This shoot, for Sairla was initiated by her boyfriend Eric, who contacted me about a possible contracted shoot. I decided not to do a paid shoot but to go ahead and execute anyway. After a few delays and a bit of negotiation regarding timings, location, etc, we ended up shooting for one hour (first shot taken 6:48pm; last shot taken 7:50pm) on a Wednesday night!
Unfortunately, the vision I had for this shoot specified more than the usual amount of equipment, and various things happened, but basically I ended up dragging two heavily-laden trolleys of photo equipment through the streets of Sydney during peak evening hours to make the appointment.
Thanks must go to the usual partner in crime peppanda who took the time to come and help with setup, equipment holding, as well as posing assistance, as well as Eric who also helped with holding equipment and with Sairla’s outfit/makeup/etc.
I was pretty happy with the yield from this shoot, considering we shot only for an hour. I won’t say I kept things simple, but I did try my best to suppress Murphy’s Law.
If you follow me on social media, you might know that my D700 had a wee bit of trouble. But since it was getting a bit dirty and an earlier experiment I did had broke the pop-up flash as well (not that I use it), I made the decision to put it into repair immediately after Monday’s shoot (the results from that shoot will come a bit later) and as a result, it wasn’t available to me for this shoot (and won’t be available for the next week or so either, I think).
My backup equipment is a Sony NEX-5R. It’s a nice camera, much nicer than the original NEX-5 that I got originally, and I got it for a bargain. I also have an array of older lenses, E-mount lenses, and adapters for the camera, and an adapter for using a normal hotshoe trigger on the camera. It’s a bit strange when packing for this setup, because the camera body itself is so slim that it basically disappears into the equipment case. Still, it has a nice APS-C type sensor, which definitely performs better than my first two DSLRs.
Since I wasn’t sure how I would perform during a shoot with manual focusing lenses, I brought basically the whole arsenal of lenses and adapters…and then ended up using only two lenses: the Nikon 50mm f/1.4, and a Leica Elmarit-R 28mm f/2.8 with tilt adapter. In fact, most of the shots were with the latter lens, with full tilt.
The long and short of it is that I now have much more confidence in using manual focus on a shoot with a live subject, and so I can pare down my lens choices during future shoots with this setup.
Since I knew I would only have an hour to shoot, it was even more important to prepare as much stuff in advance. Obviously, the first thing is to prepare references for poses. I looked up various poses that the character did, as well as “idol-like” poses, and decided what I wanted to do for those in terms of lenses and lighting.
Having done this research, knowing the area’s characteristics, and having a rough idea of my lighting, I determined that I would be predominantly shooting mid-range, so probably not full body. That directly translated into my decision to stick with the 28mm on the crop sensor. By this stage, the city backdrop at the location was relegated to providing “nice points of light”.
Finally, I decided to flesh out my lighting setup. I decided on the colours I wanted, and rearranged my gels to suit. While originally I wanted to light the ground with flashes, I decided to elevate the flashes to give the multi-stage-light kind of appearance. I was also ready to allow lens flare to throw contrast out the window, in search of the J.J Abrams-like “galactic glow” that I wished to achieve. Yet, the flashes which fire directly behind the subject (into the lens) would be controlled such that they do not overpower the foreground too much. That called for zooming in, gridding, and other such chicanery.
Taking lessons from Macross F shoots, I decided to use a gridded softbox as the keylight again, but with under fill via a reflector (which would later be boosted with a dedicated flash bouncing off the reflector), and side fill via a gridded beauty dish.
All of this is conveyed in my sketch:
The actual shoot was relatively easy to set-up once I had everything planned. Initially, some of the back flashes were a bit too strong and washed out the image a bit too much, or caused the entire frame to be dominated by one colour.
But we adjusted this during testing (with peppanda as test subject) and got the look we wanted.
Manual focus slowed me down a bit but very easily achievable with focus peaking and that digital zoom function the camera has. Moreover, I capitalised on the flippy screen for increased framing flexibility (though I note that I didn’t take too many chances with composition during this shoot due to time and location restrictions).
Overall, it was a refreshing experience shooting with so many unknown factors, but as always, preparation is key to overcoming difficulties.