Saturday, August 25, 2012

Shooting the Pros

I was assigned to shoot some frames for the up-and-coming IMAPRO, the International Music Academy for Professionals based in Munich, Germany. They are working to be one of the leading academys for musical education in Germany, harnessing a fresh training system for drummers and still developing revolutionary learning and motivation methods for numerous other instruments.

See their website under and learn about their new project here.

The assignment involved three drum coaches, the founder and a picture for the drum coaching flyer.

Here is the shot for the flyer. All pictures are RAW developed and only edited a bit for contrast, colour and sharpness. They were all shot on a EOS 5D MKII with the fabulous and ever-so-sharp Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro. Lights were my beloved Metz 40MZ strobes. --
This is a nice-looking promotional shot, isn´t it? Well, here´s the story. I found myself in a rented rehearsal room, crammed with equipment from numerous bands, walls covered with egg-carton rubber foam. Hardly any room to move and no way to shoot nice frames without either a) leaving background things black, b) incorporating and lighting what is there or c) going wild with lights. And this is what I did with this shot.

I knew that if I showed the room the way it was, it would look super-crappy to any viewer. Although musicians might recognise the location as a musician´s trusted workspace, the general public would simply be repelled by its crummy looks. There was no way to produce decent-looking portraits here, simply because of the lack of space and because I had only brought a wee bit of white background paper. Although the walls were covered with near-black foam material I would have to spare out the mirrors, Coca Cola signs, lightbulbs and pieces of amplifiying equiment that covered ninety percent of the walls (or go for many hours of Photoshop time, nah!). So I decided to go for a backstage look for the whole set of pictures, incorporating the nice contrast of neutral and blue light, implying some sort of concert hall setting and indeed showing what I could find to fit my frame.

The subject on the flyer is lit by a 90x90cm softbox without the front diffuser which makes for a nicely defined light. the figure of the resting drummer is then only highlighted by a blue-gelled bare flash from high right behind. Both lights can be distinctly seen in the reflection in the chrome-plated stool legs (see my post about figuring out someone else´s light).

The basic setup for any other shot in this series is quite the same. I mostly let the softbox illuminate all of the scene. Sometimes I added a third light to add some accent.

There are three more lights in the flyer setup, all bare flashes. The ivory finished drum surfaces are lit by one light from high left (which also creates the nice BOKEH´d reflections from the chrome rims), the red accent in the drums comes from a red-gelled light from high left behind and the rubber foam covering the wall gets a blue spot from a sky blue gelled flash resting on the floor very close to the wall (accentuating the structure of the foam material).

As you can tell from my description, there are two totally individual setups for either fore- and background. This is due to the old rule of not lighting anything that you don´t have in your frame. I used every inch I had, myself leaning against one wall, framing the shot by moving the model and having the drum set in its natural place, close to the opposite wall. Every light in the shot is also as close to the wall as the light stands allowed me.

Here are the portrait shots of the drum coaches. Believe me, I used every corner of the location I could use. Having to shoot another pic there would give me serious problems. Of course, everyone holds his or her sticks to show their weapon of choice and noise.




The lighting setup, as described above (adding a light behind the rack and a blue fill with Manu and swapping the blue kicker light for an umbrella fill with Dan, while letting the blue kicker fill the aisle from behind a corner far behind, left) can be seen below. IT IS SIMPLE! Also, I incorporated equipment parts as blurred foreground for Dirk (Hi  Hat) and Manu (microphone stand), which makes a picture more interesting quite often. In the shot of Dan, I also dropped the exposure time down to 1/125th to let the existing light in the back live a little. Otherwise, I used the 5D´s maximum sync speed of 1/200 to eradicate all of the existing artificial light (you usually check first whether your f-stop, speed and ISO settings will turn any unflashed shot black. If so, you´re fine with what you´re at and can start to place some strobes).

Working with strobes instead of a portable studio light system always gives us decently small depth-of-field at close distances, unless we trade reasonable recycling times for power. But this helps us create interesting images with blurred back- and foregrounds anytime we have to spice up a disastrous-looking location. Remember, the whole place, including the drum kit and the aisle, looked terrible and kludgy. Of course, I could have produced nice and clean portraits against white background, which I thought I was assigned to do. But a bit of thinking and tinkering with lights produced these vivid, interesting images that fit the general spirit of the IMAPRO very well. Thanks to digital technology, we were able to discuss every single subject after a few test shots, so I was assured that the customers would be satisfied any time.

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