As a photographer, or as any artist really, mixing things up and challenging one's own work is a necessity. Complacency is every photographer's worst enemy, and the images produced will lose their magic both to the audience and to the shooter. Challenging oneself allows for growth and learning. If the same thing is done over and over again, then a photographer can keep making the same mistakes, or miss a new opportunity and never realize it. So when I was invited to do publicity shots for my local community theater program for the 4th time, I decided to challenge myself.
ACT1 Theater is about to put on a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a fantastic musical that is filled with non-stop music of multiple genres and some great humor, that runs the last two weekends of July and the first two weekends of August. Somehow, I managed to find myself to be a part of the cast once again, and thus I was immediately volunteered to take all headshots and publicity photos. The good news is that this show has A LOT of color, so I originally wanted to gel the ever living crap out of those images. Sadly, time constraints didn't allow that to happen. I did end up creating some great lighting set ups though.
Previously, I used a very simple 3 light setup that cleanly covered the whole scene in light. The problem was that it was always 2 rim lights and 1 key, and I got bored with it very quickly. Sure it looked good, but it lacked depth and real visual appeal (AKA: drama). These are images for theater after all, and I realized they were lacking lighting that helped tell a story. Talk about a failure on my part. I want to blame it on the fact that these shoots were done free of charge, so I didn't try as hard. Bad Mike, Bad! I hope that wasn't the real reason, but suffice to say the pictures weren't always my best effort after the initial gig. ACT1, I apologize. I will do better in the future!
Well the day of the shoot arrived and I was immediately set at peace. A bunch of the cast got there early, as did the entire costume team, so everyone was already getting dressed as I was setting up my lights. I really didn't know what my lighting was going to be, even though I had already planned a number of the shots, but I knew I wanted it to be much more dynamic and shadow driven. My goal was to use my rim lights only as separation from the black background if I could help it, and use my key light to really drive the mood and feel of each shot.
I think I nailed it for the majority of the shots. My favorite is probably the shot of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. I really wanted to accent Ariel's (Mrs. Potiphar) seductive appeal with a swanky, speakeasy shadowy look, but still keep Bobby (Joseph) in a bright, clean light because of his Dreamer persona. Clearly a difficult task to have two different styles of light in the same frame without doing a composite. I think I found a good compromise of the two though and also rocked the composition and posing. This was actually the first frame taken and I knew it was the keeper right there.
This next shot royally pissed me off. That whole thing about challenging oneself and doing new things? Yeah, this is what happens when it doesn’t work. The idea I had was to have Bobby lit with a single soft light, and then have the edge of that single light just barely illuminate the brothers in the background. I wanted to portray the message that the brothers were being mischievous and diabolical behind a completely clueless Joseph. I figured the lighting would be super dramatic and look awesome. Clearly, that didn't really happen. For one, I was on a tight timeline so I was rushing. Secondly, I got too caught up in the lighting. Instead of starting with my one light and building as needed, I kept going with all three from the outset. Third, I started with everyone already in place instead of getting the one light right with Joseph and then adding one brother at a time. Lastly, 10 actors could not stand in their place for that long without wandering a little bit, thus I was continually re-adjusting the spacing between them. I was fighting a losing battle on all fronts. So thanks to my impatience, I didn't get the shot I wanted. Luckily, Photoshop came to my rescue and I ended up with something usable.
In the end, I got most of what I wanted. That last shot still pisses me off, but you know what? I gained a lot from that failure. I experimented with my lighting, and learned a lot about process and how to handle large group lighting set ups. ACT1 was really pleased with the images, so that's a check in the win column. Moving forward I plan to keep getting the simple stuff so I keep my clients happy, but also to test myself where possible. That may just mean doing more personal shoots where all I do is experiment and push my composition, lighting, and various other techniques. However or whenever I do this, I look forward to more challenges presented to and created by myself.