[Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald entering the coffee shop, used in publication.]

[Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald entering the coffee shop, used in publication.]

[Photographer’s note: the photoshoot this two-part series is about was done in January 2015 for Pagitica, a local magazine startup.  Unfortunately, as is so common with emerging publications, the magazine stalled before the second issue went to print.  I kept in touch with the founder/editor over the past 18 months, fearing that all our work on this awesome shoot would never be seen.  Thankfully, Pagitica has returned as an online publication, available through an app of the same name for $1.99 an issue (which pretty much just pays for the app).  Hence the long window between when these were shot and now, when I can finally share them and talk about them.  Be sure to check out the app!]

My first major photo shoot of 2015 is complete and just appeared in print is available as an app, so I can now share some photos and insights into the process.  I shot for Pagitica magazine, a regional publication based out of nearby Wilkes-Barre, PA.  I met the editor, Aaron, some time ago at NEPA BlogCon, where he was promoting the magazine’s launch and first issue.  We started talking and when Aaron needed photos for issue number two, he gave me a call.

Aside from supporting the launch of a local publication – which I am very excited to have been a part of – this one was a big deal for me for several reasons.  First, it’s my first real magazine cover, which regardless of the magazine’s circulation size, is a big damn deal.  And second, it’s easily the second largest photo shoot I’ve been part of, and was simply incredible on so many levels.

Aaron and I met several times leading up to the shoot itself to discuss his vision for the photos and how they would relate to the story, and talk details.  The short version is as follows:

This issue highlights a series of local authors, all of whom have day-jobs other than writing.  This is pretty common in the writing world, just as it is in photography.  And that goes all the way back to some of the big-name authors, such as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Christy, and Wolfe.

[Agatha Christie, used in publication.]

[Agatha Christie, used in publication.]

So the vision for the story’s photos began with a collection of these authors in a coffee shop, with the old question, “What would it look like if…?”  In this case, what would it look like if we were able to get these famous authors all together?  What would they talk about?  How would they interact?

Aaron was able to arrange for us to hold the shoot at the incredibly lovely Mansour’s Market, in Dunmore.  Mansour’s, an old market turned coffee shop & restaurant, had the exact look we wanted for the shoot.  It’s bright, warm, and period-friendly.  There’s penny tile on the floor and tin on the ceiling.

[Christie, contemplating the candelabra as a murder weapon - outtake.]

[Christie, contemplating the candelabra as a murder weapon – outtake.]

In addition, he arranged for an amazing wardrobe, five different models to portray our characters, and an incredible support staff of stylists to make it all look perfect.

When we arrived at Mansour’s on Sunday morning, we had all the parts we needed in place, and full run of the place until mid-afternoon.

The trick to working in Mansour’s was three-fold: first, we needed to keep the photos looking as period-correct as possible, which meant limiting (as much as we could) the inclusion of items that were clearly not present in the 1920s or 1930s.  In some cases this was as simple as hiding the cordless telephone under a table.  Or cloning the fire alarm pulls off the walls.  In other cases, such as the barista supplies behind the bar, it’s more a matter of keeping the focus off the background details and on the talent.

[Virginia Wolfe entering the coffee shop, used in publication.]

[Virginia Wolfe entering the coffee shop, used in publication.]

Second, the location was fortunate enough to have huge windows along the majority of the storefront, which aligned with the rising sun.  So there was plenty of warm, bright light spilling in all day, but by the same token any photos that included these windows also included the world outside, which was clearly not 1920.  And so the windows would have to be largely blown out in any photos in which they appeared, preserving the set as best as possible.

And finally, despite having the whole place to ourselves, space was at a premium.  Our combined gear – my photo and lighting equipment, props and wardrobe, food and drink for the cast and crew – took up a front quarter of the space, in an area where we knew we weren’t photographing.  The stylists took up the rest of that side of the room, whereas on the opposite side, where most of the photos would be staged, we were working around both the bar and the restaurant tables.

[Fitz and Christie discussing murder - outtake.]

[Fitz and Christie discussing murder – outtake.]

The name of the game here is having the ability and the reach to put lights where you want them, while at the same time keeping them out of the frame within the allotted space.  Which in simple terms means that I broke out the boom and the octabox, which flew out over the models in nearly every photo we made during the day.

Continued in part 2

Brent Pennington is a freelance photographer and the driving force behind The Roving Photographer. When he\’s not working with portraiture or promotional clients, he’s usually in the field, hiking, or kayaking in pursuit of nature and wildlife shots.

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