Stepping away from the natural world for a moment to look at something completely different, sort of a ninety-degree turn from the shooting I’ve been doing in the past month or two. For this edition of Saturday Light, I’ve got the promo images for TLCPoV, which is shorthand for “The Last Cocktail Party of Venus,” which is The Vintage’s latest theater project.
Following the success of “Pride & Prejudice,” and the incredible relationships that developed between the cast and crew, the gang is in the process of forming an official troupe that will continue to operate as a division of The Vintage, putting on several productions each year. But before the next big show comes along – probably sometime this autumn – we’re throwing a cocktail party.
Actually, we really are throwing a cocktail party. August 10th will be the one and only showing of “The Last Cocktail Party of Venus,” which falls into the category of modern, somewhat experimental theater. The performance will take place during an actual cocktail party, everyone dressed to the nines, on a small stage in the center of the room. It’s going to be different. It’s going to be cool.
The troupe has agreed that kicking off a project with a promo shoot is an awesome way to get everyone on the same page, in the spirit, and bonding. So that’s what we did. This time, given the cocktail party theme, we were looking for some glamour shots. It’s a big change from the last, location-based shoot and brings in an entirely different lighting theme. No ambient balance here, this is all flash, all the time.
The setup here is your basic clamshell glamour lighting. Two YN-460 II speedlights, one on a low lightstand and the other on a high stand, each with a shoot-through umbrella. The lower light is angled up at about 45 degrees while the upper light is angled down the same amount, which is where the clamshell name comes from. The top light was running at almost full power; the lower light just a bit less.
The result is a very even, very bright light on the subjects, without a lot of shadow. It’s very flattering, very glamourous light. Colors pop and people look good. I’m actually positioned just behind the lightstands, leaning in with the lens immediately under the upper umbrella – and often pushing it up out of the way slightly. It’s almost like having a giant light bank all around the camera, flooding the model with soft, glorious light.
As you can see, there’s also a third light on a stand directly behind the models, blasting back at the seamless. For the record, I hate shooting with seamless, mainly because it’s a huge pain to setup and work with, compliments of the really shitty $99 background kit I have. You know, the one where the background stand sections like to slip down inside each other. ‘Cause it always looks good on a shoot to be up there, holding a stand upside down and trying to shake a section back out of it. But I digress…
There really is no other way to get a pure white background, short of a studio with a cyc wall (which I dream of having one day). Of course, for truely even backlight, two speedlights would have been better. But this was a down and dirty method that got the job done well enough, with the understanding that there’d be some cleanup in post.
This is the final product, one of eight different posters we created to help promote the show. Each has a different cast member, along with a quote by or about them, and the show details. Cool stuff. The selective desaturation was Conor’s concept – he wrote the show and is one of the co-owners of The Vintage. I’m usually hesitant to try this trick, as it’s overdone and usually falls flat. But I daresay it works here, the b&w playing to the whole cocktail party theme while the drinks or small elements providing just enough of a color pop to be interesting. Plus it creates a distinctive look for the posters, so that if you see one, then later see another, you’re going to remember and associate them.
The processing for this was a lot easier than you might think. It was easier than any other way I’ve done it before, actually. My issue is that I like doing b&w conversions in RAW, in ACR to be specific, via my VSCO Film emulations. The problem is that there’s no easy way to handle selective coloring in ACR with the emulations. But the solution is so easy – I simply duplicated the original RAW file, ran one of them through the b&w process, then loaded both into Photoshop as layers in the same document. From there it was a simple matter of using the selection tool to mask off the area I wanted in color – in the color layer, as it the selection worked better there. Then I just dragged the mask onto the b&w layer. Easy as that. Some skin touch up, an overall curves layer, and the portraits were done.
Of course that last consideration is that the background has to be pure white all over, so that when I expand the canvass to make the posters it doesn’t show. Again, I did it as easily as I knew how, staring with making a color selection of the whites, then adjusting the fuzziness slider to get the model as blocked off as possible. I went into the mask and painted the models fully black, then moved the mask to a Levels layer and dragged the adjustment sliders all the way to the left, effectively nuking the background to pure white all over.
I don’t want to give the idea that Photoshop is a substitute for getting it right in-camera, because it’s not. And that’s a lazy way to approach photography. But Photoshop is an essential part of the process, especially when the end result is something like this, where the commercial application has specific requirements. The whites have to be white everywhere, the selective color has to be well masked, and it’s in post-processing that you make sure this happens.
If you’d like more info on the show, check out The Vintage’s website or the Facebook event page. To see more photos from the session, visit my professional site over the coming weeks, as I’ll be sharing some more on the blog there.