MEMPHIS through the MIRROR – Technical Information

From the initial conceptual ideas of this project, I knew that if I was looking through the mirror, I would need to find a way to get behind a mirror, I would need to remove the glass mirror itself, and the mirror would need to have makeup lights around it.  I knew immediately that I would not be taking these photographs in any dressing room.  It just wouldn’t happen.  It couldn’t…  This was going to need to be a staged photograph in a controllable environment, a studio.  By placing this here, I would allow myself to have complete control over every aspect of the photo.  I happened to completely take to one statement in the book, ‘within the frame’ that I referenced in my last post; “Exclusion is a powerful tool for increasing the impact of your image.”  In reading and processing that, I knew that I wanted to locate the actor and the dressing room and therefore the mirror itself inside a black void.  Placing the actor alone with his thoughts, his feelings, his emotions, and his role.  Blacking out the image would do just that.  It would allow the image of the subject to exist, free of distractions, and out there floating completely in the world of the image.  So we have the location locked down into an empty catering room at the theatre, turning it into a studio of sorts thanks to the sometimes surprising collection of collapsing light stands, modifiers, and both small and large battery-operated flash systems that I travel with.  With the addition of a black fabric backdrop tossed over an improvised background stand, I will be able to black the room out completely by using a fast shutter speed and still have the ability to let varying amounts of light from the makeup lights into the exposures by varying these speeds.

Speaking of makeup lights and the ‘mirror’, that line item on the proposal’s budget wasn’t for a mirror with lights built in unfortunately.  The line was actually for supplies to build the ‘mirror’…  After a quick trip to Home Depot, I ended up leaving with 14 sockets, 15’ of zip line to attach the sockets to, 2 male Edison plugs, two 2’x4’ sheets of ½” plywood, 12’ of 1×4 dimensional and various screws and eye-bolts to attach everything to.  The 1×4 lumber was be cut into (2) 24” and (1) 36” pieces, and with 6” of space between mounting holes, the sockets were mounted to one edge of the 1×4, with (3) sockets on the 24” vertical sections, and (6) sockets mounted to the top horizontal section.  After cutting a 12”x36” rectangle out of each piece of plywood, the two pieces of plywood were laid out together with the two openings mating together to create the 24” x 36” ‘ mirror’ or window opening.  I mounted the pieces of 1×4 along the edge of this opening on what would become the back, or non-camera side, of the ‘mirror’ and using screws I attached the 1×4 with the lamp sockets to the plywood, and in doing so, connected the two pieces of plywood together forming one cohesive rectangular window.  A pair of eye bolts screwed into pre-drilled holes in the edge of the plywood managed to slide right on top of a pair of lightweight Manfrotto light stands that I have, and the ‘mirror’ was built.  A little bit of scrap black duvetyn fabric to cover the entirety of the camera side of the ‘mirror’ frame, and we were set to go.

At this point, it was a matter of setting everything up.  I was fortunate enough to have time at the theatre before and after shows throughout the days leading up to Friday’s ‘shoot’ date to prepare everything.  Kevin, our A2 (or assistant Audio person) on the Tour was gracious enough to set up a few time-lapse cameras to capture Thursday’s load-in and test shots, as well as Friday’s events.

(a video that will be embedded from vimeo below when it is available from him)

The basic set up went as planned with one minor change to everything due to lower than
ideal ceiling clearance.  (See diagram to the right)  The mirror, while serving as its own source of illumination would be flanked by a series of softboxes allowing the ‘ideal’ beauty lighting when necessary.  The diagram as drawn during the planning phases of the project depicts the ideal choice of softboxes, while in practicality we did not have clearance for the Octabox to be in the center position.  It was replaced by a 20” EZbox instead.  These three softboxes would each house a Nikon Speedlight, the SB900 with an attached SD-9 battery pack.  Living in TTL mode, these three lights individually grouped into A, B, and C groups, would be controlled by a pulse from the master flash on my camera.  This unit, also an SB900 was set to be the master unit and firing strictly to control the remote units without actually contributing to the exposure itself.  A fourth contributing light would be my Elinchrom Quadra inside of a 30” EZbox gridded to cut down on spill through the mirror and gelled with ½ cut of CTO.  Shooting with the camera set in it’s preset flash white balance, the top/back light as well as the framed incandescent lamps around the ‘mirror’ would appear warmer in contrast to the un-gelled flashes in the softboxes surrounding the ‘mirror’.

Overall it all ended up being a well thought out plan that was well executed in our make shift studio thanks to the help of Todd, (the head of Audio on the MEMPHIS tour) and Kevin.  It all went together nicely, and thanks to their assistance; all that was left to do after some lighting tests was wait for the actors to arrive the next day. [on a technical note, please excuse the iPhone behind the scenes photos... I will post better ones from Todd and Kevin as they become available.]

… more soon …

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