Sunday, December 23, 2018

Bethlehem 2018

Spoiler Alert: Spoiler alert? Well, nothing went wrong, and everything went right, mostly.

Bethlehem AD (BAD.) is an annual event I have been photographing since 2013. This recreation of Bethlehem as it might have appeared during the first Christmas was, at the time, shrouded in mystique, and event where parking would be impossible, the night dark and cold, and like Brigadoon, would appear for only three magical evenings and then vanish. It was those three days that would cause a problem.

Bethlehem 2013 A.D.
My goal has always been to get a photo published in time for the Journal's readers to attend the event, spurred on by the intense interest my photo was likely to inspire (Yeah, right). To some extent, my very first image did just that, being well remembered by the organizers of BAD, one going so far as calling me "THE Tom Jung, the one who made that great photo of King Herod." Sad to say, it may have been beginner's luck, as I've not submitted a better shot, though many came fairly close. But I digress.

This year, BAD ran from Friday through Sunday. By the time I submitted a photo opening night, the Saturday/Sunday paper would have already been "put to bed" and the photo wouldn't appear until Monday morning, the day after it was all over.

I knew this well in advance, and when actors from this year's BAD marched in Redwood City's Holiday Parade, I made a quick photo of these two costumed chicken wranglers which could be used to promote the event if I couldn't get anything better. Too bad I don't speak Chicken - If I did, I'd get these two hens to look up and smile. But I digress.

My lucky break came when the director invited me to the dress rehearsal scheduled for the night before the big opening. If I could get a shot on Thursday night and submit it Friday morning, it would be in running for publication over the weekend.  Perfect!

When I arrived, the Heavenly Host was already in place beside and above the manger, dancing to the sound track that would bring an audio backdrop for the tableau. Since another photographer was already flash photographing the set, I felt free to mount a radio-triggered flash on a tall light stand, knowing that I couldn't be any more distracting than the photographer already working the set. The dancers, already accustomed to having spotlights pointed directly at them, didn't seem to notice.

I made almost 100 photos, trying to get the flow of the gowns just right. I also wanted to have some hint of the Creche without having it draw attention away from my primary angel. In the end, I submitted the image at the top of this post. I wasn't really happy with the dancer in the background, but since her face was concealed, she didn't draw the viewer's attention away from the foreground.

Lighting Issues: I used a single flash mounted on a light stand about 8' above the ground. In spite of the specularity of the single sight source, its elevated position helps to create the shadows that define the gown, giving details to the pale garment. The combination of a high ISO setting and the power of the flash allowed me to use a relatively constant 20' flash to subject distance, simplifying my worries about my shooting position.

Warning Light. Looking at these images, you might not realized that it's really dark out there, and that a black light stand would be an accident waiting to happen. I happened to have an LED head lamp in my bag, so I set it to the "blink" mode and hung it from the light stand, pointing down. My logic was that people will (hopefully) look down when walking over uneven ground, and spot the blinking light and walk around it. For the few minutes I was actually shooting, it seemed to work.

The whole shootin' match was over by 9:00 pm, so I went home knowing that there would be plenty to time to get the image to the paper before the 4:00 pm Friday deadline. Everybody seemed pleased with the photo, but I am still wondering if there was a better image that I might have captured had I been more patient, or more attentive. Just like fishing, when after catching a trophy-sized bass, you can't help but wonder if there's an even larger fish, waiting, watching, and laughing.