I haven’t posted here in my photography blog for a little while, partly because I’ve been busy writing in my writing-blog, and also because I’ve been doing a lot of shooting at the community theater where I shoot. This is the third-straight weekend I’ve been at the theater for one thing or another. The life of a freebie volunteer is busy, busy, busy.
Yesterday I did a publicity-shoot at a rehearsal for a play called “Intimate Apparel”, which will run in the month of February. It is a drama about a black seamstress in New York in 1905. The playwright, director and major roles are all black. This will be performed in the theater’s loft with a minimalist set, so the brick wall is pretty much what the audience is going to see. Since we are still 2-weeks away from opening there are not a lot of props and the venue was strewn with BS, so I had to keep the angles and perspective within certain bounds and “shoot around” a bunch of stuff. One of the classic mistakes snap-shooters make is not paying attention to the background. Because the props weren’t really ready yet, I also had to avoid stuff like modern chairs, bags with logos and printing and bright orange ball-point pens that the actors were carrying around. This is why some of the shots look cutoff at the waist. Still, I’d rather have a subject cut at the waist than show a pizza-box or cell-phone lying next to them. Remember, when you are shooting a rehearsal it is the director who is in-charge not the photographer, so I am not in complete control of the situation. These are going to be used for online and print-media publicity, so the people are more important than the set anyway.
Because the loft of the theater has lousy light, I brought along and used my own speedlights. As I have described before, I generally use 2 Canon 580EX lights into small reflecting umbrellas at ½-power and fired with Cactus-V4 RF triggers. I set up the lights to crisscross the stage; the light at camera-left pointing to the stage at camera-right, and the light on camera-right pointed at the stage area on camera-left. I also try to keep the lights as elevated as possible and point down so that any shadows that do happen will be angled down and look a little more natural.
One thing that is always a technical challenge for me is the dark complexions of black actors. This is especially true when there are white as well as black actors on stage, or as in this case where the black actress was wearing a white dress. You need the exposure to fully illuminate the face, which is the most critical part, but you still want the white clothes to retain detail and not get “blown”. The most important thing is to not blow important highlights, because that simply cannot be recovered (“blown” literally means that the digital data is not there). It is much easier to bring up areas that are too dark than work with blown highlights. In most of these cases I first boosted the “shadows” somewhat in Lightroom, and then within NIK Viveza I was also able to select facial shadows and bring them up a little further too. Those NIK modules are really great. I use Viveza all the time and I highly recommend it.