gelled so it would be rendered as blue.

I mounted the head on a light stand and set the power supply to full power. I triggered it using an Eilenchrome Skyport radio transmitter because it was too far away for an optical slave. I brought some Rosco Cine Foil to scrim (block) off the light spill that was hitting the tile wall to the left of the flash.

If you look closely at Photo #1, you can see the legs of the light stand besides peeking out from behind my dancer's right thigh. I'll have more to say about light stands when photographing in public venues later in this post.

Photo #2
This warmup shot (Photo #2) is pretty much right from the camera, and it clearly shows the telephoto reflector at the moment of "ignition". At this point I'm still adjusting my main light. For the final shot, I added a hand held a Nikon SB-800 with the factory supplied Incandescent gel to add a tiny bit of light into the shadows. I used the SB-800's built-in SU-4 optical slave to set off the unit. The beam angle was set for a narrow spread and aimed directly at my subjects' faces to prevent a secondary shadows on the ground.

Monday Morning Quarterback: Everybody was pleased with the photo, including the publicist from BBB. However, the next time I make a shot like this, I'll add the following items to my To Do List:
  • Alignment Of The Accent Light: When I did my initial setup, I had planned on having my subjects centered in the puddle of light. This clearly didn't happen, and I'll need to be more careful next time.
  • Additional Gels:  My use of the 3407 Gel did exactly what it was supposed to: provided a neutral/accurate match of the light source to the camera's white balance setting. Accurate yes, but pleasing? If you look at Photo #2, you can see that the skin tones are a bit on the cool side. The next time I make a shot like this, I'll add a 1/4 or 1/4 CTO gel on top of the 3407 to give my subjects healthier skin tones. Not an original idea, but a suggestion from David Hobby that I should have thought about.
Shooting In Public Venues: I was alerted to this potential problem by a post from Neil van Niekerk about his being stopped by police while photographing a model without a permit.  While I am not aware if San Mateo is as rigid as Hoboken, it could have been a potential problem. Normally, I would have had Cissie hold the flash and umbrella on a painter pole, but considering the location and the time (9:00 am), I didn't think this would be a problem. This time both the key and the accent light were on light stands, and this could have been an issue. I was wearing my press pass, as I was on assignment for the paper. 

Photo #3
I will be more aware of how my shoots are affecting the people around me. For me, the easiest thing is to "come up for air" and check to see if I'm holding anybody up. In this uncropped version of the lead photo (Photo #3), you can see one person (camera right) unsure of what to make of the situation, and in the background (camera left), a bicyclist waiting for a chance to get through without disturbing the shoot. Most people have been very forgiving in the past, but my advise is to never press you luck.