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Let There Be Light!

Jul 31

In Friends, Lighting at 8:25am

If anyone ever deserved a set of wings, it is my friend Donald. Let me be clear, not in heaven, right here on earth. I want Donald to stick around for a long, long while, and keep spinning his honey on the dance floor every Friday night, as he always does.

But he does make for a perfect fit for this retired set of wings I’ve got hanging around. My garage is prop city. Stuff. Things from shoots gone by. These wings were made for a Sports Illustrated shoot by a prop outfit in LA that does wings. Talk about a niche market. My studio manager, a dear friend and divine in her own right, Lynn Delmastro, found ‘em. They call themselves Mother Pluckers.

These got made at the last minute and drop shipped to North Carolina so I could pop ‘em on the back of Brandan Wright when he was a member of the overlarge NCAA freshmen class of a year or so ago.

This X-men rig showed up at about 11:30, and I got Brandan at 1pm. The North Carolina SID was real clear. I could have him for all of 30 minutes. (Funny, I don’t recall my time being quite that valuable when I was 18.)

So I hung ‘em, lit ‘em, and then lit up Brandan inside of two hours and put Chapel Hill in the rear view. It ran as the opening double truck for the story, but I never felt like I got a pic of the wings I could kinda hang my hat on. So they’ve pretty much been in a box. Just like this 6′ prop volleyball I got in the garage.

My subject here is Gabby Reece, legendary female volleyball player and athletic icon. Shot this for a story in LIFE that I conjured about strong women.

I proposed a photographic gathering of strong women to the editors at LIFE based on the fact that every night I came home, my two daughters would be engrossed in Xena, Warrior Princess. They dug Xena cause Xena kicked butt. I became intrigued and watched a few myself. I mean, I had no real interest in a six foot Amazonian woman charging about the forest wearing little else but a breastplate, but hey, the kids needed supervision.

I got to thinking. The LIFE year end issue was coming, and as usual, it loomed as a compendium of death. Many, many famous folks died that year, and the obit pages rolled on forever. (Didn’t really bother me much as I find all that kind of news sort of morbidly fascinating. But then, they don’t call the obit section of the newspaper the Irish sports pages for nothing.) But, thinking of the newsstand reader of the mag, I suggested we spice up our yearly sign off by doing a picture series on powerful females. The WNBA debuted that year, Xena was hot, and actresses like Michelle Yeoh, famed for her martial arts prowess, were center stage. Let’s do some cool photos! They bought it, and Gabby was a lock for the story right away. The editor on the piece, a very bright wordsmith with an overblown sense of his grasp of photography materialized imperiously in my office doorway. “What’s the concept for Gabby?” he demanded.

Hmmm…..think fast, Joe. How about we pose her as Atlas? We could have her holding up the world, along the lines of the big fella, but the earth would be a volleyball! He nodded and left. Cool! I went to LA and spent three grand at a prop house on this volleyball. (Hey, the editor nodded, right?) Distressed it with desert mud, guy wired it with monofilament and Gabby hoisted it in beautiful desert light. It’s in a box in the garage, as I speak. Available at reasonable rental rates:-)

Teaching at Santa Fe last week, I figured I’d give the wings another go as a class lighting demo. Rigged them with two c-stands a couple Bogen super clamps, and a few sand bags.

Lit ‘em from the back with two SB800 speed lights, dome diffusers on and zoomed at 14mm. As you can see they are banged right into the back of the feathers, and the happy accident here was that they backwashed light onto the old wall in pretty nice fashion. (Anytime you can get your lights to do two jobs at once, it is a good day in the field.)

Lighting the portrait part was trickier. As soon as any frontal light flies at those wings, the white feathers bleach out, and the backlit glow and romance is gone. They get flat as yesterday’s newspaper and less compelling. So, the trick is to light the face and nothing else. Hoo Boy!

Improvisation ruled the day. Took a Nikon SB900 and zoomed that puppy to 200mm, and snookered it even further with a Honl snoot. Tried that alone, and the results were predictably harsh. Not too much spill, but bad dog light. Dropped a Lastolite Tri-Grip diffuser panel over it, and got soft light, and way too much of it. Not in terms of power, just in spread.

Out came the gaffer tape. (Is there anything in this world that can’t be made better with gaffer tape?) When we were done, there was maybe a 6″ square of diffuser left exposed. The rest of the panel is gaffered.

Amazing what a little diffusion will do. We went from harsh, awful light to just enough softer glow to cover the face and shoulders, but not dull the wings.

I wanted that soft light for Mawgie, as this was the last time she will accompany the location light class. She and her husband Shaylor packed up the kids and moved this week, leaving the Santa Fe Workshops all the poorer for it. I cannot tell you how many of my lighting workshop participants she helped along the way by her patience, grace, humor, decency and elegance in front of the lens. She posed for the workshops for 13 years, and will be missed a lot. All of us wish her and her family the best as they turn a new page on their adventure.

And Rick, of course, stepped in front of the wings, insisting that he play the role of the fallen angel.

For Rick, I didn’t retouch any of the support structures and set stuff. I left the frame alone. He is an American original.

And of course, the intrepid Kevin Vu, a terrific shooter and the redoubtable studio manager at Santa Fe, stepped in to add his, uh, two, uh, cents……

If you notice in one of the production pix, Kevin is off to the left of the frame, his rugged, manly face festooned with red lipstick marks. We’re talking chick magnet, here. Major league. Big time.

And, speaking of the production pix, they are courtesy of photog Karen Lenz, also working the SF studio, who is one the true stalwarts of the workshops. If I needed anything done, I’d look around, and somehow, it already was. She is headed for NY to be a producer, and anybody’s job will be the better for her attention to detail and dogged determination to dot all i’s and cross all t’s. Kevin’s headed for the Big Apple, too, and trust me, when he arrives, the world of photography and the women of NY will shiver in equal measure.

My class rocked. Take a look. Location Photography and Lighting

They really went after it, throwing caution to the winds and trying new stuff, from Ranger lighting kits to Elinchrom Octas, to beauty dishes and complex setups with small flashes. The reason they had all this stuff to play with is the Bogen Corp. and their continuing support of photographic education. Not only did they send the stuff, they sent the irrepressible Mark Astman, one of their mainstays, and an incredibly congenial, knowledgeable resource for the whole class. A great week, rambling around, lighting stuff up, and talking pictures…..more tk

53 Responses to “Let There Be Light!”

Humor Zanka says:

on July 6, 2010 at 7:35 am

Great post, may I reference it by quoting you and posting a link?

Tony says:

on March 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Thanks for your blog. I read about this wings shot in your book and it inspired me to have a go. You have a way of making awesome shots seem possible.

I photograph for fun. This sort of blog makes me push for shots that are beyond my current ability/experience, thanks again for the help.

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