Circus troupe promo shot

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#1
This one was a bit of an epic... Lily and I have shot together on any number of occasions and this was easily our most ambitious shoot yet. We have a habit of egging each other on - and when one of us suggests an idea the other never says 'no', they just add another element. We were in the studio 13 hours all told - but we did shoot some other stuff too.

Lily creates performance installations for high end events and needed to show off her incredible costume and set making skills. The brief was to create a dramatic scene to show off what her clients would get without it being too moody & glum - in Lily's words 'dark light and light shadows'.

It was deeply technical - and fwiw I think that's reflected in the fact that it's slightly stiff and mannered. She's delighted with it though, and I think it meets the brief.


Lily La Mer & Company
by Simon Carter, on Flickr

I did some BTS stuff for a lighting group on FB.. reproduced here.
8 lights, 3 assistants - unfortunately not Beth @sunnyside_up, she was going to come and lend a hand but couldn't make it. Plus one specialist low-level fog machine, lots of fairy lights and yards and yards of muslin. There were also a couple of rolls of fake snow, 4 bags of ice, a number of confetti cannons (they were overkill) and a number of painted trees.

Blank slate.. this is what we started with. The first job was to dismantle a partition wall:

Photo 25-09-2016, 09 56 20.jpg

Sorting out the props:

Photo 25-09-2016, 09 56 10.jpg

Costumes:

Photo 25-09-2016, 09 56 17.jpg

Top view:

Photo 25-09-2016, 23 31 53.jpg
 
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#2
Technical stuff..

I needed to ensure that the fairy lights in the set and costumes weren't drowned out by the flash but that the image wasn't too dark.

The approach I took was to give each performer or detail their own snooted, gridded or flagged flash - or in some cases all 3.

I needed f8 to get enough DoF and 1/50s at ISO400 to get the LEDs to register as I wanted. Then the flashes were tweaked individually using a light meter and checking the results by shooting tethered.

Lighting diagram - reflectors omitted:
I did try with spots from both sides of the set but it looked horrible.

Photo 20-11-2016, 15 52 56.jpg

Lots & lots of snoots.. but not all of them

Photo 25-09-2016, 18 46 26.jpg

Another shot of the lights, though this wasn't the final arrangement:

Photo 25-09-2016, 13 40 11.jpg
 

sunnyside_up

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#3
Wow! Talk about knowing your stuff Simon! @juggler ... loving the bts shots. Gutted I couldn't have been there on the day, but needs must.

I think you nailed this incredibly! So many lights and modifiers to tweak to get it all just right, that's just awesome and you should be incredibly proud of yourself!

I would imagine getting the fairy lights to show up was quite difficult?
 
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Thanks folks!
I would imagine getting the fairy lights to show up was quite difficult?
Not that difficult once I'd worked out how to keep the flashes from hitting the led-lit parts of the scene. The hard part was deciding how bright to have them, or rather how bright to have the glow from the material around them. I needed f8 to get sufficient DoF - though that was marginal, f11 would have made it easier to find a focus point. Then it was a game of chicken - how high an ISO could I tolerate, and how slow a shutter could I go for and be sure that I wouldn't get any motion blur from the ambient? I settled on ISO 400 and 1/50s.

The difficult parts were idiotic things like arranging the fake snow in a way which was safe for the stilt walkers, anchoring the trees, stopping the hoop from spinning and finding a relaxed looking pose for the mermaid - it takes an aerialist's muscles to hold the tail fin up like that.
 
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#6
Amazing, everything, including the make-up, costumes, lighting, set and the final photo.

Thanks for the BTS, it's really interesting to see those shots and just emphasises how much work has gone into the shot, and I love that you used a pringles tube!

The only slight negative I would make is that the arielist has a light bit on the top of her right leg which because of the straight line looks strange and I'm not keen on the shadow on the guy in the middle's chest but have to say you have done an amazing job and those two little bits don't take away from the overall picture at all for me.
 
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#7
Amazing, everything, including the make-up, costumes, lighting, set and the final photo.

Thanks for the BTS, it's really interesting to see those shots and just emphasises how much work has gone into the shot, and I love that you used a pringles tube!

The only slight negative I would make is that the arielist has a light bit on the top of her right leg which because of the straight line looks strange and I'm not keen on the shadow on the guy in the middle's chest but have to say you have done an amazing job and those two little bits don't take away from the overall picture at all for me.
Thanks! I can think of dozens of things I'd like to improve but I'm not going to get another chance :)

fwiw the light patch on the leg is part of the leotard and the shadow on the chest was deliberate. The crystal ball got a bit lost without it and it's kind of a focal point. Doesn't mean it was the right thing to do. though :)
 
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#8
Thanks! I can think of dozens of things I'd like to improve but I'm not going to get another chance :)

fwiw the light patch on the leg is part of the leotard and the shadow on the chest was deliberate. The crystal ball got a bit lost without it and it's kind of a focal point. Doesn't mean it was the right thing to do. though :)
I did wonder if you had done the shadow deliberately and I can see why you did, it does make it more of a focal point. Maybe just a little to much for me but that doesn't make it wrong either :)

Shame it is a one time opportunity but you and they have got a shot to be proud of.
 
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#15
Juggler, thank you so much for taking the time to post this image and background information.

I find it really engaging to see how bigger complex shoots are carried out. Love the whole final image and how it shows up how amazing the costumes are as well as the team of people.
 
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#16
Gosh, folks, if I was a blushing kind of chap I'd be doing it now. Thank you.

I always imagined this type of shot would have been a composite due to the technical challenges of lighting the different performers, the mermaid and the background lights.
I think you've done a great job here.
My compositing skills still suck - despite much practice - and I don't really think like that. But in fact this is a composite of sorts - all of the performers were in place in each frame, I just selected the best expressions from 4 different frames and did a spot of easy blending.
 
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#18
Excellent shot, and as you noted a bit stiff but none the worse for that on balance. (yes a pun) Personally, the shot is a little unbalanced compositionally (no pun) for the group as a whole. By that I mean the performers heads feel a little too close to the top and right of the frame to the amount of empty space given over to the bottom and left. Nothing serious, just a niggle, great work!
 
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#19
Excellent shot, and as you noted a bit stiff but none the worse for that on balance. (yes a pun) Personally, the shot is a little unbalanced compositionally (no pun) for the group as a whole. By that I mean the performers heads feel a little too close to the top and right of the frame to the amount of empty space given over to the bottom and left. Nothing serious, just a niggle, great work!
You're quite right. The nearness to the top is deliberate to emphasise the height of the stilt walkers but it doesn't balance well with the gap in the middle and the bottom left doesn't quite hang together. Bendini - the juggler - filled the middle in some shots but was pulling the most unusably eccentric faces at the time, and the blanket-of-fog machine was a bit more feeble than I'd hoped.
 
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#23
If you can post any hints or tips about fog machines and their use in your shoots, that would be interesting.
I've used two different sorts - one was a cheapo amazon jobbie which does things like this which emits fog everywhere, the other is the one in this shot which takes a different sort of fluid and bags of ice to create a low-lying blanket of fog. It's not dry ice, btw, but a mixture of oil and water vapour. They're really only suitable for indoor use unless you get a big one and power it from an inverter - I use smoke grenades outdoors.

Fog is really unpredictable - allow lots of time, or construct a shot in a way which doesn't totally depend on the effect. I often end up cloning, dodging & burning the fog in the final images.

It's worth paying for high grade fluid - you get denser fog and the machines supposedly last longer.

The machines take a while to heat up and then you don't get that much out of them before you need to wait a few minutes for them to warm up again - and for the existing haze to disperse.

You generally want to avoid shooting with fog or haze between you and the subject, and to light the fog from the rear or side. It really helps to have an assistant to aim them.

Feel free to ask any specific questions & I'll do my best to help.
 
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#24
Can't add anyhting.Love the photo and the bts is really helpful. Have ne a clue how you manage to remember all this stuff. Really like the use of the fairy lights & blue gel.


Gaz
 
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#25
Can't add anyhting.Love the photo and the bts is really helpful. Have ne a clue how you manage to remember all this stuff. Really like the use of the fairy lights & blue gel.


Gaz
Thanks! It's not so much remembering as working it out - and looking properly. The blue was a compromise - I'd have preferred to keep it all white but Lily's white tail isn't ready yet so the blue was an attempt to tie it all together.
 
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#26
Very nice work.
There are things I would change/do a little differently... but there is almost always something I see/find after-the-fact. One thing I see that could easily be addressed is the loss/lack of color on the right side... it fades off into "grey" and I think that hurts the image notably. A bit of painting on a layer in "color" mode would fix that easily... and perhaps a bit of dodging there to more closely resemble the left side.
 
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#27
Very nice work.
There are things I would change/do a little differently... but there is almost always something I see/find after-the-fact. One thing I see that could easily be addressed is the loss/lack of color on the right edge... it fades off into "grey" and I think that hurts the image notably. A bit of painting on a layer in "color" mode would fix that easily.
Thanks - I hadn't spotted that, I'll give it a go.
 
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#29
I think this is rather good Simon. Appreciate the BTS too, very insightful. You are lucky to have a friend like Lily but there is no luck involved with this shot.
 
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Thanks! It's not so much remembering as working it out - and looking properly. The blue was a compromise - I'd have preferred to keep it all white but Lily's white tail isn't ready yet so the blue was an attempt to tie it all together.
Adapting all the time as you go. Works really well.
I too never saw the fade to grey, now it has been pointed out. It really does stand out. I am sure it will elevate the image even more if you can do it as Stephen suggests.

Gaz
 
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#32
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#35
Jesus christus auf einem fahrrad! Rather you than me, sunshine.

The only issue I have with it is her on the hoop. Her knickers need toning in.

Apart from that, it's a work of art.
 
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#36
Jesus christus auf einem fahrrad! Rather you than me, sunshine.

The only issue I have with it is her on the hoop. Her knickers need toning in.

Apart from that, it's a work of art.
Ta! I'll give that a go.

An awful lot of people put an awful lot of work into this pic; they'll be delighted by all the kind comments.
 
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#38
The blue was a compromise - I'd have preferred to keep it all white but Lily's white tail isn't ready yet so the blue was an attempt to tie it all together.
For me, the blue has made the characters stand out more. Its a real Ice Kingdom effect. I have seen photos of actual blue ice taken at the poles and its very beautiful

An awful lot of people put an awful lot of work into this pic; they'll be delighted by all the kind comments.
+ I think this whole post has turned out to be one of the best I have seen on a forum - the work of the artists, background staff and photographer, lovely image and all the details of how to get it and the very constructive comments from other forum members. I wish we had more posts like this, as there is so much to appreciate and to learn. Not many people are able to shoot on this scale though, so its understandable such posts are rare.
 
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#39
For me, the blue has made the characters stand out more. Its a real Ice Kingdom effect. I have seen photos of actual blue ice taken at the poles and its very beautiful


+ I think this whole post has turned out to be one of the best I have seen on a forum - the work of the artists, background staff and photographer, lovely image and all the details of how to get it and the very constructive comments from other forum members. I wish we had more posts like this, as there is so much to appreciate and to learn. Not many people are able to shoot on this scale though, so its understandable such posts are rare.
Thanks again!

2 years ago - or probably just 1 - I wouldn't have been able to shoot on this scale. But I think anyone could learn to - I started small and I've expended a goodly amount of energy refining my skills, particularly those using small light sources. Ok, so I have access to unusual subjects but there's no reason why similar techniques couldn't be deployed to create a different scene.

.. and there's a bit of me that's still certain there was a much simpler way to achieve the same effect..
 
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