Workshop: Conceptual Portraiture with Tatiana Lumiere

Tatiana showing us how to work with dry ice. The science nerd in me was so taken with the fact that she understood dry ice sublimates not melts.

This past week Maryland Professional Photographers Association had a class on Conceptual Portraiture with the wonderful artist Tatiana Lumiere.

I will generally jump at any chance to learn more about my craft and it’s especially gratifying to be in person with other photographers to collaborate with. We had a number of models who were coiffed, made-up and costumed by Tatiana and Geniia Elliott Makeup Artist as well as various sets and locations.

As I’ve spoken of before, I have relished the opportunity to take on more creative challenges that stretch both my technical skills and artistic vision. So, I was excited by this class. After looking at the kind of art that Tatiana creates, I knew I would be inspired by having an opportunity to see her work. This was definitely true and I look forward to finding other artists to collaborate with on future projects.

After some demonstration and discussion with Tatiana, we were broken into groups to have our time with the models at various locations around the carriage house where MDPPA meets.

My first stop was with Jamie in front of the fireplace as Tatiana had first worked with the dry ice. As much as I love the textures of the old wood and stone in the carriage house, I didn’t particularly love it with the outfit Jamie was wearing. When Tatiana shot it, there was a curtain of fog behind her and I think I would have liked that better. In post I really pushed the color on the leaves and warmed her to fit in better with the warm tones of the wall. I also added some blur to the background to help separate her. This is also notable as the only set that had artificial light (a large softbox on a studio strobe and a large reflector).

Next we shot with Dana. She was made up reminiscent of Xena: Warrior Princess or a Wildling from Game of Thrones. I felt that the textures of the exterior wall of the carriage house worked thematically. It was pretty much the perfect time of day for a natural light shot. The difference between direct sun and the shadows of the “tunnel” behind the carriage house really help her stand out in the shot.

Next we went back inside to work again with the dry ice and a set that Tatiana arranged. This time it was with Kelly. Clearly, Geniia and Tatiana were taking Kelly’s lovely red hair as inspiration. This was one of the stations where it was challenging to move around and we probably had too many people working it. Especially since we were up against the wall and shooting with natural light through the doorway (as you can see above when Jamie was in the pit of fog)

I ended up not getting too many shots from angles that I felt worked for me, but I was so taken with the overall look. I definitely like the dreamy feel of natural light and mist. That’s on my todo list for a future project.

Finally we got to spend a little time with Rylee. This is kind of cool, because it shows how great natural light can be at the right time of day (in this case, sunset). Soft and glowy without really any effort or technical savvy. I was going for a glamor look, so the post processing might be a little heavier than I normally would use.

All in all, it was a great experience. I picked up some new techniques and inspiration going forward. Which is what it is all about.

 

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Assignment: WIG Coffeehouse – Improvisation

Last week (September 22, 2016) I was shooting the opening event for HCC Arts Collective’s season, the WIG (What Improv Group) Underground Rooftop Coffeehouse at Howard Community College.

WIG, HoCoPoLitSo, Improv Dancers, and Crew

This is the second year that I’ve had the privilege to be associated with this event. The event is an opportunity to see WIG perform and be introduced to their 2016/2017 cast. It is also a chance to explore the collaboration of writers and poets from the HoCoPoLitSo with the improvisers from WIG. This year it was expanded to include dancers and photography to inspire guests and improvisers.

Dancer, Heather Cramer

I thoroughly enjoy all my interactions with the theatre community, as anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows. If you were to ask me a couple of years ago, I might have said that my theatrical photography is some of my least creative efforts. I viewed my role as recording the creative output of others. Which I cherish since it allows me to be around truly amazing creatives, but I felt my role was more journalistic.

Musician, Chris Sisson

Improv Dancer, Jeffrey Mensah

WIG Alumnus, Courtney Branch

 

Actor, Jordan, brings the audience into the show.

W.I.G. actors Noelle, J.P., Sierra, Lauren B.W.

It wasn’t until this past week that I recognized what I did as not only being creative, but very much improvisation as well. When I’m shooting an event like this, I’m not involved in the rehearsal process (if there is one) and I don’t know what is going to happen. Especially with improv, since the performers don’t know either. The performance space might be in the defined stage area

or right in the audience’s face.

Whether there is a defined stage, or not in this case, I have a general idea of where the action is going to take place but constructing an image requires the photographer to position himself with respect to the subject(s) and possibly actors (dancers, speakers, etc…) with respect to others in the performance space.

This is where the improvisation comes in. Like the improvisers I was shooting that evening, some of my performance is based on experience and some of it is reacting to my subject. There becomes a rhythm in the performance and in my photography that will develop in concert with the space and performers.

The event was a great time and, as with the best of any shooting opportunity, I learned something about photography and myself in the process.

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Assignment: Evil (Dead – The Musical)

As I mentioned last week in Getting your foot in the door I’ve been pushing for more creative opportunity with Red Branch Theatre Company. Back in the early Spring I started talking to them about creating new photography for their Heathers: The Musical production.

Unfortunately, scheduling and budget didn’t work out for that and we decided we would make something happen for Evil Dead: The Musical opening in October.

While not really a horror fan, I love the comedic horror of the original Evil Dead movies. I wanted the shoot to honor those movies and their original posters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As is typical with this kind of collaborative effort, you start with some pretty grandiose ideas and the reality of coordinating schedules, location and (yes, again) budget quickly bring you down to earth.

I had hoped to spend the time scouting looking for an actual cabin in the woods that we could shoot at. We did drive around Howard County a bit looking for a suitably creepy spot.

The location was actually in a neighborhood and the, apparently, abandoned house might have been an opportunity for getting arrested for trespassing more than a photo op.

The day before we were scheduled to shoot, I scouted around the theatre. When I saw there was one of Columbia’s ubiquitous path’s leading into the woods down the street

I decided to explore back in the woods there, not even a quarter mile from the theatre… and look what I found. A creepy old fence in the middle of the woods. Not a cabin, but decent enough window dressing.

 

 

 

 

So, we now had a location and we just needed to get our models.

Originally, RBTC production staff had thought about providing me with one or two leads for the shoot. In the end they provided me with the entire cast and took the hit in the rehearsal schedule, which was amazing. We also got the services of their makeup artist, Hannah Fogler, and their costume designer, Andrew Malone, to make the Deadites look awesome for the shoot. My assistant, Allie Press, who is also a trained makeup artist helped Hannah get through the large number of cast members in a timely manner.

 

 

 

 

While the cast was getting made up, I sacrificed my assistant to that process and went to set up lighting in the woods. It was my hope that by shoot time, around 7pm, it would be cool in the woods. However, this was still early September in Maryland. It was hot and ridiculously humid. You wouldn’t know it by how fantastic the cast looked or behaved.

Photo credit: Allie Press

Lighting was an interesting affair and there was a bit of trial and error getting our setup. My concerns were having enough light from the front so I could see good detail in the actors’ faces, so I used my pretty powerful Godox AD360II with a small Godox portable Octabox as my key light and a Godox Ving V860 with a shoot through umbrella for fill. This still left the need to provide some light to separate the subjects from the background. This was accomplished by two more speedlights, one back about 20 feet shooting directly at the back of the actors and one off camera left.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

This didn’t work out as well as I would have liked. The Deadites behind Ash were kind of lost in shadow. So, I took the mid-light and modded it with the Magsphere from MagnetMod. This was placed behind Ash in the midst of the Deadites coming behind him.

Photo Credit: Allie Press

In the end, I’m really happy with how the images turned out. The cast completely got what we were going for. A little post-processing and I think we did credit to the original movie images.

In order to get the look I wanted, I added a ton of local contrast, blue to the background and magenta to the highlights. Here, you can see the before/after:

As always, I want to thank the folks at Red Branch for their trust in me and their enthusiasm for creating art of so many flavors. Thank you to Jenny Male, the director, for giving up some very precious rehearsal time and Dana Medford, stage manager, for making this all come together. This cast was great fun to work with an I think you are going to love their take on Evil Dead. Get out and support local theatre!

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Getting your foot in the door

In my previous life as an consultant in the government market I learned that you don’t always get into the ideal situation with a new client. Sometimes you have to just get in the door, consistently deliver results and look for opportunities to make it your ideal job.

I have a long history of involvement with theatre. I love the theatre.

I’ve been working with the amazing creative folks at Red Branch Theatre Company for a number of years. RBTC is a local non-profit professional theatre with a mission to produce socially aware content and serve the community.

First, simply taking production stills during tech week.

 

That being said, I wanted to do more with the theatre. So we expanded my involvement to getting decent, headshots of the casts for display in the lobby and something the theatre could give to their actors.

rbtc-headshots

I kept pushing for more involvement and creative opportunity. While my work isn’t central to the work they do, I felt like I could be a larger part of their success. I hope that extending my involvement to other areas like having the headshots be of the characters instead of the actors would be recognized as valuable.

untitled-1

This was really a fun expansion of my work with the theatre. It meant that for new shows I needed to get an idea of color palette, content, tone and a little more interacting with the incredible casts and crew.

That just wasn’t enough I wanted to have a bigger impact and more creative reach. Instead of minutes with the characters, I wanted some real time for setup, evaluation and experimenting (shocker, a creative who wants more time to do their work). Theatre budgets, of money or time, aren’t large. So managing my desires with available resources was important.


Still we worked together last year in gym near the theatre to create some very cool images for a calendar to promote “Dogfight”.


 

 

I don’t know that the calendars sold as well as we would have hoped, but the project was fun and I think it helped promote the show.

 

 

 

 

It gave me more chance to try different things, change-up lighting and tell more of a story in my images.

 

 

 

 

With the new year, there were changes at RBTC. In addition to finally getting their non-profit status approved, they have become a Helen Hayes Award eligible theatre. The first show they produced that was eligible was Sweeney Todd. For Sweeney Todd we did a studio shoot with the principles that I discussed already.

These are the people I want to work with. When they get the grant for 1.5 Billion Dollars, they’ll be the only client I need. Until that happens my work with them will be more of an expression of my creative passions than my greed. 🙂
Along those lines I had hoped to do something funny and dark for the production of Heathers, but schedule and budget didn’t work out for that. That had me looking forward to the Fall and EVIL DEAD: The Musical!!!! I’ll talk more about that in my next post.

 

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My First Print Competition

MDPPA April “monthly” Print Competition

Last night was Maryland Professional Photographers Association‘s print competition and I entered images for the first time since joining Professional Photographers of America last year. I have really been inspired by the artistry and technical talent I’ve been exposed to since joining. There is no doubt in my mind it has upped my game being around these people and seeing how experienced, successful professionals work. So, how did I do? Pretty well. Of the 9 images submitted, 5 of them were merit (80 out of 100 or above) and one of those was in excellent (85-89). So much better than I could have hoped for and I’m really excited.

My most successful images were all shot with my Olympus E-M1 in RAW and then spent some time in Lightroom, Photoshop and ON1 Effects 10.

Does your camera see what you do?

Once in a while I will go back through older images that I didn’t have time to really dig into when they were shot. That’s the case with “Locust Point”, which was the image that did the best in competition. The image was shot in August of 2015, but it wasn’t until February 2016 after being inspired by Larry Hersberger at the MDPPA Annual Convention that I went back to work on it. I spent a fair amount of time on the image, once I got started, to make it what I wanted it to be. This was an iterative process with a couple helpful critique’s along the way and a desire to not leave it at “good enough”.

I’m going to show the before and after of this image. Not so much to share with you the amount of work I put in or the skills I’m developing. It is so that you can start to understand the difference between what a camera seesprint-P8130288

 

and what the photographer sees
Locust Point

As you can see, everything that I saw was not “seen” by the camera and it took a pretty fair amount of work to get it to where I could share what I saw with you. Does that ever happen to you when you take a picture?

Selected Other Images

Here are some of the other images and a little bit of their story.

Fire On The Bayou

“Fire on the Bayou” – Olympus E-M1 M.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 PRO

“Fire on the Bayou”

This was shot while on an evening tour of Chicot Lake in Ville Platte Louisiana with my brother in-law. There was very much a “Walking Dead” feel to the Cypress Trees being lit from behind by the sunset.

 

Purple Dawn

“Purple Dawn” – Olympus E-M1 M.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 Pro

“Purple Dawn”

This is another image shot while we were down in Louisiana at Chicot State Park with family. There’s a long boardwalk out onto the lake which puts you in the middle of things that was quite close to our cabin.

 

Those are my images that did the best in the competition. Unfortunately, none of my portrait work made it to merit. Even my favorite image of James “The Amazing” Randi which I captured backstage at the last TAM I attended.

The Amazing Randi

James Randi – Nikon D3s Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 vrii

But that just gives me new goals and opportunity for improvement. So, I’m excited for the next competition in the Fall!

 

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