Promo shots

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Next up at Rochester Civic Theatre is Miss Nelson is Missing. It’s a show for kids that opens in a week. I’ll be shooting the show at rehearsal next week, but I was there the other evening taking a few fun photos for the theatre to use for marketing.

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The Post Bulletin photographer was there as well getting a shot they will use in their story. I believe that will be in the paper’s 507 magazine insert today.

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For these promo shots, we usually pose the actors in some way, try to use a bit of the set, and provide a little flavor of the show. We’re shooting under stage lights, so I just dial in my show-photo settings. The only real challenge is the lack of a completed set. These need to be taken well before the show, so costumes and sets are incomplete. There may be many costumes still in the works, but we only need one or two, and don’t necessarily need the whole cast – especially for large casts. The set can really be a work-in-progress. A lot depends on how long before opening we do the promo shots. The focus is on the actors, so the objective is to try to avoid background distractions.

We don’t always do these shoots, but they can be fun – for me and for the actors!

Miracle on 34th Street at RCT

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Rochester Civic Theatre’s holiday show this year was The Musical Miracle on 34th Street, a musical adaptation of the classic story adapted by Greg Miller, the RCT artistic director. It was also my last theatre shoot of 2014!

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The show followed the well known story with various holiday songs – some familiar and some not so much – sprinkled throughout. It certainly played well for the season and, I believe, all the performances were sold out. And that’s a great thing for the theatre.

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I shot this show live, as has become my preference, during the final dress rehearsal. The set was colorful as were many of the costumes. And lighting was pretty much what I expect for most musicals. Some evenly lit scenes, some stronger gels with moodier lighting, and lots of use of the spots. The spots can make the photography more challenging, but it’s what you have to handle if you are shooting a stage performance and especially musicals.

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Looking through my shots, I had several I wanted to post. There’s some good variety in the lighting, the angle, the emotion. So, I’ve included a few more than I usually do. I think. I don’t really have a usual.

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Ha! Well, no, I don’t usually count, but this felt like more than usual.

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But I wanted to make sure I included Fred and Doris and Susan. And Santa, of course. That’s Denny, who’s been on the RCT stage many times, as Santa and, yes, that’s a real white beard.

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Lynne was on stage for this performance in the ensemble. So, I’d get regular updates regarding how rehearsals were going.

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And how much work was going into the dances. Folks who aren’t intimately connected to musical theatre can only guess how much work is expended to build a show. There are weeks of rehearsals, and most of the players either work or attend school. It’s truly amazing.

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And the performance level is consistently top-notch. We really have a talented community in and around Rochester!

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I’m happy that I get to be involved in my own way. And try to make some art from their art.

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If you read my theatre shoot posts, I probably sound repetitive, but I am looking for angles and shots that help capture – and tell – some of the story being portrayed. When it works, it can be a lot of fun for me.

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I’m usually looking for tighter shots, but sometimes you need to include more to get to the story – like the courtroom scene. Or I just want to include some good shots of the big numbers.

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Megan, the choreographer for the show, was a model for my I Dance personal photography project a while back. We thought it would be fun to use one of those shots for her “head shot” displayed in the theatre during the show. That didn’t work out, but I can certainly include it here! She did a tap number in RCT’s Chicago production which inspired this shot.

With 2014 coming to a close, I wish all of you a happy, healthy, and creative 2015. Smile and make some art!

Tutorial Tuesday – My Exposure Tutorial

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I have been asked a few times about exposure – how do you set it, what do the settings mean, why take the effort to select any particular settings rather than just letting the camera do its thing by itself. At its core, it’s pretty easy to grasp. We can pretty easily tell when a photo is too dark or too light. The controls which determine exposure help us achieve the level of brightness we want in a photo, but they also play an important role in creating a mood and conveying to the viewer the image we have in our mind.

I started to write a blog post about exposure, but I didn’t finish it. Sometime later, I again attempted to write such a post. And again, I left it unfinished. I like my posts to present something you can quickly peruse and spend just a few minutes reading and (hopefully) enjoying. And I like to sprinkle in some tidbits about the craft as I see it.

However, it turns out that just doesn’t work in this case. Exposure is a central component to the art of photography. It’s something every photographer should understand, at least to some level. And I just decided I couldn’t do it justice here in the blog. So I scrapped that idea and decided to write something more comprehensive.

I took some time, took a handful of photos specifically to help explain the concepts visually, and wrote what I referred to myself as an eBook. But, it’s not all that long – only 11 pages – so I guess it’s more of an eEssay!

I enjoyed putting this together, and perhaps if folks find it useful, I’ll tackle one of the other core concepts. With Christmas coming, and the possibility of a camera under the tree, I hope this will be timely information.

Go to the page here to download the PDF!

Fright at the Farm 2014

Welcome!

Once again, Rochester Horror is presenting their Fright at the Farm at the History Center of Olmsted County on West Circle Drive. It seems each year, they expand, now covering most of the barn main and lower levels and lots of the grounds around it.

Dollmaker

Each area includes live actors performing as you’re guided from one “set” to the next.

The Pirate

I’ve shot these in the past, and each year I try to find a way to light the scenes while keeping the feel of the scene intact. I tend to use gels to mix with the existing lighting. Unlike stage lighting, these scenes are dimly lit generally, so I’m trying to boost that, get some light on faces and enhance what’s there.

This year, I used two to three speedlites for most of my shots (all off-camera, of course). The skeletal pirate in the cave was one of my favorites. I matched the existing red light in the back with a gel’d speedlite and balanced a bit of CTO gel from the front.

Graveyard

As we were leaving, the misty graveyard with it’s spooky mausoleum was looking pretty cool, so we stopped and shot a few frames. Here, I left the ghost to its own lighting and adjusted the exposure as needed.

They’ll be there one more weekend. It’s a fun way to spend a cool evening!

Rent at the Civic

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Rochester Civic Theatre opened their 2014-2015 season with a Broadway favorite, RENT. This show has a big following, so there was ample talent on stage. I shot this show once before in Austin at Riverland Community College.

The show seems to demand a high technical level, so the lighting was fairly dramatic for both productions, which certainly benefits me. Ben Hain, who did the lighting for last year’s Les Mis production again tackled the lighting and again gave us an excellent show.

Snow

Ben uses some LED lighting which is gaining popularity. It is somewhat more challenging for production photos. I’ve been trying to figure out why, and I think I have a reasonable hypothesis. Unlike tungsten lighting through gels, certain LED colors are very pure. Gels are good, but they’re not perfect, so I believe the spectrum from, say, a blue gel’d light is just not nearly as pure blue as a blue LED. The broader spectrum from tungsten gives our digital sensors a bit more to work with in assembling the image. That’s my guess, anyway.

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For me, it’s more a curiosity than a real problem. I know photographers who worry about blue or green or red skin tones in stage or concert images, but I like the effect in general and think it provides more of the flavor and environment of the production. I really don’t want to mess with the lighting design – I want to embrace it instead.

La Vie Boheme

Not all of a show will be lit with colored lighting anyway. With a show like this, we do often have the players in more neutral lighting and background colored to produce a mood.

Group Shot

With a very overtly colored scene, you just have to watch the saturation and maybe dial it down just a tad. I’m trying to produce a faithful representation without the screaming color the camera will sometimes generate.

Phone Calls

I used to shoot RCT’s shows with staged poses. We’d work backward through the show and shoot various scenes the director especially wanted to capture. It’s a method that has its advantages.

Mimi Falls

But as I’ve been shooting lots of shows live, I’ve started doing the same at RCT. In addition to giving us a bit more spontaneity, it’s also tons easier for the cast and crew. I’ll shoot during a rehearsal, so they can just do their thing, ignore me, and not have to show up early one performance night so we can get the photos.

Well, it turns out RENT was doing their dress rehearsals while Lynne and I were in Italy. We had to miss opening night, too, which is unusual for us.

Finale

So, it was back to the old ways for this show. But the cast did great in acting for the camera. I think we got a successful set of photographs to document the production.

Next up at the Civic is a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street. For that show, Lynne will be back on stage. It will be fun seeing her doing what she loves!

The Myth of “Straight Out of the Camera”

Back when I was first dipping my toe into the photography water, I had a friend who was something of a mentor to me. He recommended the camera I bought (Canon AE-1) as it was relatively affordable to a college student and had an inexpensive power winder that I needed. He shot a couple Olympus 35mm cameras at the time and had a great eye.

He would tell me it was both less expensive and more interesting to shoot transparencies – slide film like Ektachrome and Kodachrome – than shooting negative film. Developing was somewhat more expensive, but you didn’t have to pay for prints (and Ektachrome was pretty easy to develop at home). But more important, when you viewed a slide, you would see more plainly the skill of the photographer. In the process of printing, one could adjust for a less-than-perfect exposure, do dodging and burning, etc., cropping, and even alter the color balance. When you sent your film to be processed and printed, you would also lose some information about how you did. Is this print dark because I underexposed or because they printed it that way? (This assumes you aren’t color printing yourself.)

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Shooting transparency film in the early 1980s.

I took this to heart, and for many years I shot almost exclusively slides. I learned that slides really are less forgiving than, say, Kodacolor negative film. The latitude – the range from lightest to darkest – was compressed and contrast was pretty high. I eventually set up a color darkroom and printed onto Cibachrome, a color reversal paper designed for printing slides. I learned then the darkroom techniques that could let me alter an image more to my liking. Still, the original slides were pretty much a product of what I did with my camera.

Let’s now look at digital. A term widely bantered about on photography discussion sites is SOOC, an abbreviation for Straight Out Of the Camera.” The implication is, this is the unaltered image, just as I took it, with no – zero – manipulation. Sometimes this is used as a before image to compare to the after image produced using editing software. Sometimes it’s shown as the “see what I can do without using Photoshop or manipulating the photo” sort of bravado. It’s basically trying to be analogous to a slide.

But, let’s look at this more closely. When you press the shutter, your camera collects a set of data from the sensor. Each sensor site – pixel – stores a numerical value representing the amount of light it has received. That light has passed through a red, green, or blue filter. These are laid out in a pattern, and now something – a computer – must interpret this data and make sense of it. It is not yet a photo until all the data is assembled into a photo. And the choice of how the various red, green, and blue pixels are combined to make a particular color is yet to be decided.

Suppose you are shooting in JPEG mode – you direct the camera to store JPEG images on the memory card. If we look at one of those photos, is that photo SOOC? Well, strictly speaking it is literally SOOC. But, does it represent an unaltered, unmanipulated photograph? No. There is no such thing. In order for the camera’s computer to write that JPEG file, it has to interpret the sensor data and manipulate it according to the settings you provide. My camera has several modes like Camera Neutral or Landscape. The color rendition will be dramatically affected by this choice. It has noise reduction and sharpness settings which again have a noticeable effect. If they didn’t have a noticeable effect, they wouldn’t bother creating those settings. I can choose sRGB or AdobeRGB color space which will affect how the red, green, and blue data are combined.

To say this photo represents the scene as I saw it, with no manipulation, is disingenuous and wrong. Were those beautiful rich greens actually there or enhanced due to saturation settings and using Landscape mode?

If instead of shooting JPEG, I shoot RAW, then little has changed. Now, instead of the camera’s computer assembling the sensor data into a viewable image, we just move that operation to a computer running Lightroom or Camera Raw or one of the other RAW editing programs. There’s no avoiding it. Even if you set the program to its defaults, you have made a choice that affects the image. And if you use different RAW processors using different algorithms, you’ll see different results.

In fact, with a RAW file, you can’t even produce a photo that is literally SOOC (aside from the tiny imbedded JPEG the camera adds to the RAW file). The RAW data is just ones and zeros, there is no photograph until that data is processed.

What, then, does SOOC mean? Not a lot, I’m afraid. If you want to show before-after comparisons, that’s fine, and one can see what you did between the two. And, for the most part, the adjustments and manipulation done in-camera or during RAW file import tend to be globally applied, so we can know that.

But, if you want to brag about your photography chops and disparage those who want to use all the brushes in the paint set, don’t bother. Or, shoot transparency film. Oh, and we’ll view those on a light board with a loupe – any scanning or printing will, you know, manipulate the image.

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