Archive for the ‘Lighting & Studio’ Category

Epica @ Howard Theatre

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Epica

The fall concert season has been a slow one for me due to loads of work-related travel and other life factors. Still, I’ve done a few fun shows, and I’ll do a few retrospective posts about them here, since I’ve been neglecting the blog rather severely for much of the year. First up is a rare metal show at the Howard Theatre – gothic metal stalwarts Epica in late October. I really like this band, despite the damage that does to my metal cred, and haven’t seen them since 2010, when I did a fairly pedestrian band portrait with them in the parking lot of what was then Jaxx.

This time around, I did a portrait with just Simone Simons, the band’s frontwoman. This is of course easier than a full band shoot, but I was given 5 minutes with her in a terrible location with only about 10 minutes to set up. So I didn’t even try to get creative; instead, I did a simple two-light setup and avoided all backgrounds. I used my 85/1.4 stopped down a bit to f/2. As far as boring headshots go, I’m pretty happy with it:

Simone Simons

The show itself was fun to shoot, but I got stuck right in front of Simone’s mic stand, which was irritating because she didn’t even really need it – she was using a wireless mic. So I didn’t get the kind of wide-angle shots I tend to favor at metal shows, and in fact some of my better shots came from when I stepped away from the front of the stage and sniped from the back with a long lens. Lighting was par for the course for a metal show – pretty crappy and red, but good enough.

For more, check out the full set at Flickr, and follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Epica

Epica

Epica

Epica

Epica

For more, check out the full set at Flickr, and follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Birthday bash with I:Scintilla

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

I:Scintilla

Chicago’s I:Scintilla, who mix melodic electronic music with tinges of metal, made their first appearance in Minneapolis since 2008 on Friday night, thanks to a friend of theirs who decided to put on a great show for her 30th birthday celebration. (Thanks, Renee.) They were missing two of their members, unfortunately, but that certainly didn’t make itself evident in the music, as their set sounded great. Visually, vocalist Brittany Bindrim and guitarist Jim Cookas both have great stage presence with tons of energy, and combined with Ground Zero’s gorgeous lighting, I got some shots I’m quite happy with. Drummer Vince Grech, unfortunately, was placed extremely far back on the stage with no lights on him, so I have zero drummer shots from this show.

Beforehand, I did a backstage portrait shoot with the three band members who were present (my thanks to all three of them for the shoot). Ground Zero’s backstage area is tiny, and I tried doing some shadowy, creative lighting at first, but after a few shots it became clear that it just wasn’t working. So I slapped a softbox onto my main light, got rid of my other lights, and resorted to an incredibly basic failsafe scheme, lighting the trio nearly straight on with nice, diffuse white light.

I:Scintilla

Here’s an alternate take – both shots have elements that I like. Following are some more favorites I got from the live show. Ground Zero uses colorful LED cans for backlight and two big incandescent cans to provide nice white frontlight. Combined with judicious use of a fog machine, it’s a recipe for beautiful lighting.

If you like these, be sure to check out the full photoset at Flickr, and follow me on Facebook for more of my work.

I:Scintilla

I:Scintilla

I:Scintilla

I:Scintilla

I:Scintilla

I:Scintilla

Local opener Thought Thieves, on the other hand, played in the dark for almost their entire set. They filled the venue with fog and then barely used any lights at all – not even any backlights, so I couldn’t get any silhouette shots. Eventually the fog cleared and the backlights came on, and I was able to get a couple shots towards the end of the set. My favorite is this one:

Thought Thieves

And finally, openers Cwn Annwn had the more typical gorgeous Ground Zero lighting treatment, and I definitely got some great shots of them. They play a kind of melodic metal that was a bit incongruous to the rest of the show (they closed out with a cover of Rush‘s “Subdivisions,” which was unexpected and wouldn’t have been my first choice for a Rush cover, but they did it well). Regardless, the unusual combination worked, and seemed to go over well with the crowd.

Cwn Annwn

Lots more photos over at Flickr.

Two recent portraits

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Kraddy

Last week I did a couple portraits with electronic musicians – it’s nice to shoot individuals as opposed to full bands, just because it’s a lot easier to get creative. Setting up complicated lighting setups on the fly for 4- or 5-member bands has never really worked well for me, but in shooting a single performer, I’m pretty comfortable doing interesting setups with just one or two lights. The above shot, of Kraddy at the Varsity Theater, is a two-light setup: an umbrella’d SB-900 camera right as the main light, set up a few feet away to get those hard shadows. The second light was a zoomed and CTO’ed SB-600 behind and below Kraddy to give a bit of a rimlight effect, which is pretty subtle and could be mistaken for ambient lighting – I wish I’d had that light powered up a bit more. I got a lot of help from the theater’s colorful main room environment, of course. This was shot from onstage, after Kraddy’s soundcheck.

Morgan Page @ The Lounge

I don’t like this one quite as much, but it’s a pre-show shot of Morgan Page at The Lounge in downtown Minneapolis. This is also a two-light shot, a CTO’ed SB-900 camera right as the main light, and then an umbrella’d SB-600 behind the camera to the left as a weak fill. I tried using the glasses set up on the table as a compositional element, but I don’t quite like how that turned out – perhaps a third light with a blue gel highlighting them would have made it a bit better.

In any case, here are a couple performance shots as well. Kraddy:

Kraddy

Morgan Page:

Morgan Page @ The Lounge

Wandering around town

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Unloved Armchair

I was cruising around Minneapolis looking for things to take pictures of earlier this week, something I really don’t do often enough. I found pretty much the perfect subject, an armchair sitting in the middle of an open field between two enormous abandoned grain elevators. It was amazingly incongruous – I could hardly have asked for anything better. Unfortunately, the light on the grain elevator behind the armchair wasn’t working for me, and the elevator itself was too big to fit in the frame even with my 14mm lens. So I settled for using the sunset as a background – a little less edgy, but the armchair is still rather bizarre even in this slightly more typical context.

I lit this with two strobes. The main light is an SB-900 high camera right at 1/8th power, zoomed to 200mm, with a full CTO gel for warmth. I also used an accent light to give some definition to the left edge of the chair – an SB-600 camera left at 1/32nd power, zoomed to 85mm and unmodified.

Keeping it simple with Lisha

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Lisha

I had about an hour and half to shoot with Lisha earlier this week, a last-minute scheduling. I committed a cardinal sin: I didn’t check my gear bags before heading out to the shoot. As a result, once I got there I found that I had no umbrellas or any other way of diffusing my lights. But this might have been a blessing in disguise: with fewer tools to work with, I focused on getting some shots using natural light, and then, after the natural light went away, using hard light to get some dramatic, shadowy looks.

Above, a simple headshot done with pure natural sunlight. The background is completely dark because we were actually inside a large abandoned building, with an open door to the left letting the light in. But nothing else inside was lit – hence the studio look of the shot, with the black background and soft directional lighting.

Lisha

This was outside the building, taking advantage of some nice color in the flora. Again, nothing but natural light here, and shot wide open with a 85/1.4 to minimize depth of field.

Lisha

The one serious non-gear problem with this shoot was that mosquitoes were everywhere. Once the sun went down, they immediately got so bad that we really had to wrap things up quickly. Lisha changed and we shot a series of photos in which I used a single CTO’ed SB-800 to cast some hard light on her and match her blue dress with the blue sky. We worked kind of frantically as we were getting eaten alive, and came away with a couple decent shots.

Dusk is my favorite time of day to shoot, but it’ll certainly be a lot nicer to shoot at that time when the weather is a bit cooler and the bugs are just a memory.

Teaser: Gabriel & the Apocalypse Promo

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Gabriel and the Apocalypse

I jumped the gun a while back in posting a full set of these, but for now here’s a teaser of a promo shoot I did with Minneapolis hard-rockers Gabriel and the Apocalypse about a month ago. This shot were taken on the fourth floor of the Guthrie Theater, in a lounge area dimly lit by warm incandescents was offset by that cool blue background. Those colors are there “in real life” and not done with either my own lighting or post-processing. I popped a single flash into a bounce umbrella at camera right to light this, hiding it behind a wall so as not to get reflections off the glass in the background, and dragged my shutter big-time (down to 1/10 of a second for some shots) to let in that colorful ambient light.

Promo shoot: Gabriel and the Apocalypse

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Gabriel and the Apocalypse

Last year when I was poking around the underground music scene a bit here, I stumbled across a show by Gabriel and the Apocalypse, got some fun live shots, and later did a quick shoot for the band’s frontwoman, Lindy Gabriel. Yesterday I did some shots for the band’s upcoming album, in two distinctive locations: the Guthrie Theater, which is full of awesome spots to shoot and has a staff that apparently doesn’t care at all if you come in without asking and set up a bunch of lights; and Coldwater Springs, which I’ve been to a few times lately. I’m posting a couple highlights here; there are a few more on Flickr. If you haven’t already, please check me out on Facebook or on Twitter to keep up with my work!

The above was shot on the Guthrie’s ninth floor, which has these insanely tinted windows (those yellow tones aren’t Photoshopped at all) and a pretty stunning view of the Mississippi River. A simple two-light setup snagged us the above shot.

Gabriel and the Apocalypse

Gabriel and the Apocalypse

These two shots were taken on the Guthrie’s fourth floor, in a lounge area dimly lit by warm incandescents was offset by that cool blue background – again, those colors are there “in real life” and not done with either my own lighting or post-processing. I popped a single flash into a bounce umbrella at camera right to light both of these, hiding it behind a wall so as not to get reflections off the glass in the background, and dragged my shutter big-time (down to 1/10 of a second for some shots) to let in that colorful ambient light.

Gabriel and the Apocalypse

Gabriel and the Apocalypse

Then we moved to Coldwater Springs and used a couple spots there: first a graffiti-filled stall of some sort that I’ve used before but is just too good to pass up, and then a simple shot from the road with a decrepit building in the background. For the first shot I used two unmodified speedlights, one on each side of the band, plus a background light behind them putting some extra illumination on the walls. The second shot was tougher, as I needed two unmodified speedlights at full power to keep the ambient down (late afternoon sun isn’t much easier to deal with than midday sun!), and still needed some post-processing to get the exposure to somewhere near what I wanted.

Thanks to GATA for being awesome and easy to work with – I’m looking forward to seeing a few of these photos in their promo materials and album art.

Molly & Sam, brighter than the sun

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Molly & Sam

This is just one of several great shots I got in doing an engagement shoot with a couple friends. We were at Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis, which might just be the single biggest wedding-and-portrait-photographer-magnet in all of the Twin Cities. Unfortunately, the only time we were able to meet was late morning, and the sun was shining full force. We did a few basic shots in the open shade and then venture atop the bridge and I struggled with mitigating all the harsh shadows that go with midday sun.

For this shot, I zoomed a single SB-900 in tight on Molly and Sam’s faces, turned it up to full power, dropped my ISO as low as it would go and stopped down my 14-24 all the way to f/22. I got what I was after: a darkened scene with Molly and Sam lit brightly by my flash. (In retrospect I wouldn’t have zoomed the flash quite as tightly, which would have lost me some brightness but gotten me a bit more density in their bodies and legs.) I don’t really recommend trying this with Speedlights if you have studio lights handy; the SB-900 overheated after not all that many shots at full power, but luckily I got what I wanted within the first few frames.

Another thing I don’t recommend: shooting at f/22 without doing a thorough sensor cleaning beforehand. Gross.

Alex & Ali at Coldwater Springs

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Alex

In the past week and a half I’ve shot with two models, Alex and Ali, at Coldwater Springs in Minneapolis: a great location with a bunch of abandoned government buildings. Even though most of the buildings are tightly boarded up, there are still plenty of great backgrounds to be found in the environs. My shoot with Alex was a morning shoot – I don’t normally like shooting in the late morning because direct sunlight isn’t really always the kind of lighting I’m looking for, but this shoot turned out well because we had plenty of spots with nice open shade. Alex was a total pro, and adapted well to the environs; we went for a semi-fashion look that was a neat contrast to the surroundings.

Above and immediately below are close-up shots with just natural light and my 85/1.4 wide-open. For the shot below I fiddled with a tonal shift in Photoshop, not a processing technique I normally use, but I liked its effect for this shot. The one below that is a more complicated one: we were inside a large electrical box that had been stripped bare except for a few unidentifiable (to us at least) metal protrusions. I lit the inside of the box using a Speedlight bounced off a white umbrella, and then added two blue background lights shooting through grates on the side of the box. Because of the extremely tight confines I had to use my 14-24, hence the distortion, but I think it works nicely.

Alex

Alex

With Ali, I similarly did a bunch of natural light shots in the open shade, and then tried a few things with some lights. One of Ali’s outfits was an incredibly awesome colorful dress that worked perfectly for several backgrounds. The first shot below is inside some kind of tiny auxiliary structure housing a bunch of pipes; again, this was a tight fit so I shot with my 14-24. The lighting comes from a single Speedlight bounced off a white umbrella. The other two shots are just natural light; the last shot was a nice surprise: I didn’t go to Coldwater Springs expecting to shoot traditionally “pretty” photos, but those dandelions were a perfect compositional element and too good to pass up.

Ali

Ali

Ali

Penny Dreadful

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Penny Dreadful

I spent my Saturday afternoon with alternative model Penny Dreadful, in the same building in which I shot with Chels a couple weeks ago. (It was about 50 degrees warmer this time around.) The environment fit Penny’s look perfectly, not to mention her penchant for climbing. The headline shot above might kind of give away the location to anyone familiar with Minneapolis – this was up on the roof of the building at twilight. We actually should have come up here a little earlier, as my shutter speeds were way lower than ideal, in order for me to get some detail in the grain elevator. This one was lit simply, with a Speedlight on each side, both with shoot-through umbrellas. The key was going wide at 14mm, lying on the ground to get the dramatic upward perspective.

Penny Dreadful

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Earlier in the afternoon, we did this look, as Penny climbed atop a stack of boards and surfed precariously on top of them for a bunch of different poses. This one was my favorite – it’s lit with a single umbrella’d Speedlight camera left as the main light. I turned the background a bit red with a Speedlight camera right aimed at the ceiling with a red gel. This is a shot that might have been better a bit later in the evening, as even at max sync speed the light coming through the windows is a bit brighter than I’d like.

Penny Dreadful

Using this same outfit, we then did a much more straightforward shot. Even though it was 60+ degrees outside, it was a simple task to make Minneapolis look wintry, by slapping a CTO gel onto a single umbrella’d Speedlight and putting Penny in front of a window with bare trees visible outside. This is probably the simplest set of shots we did, just a one-light setup and no crazy poses, and I really like the results.

Penny Dreadful

We quickly got more complicated. One of the niftier features of this particular building is this strange walk-in filing cabinet system, which we decided might look really cool with Penny’s silver vinyl trenchcoat and a splash of cool background lighting. Penny climbed around inside this thing while I shot with an ultrawide lens and the following lighting setup: an SB-900 zoomed in on Penny as a main light, with a 1/2 CTO gel; an ungelled SB-600 with shoot-thru umbrella providing on-axis fill; and a blue-gelled SB-600 clamped to the back of the structure shooting up at the ceiling and back towards the camera. Good times.

Penny Dreadful

As mentioned above, at the end of the day we found ourselves up on the roof, where I used the grain elevators as a background and then just shot up at the sky, using CTOs to turn it a dramatic shade of blue. This one is simple, again: two Speedlights with shoot-thru umbrellas, one on each side of the camera, both with full CTO gels. The only tricky thing was finding weights to hold the lights down, as it was a bit windy up there.

We did try a few additional looks than what I’ve covered here (most of which involved more climbing, like this shot on top of some unidentified piece of machinery), but the above are some of my favorite shots. A fun and productive shoot, needless to say; the location was great and Penny was a rock star and awesome to work with.