Sunday, March 4, 2012

bye bye liver - photo shoot - part two - bts

Check out part one, if you missed it, of this two part series of the "Bye Bye Liver" photo shoot. You can find that post [here].

This hilarious show takes place around the country, in various cities. The Chicago version, for instance, has been running for over three years now. The Philly cast hasn't been in action for quite as long but after seeing the play, I could bet the farm that it will soon be a staple of Philadelphia drinking culture. Yes, I said drinking culture. Rather than have me try to explain the humor, you'll just have to check it out on your own. The show takes place every Saturday night at Downey's on South Street. Philly natives should be very familiar with this drinking hole. As for the out-of-towners, it is located at the intersections of Front and South streets.

Tickets can be purchased at For 15 bucks you can get a general admission ticket or for 25 you can get a ticket accompanied by a bucket of beer, an offer that, in my opinion, should be offered by every show I go to see. Hey, just an idea. If you didn't make it in time to order online, fear not, tickets can be bought at the venue, before or on the night of the show.

Now, without further ado...

Where Were We?

Last time we ended before any shooting had even taken place. I was spinning my wheels trying to come up with a plan as my crew decided to inform me that they were running behind schedule. My head was filled with anxiety and some other nasty stuff, as I was battling some wicked flu or God knows what. Whatever it was, it hit hard and at the most inconvenient time. I was properly dosed up on every over the counter daytime medication that I could find. The meds weren't performing as well as I hoped. A shot of rye wouldn't have been the worst idea but I wasn't sure if it would take me off my game even more than I thought it would be.


It was approximately 6:45 in the evening and I had awkwardly stumbled out of the cab with three or four large bags of equipment. I paid the cabbie with a handsome tip of course. The night was cold and each breath I took was like swallowing cold razor blades. The freezing air and my sore throat weren't jiving at all.

I opened the double glass paned doors with the hostess staring at me as if I was lost. Physically and mentally, I may have been but it was at that moment that my adrenaline began to kick in. The usual pre shoot nervousness. Regardless of my condition, I was slightly annoyed that the hostess couldn't even grab a door for me. She approached me as I struggled to make it into the foyer. I explained that I was the photographer for the show and soon thereafter, her demeanor changed. She aimed me in the direction I needed to go and offered her assistance. I smiled and denied the offer, explaining that I was quite alright. Before heading up the stairs I advised her that I would have a couple of assistants that would be arriving shortly. Part of me didn't want to say anything. I should have let them had to pay the general admission due to their lack of punctuality.

As I huffed and puffed my way up the wide wooden staircase, I finally arrived to the soon to be scene of the crime. The bar was dark, chairs stacked upon the tables and pushed to the corners. Thank goodness, I was early. It seemed as if there would be plenty of setup and test shooting time.

Thoughtlessly pacing the barroom floor, wondering where to place my gear, I heard a voice from the other end of the room shout out to me. He introduced himself with much appreciated warmth. He was in fact, Avi Lasser, who plays a dual role in the play. Avi works both as a musician and an actor throughout the entire show. An extremely talented individual, in my opinion.

Avi gave a bit of a breakdown of how the show works. This was super appreciated since this was virgin territory and I needed some info to help get the right brain working. I began to brainstorm a bit. This was to be the first of two shoots for the cast of the show. The first to be for an upcoming issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The second shoot would be for pure advertising purposes. I didn't want to get too extreme for the newspaper shoot. The papers could very well shoot down shots that may be questionable for certain audiences. I had to be creative but keep it somewhat clean. Not that cleanliness has ever been a problem for me but before learning about this last minute shoot, I was trying to come up with some pretty wild ideas. No worries, those will be shot towards the end of March.

The Setup

After some conversation with Avi, it was time to break open the gear bags. From the image here you can see that I went pretty wide on the strobes. I'll break it down for ya. First of all, I was using three 10 foot light stands from Calumet. On the grip end, I dig their equipment. I opted for the non-air cushioned version of these stands to save a few bucks. There has never been a time where I've had regret for the lack of air cushioning. In essence, the air cushion allows the stands to come down without high speeds if you happen to lose your grip. Again, this has never ever been an issue so they less expensive stands work just fine.

Starting from the upper right, you can see that I went with some big modifiers. the beast up there is the 60 inch Calumet umbrella. It has a removable black back with a silver lining for super awesome reflectiveness while being uber soft once the light comes back through the translucent white lining. Obviously, I opted to shoot into rather than through this large mod.

Firing into the 60 inch beast was a Canon 430 EX ii Speedlite at 1/8 3/4 power. I gelled this strobe with a Rosco 1/4 CTO as this would be my big key light. Firing this behemoth and all strobes for that matter are Pocketwizard Plus ii transceivers. Not sure if I mentioned this before or ever but I f*&%ing love my Pocketwizards. The 1/4 CTO will add some warmth and life to the scene, rather than have that sterile feel. On that strobe I basically have kept the CTO permanently gaffer taped to the head with another 1/2 CTO strapped to the rear, for some fast needed added warmth.

At the lower right of the frame, is the second of the strobe set. This light was used primarily as a fill. Firing through a 45 inch umbrella is a Vivitar 285HV at 1/4 power. This mod was approximately ten feet from the front of the bar, for those who really wanted to know this type of thing. I didn't have a tape measure or anything but just a guesstimate. This flash was also placed as low as I could get it on the stand. You can see that there were tons of specular challenges in the room and I had to act and react, on the fly. Angles of light would play a major role in this shoot. Wrong moves and the whole shoot could have been one big blown out lens flare. A big no no.

The third and final strobe to the upper left of the frame, is another 45 inch umbrella that I decided to shoot through as well. Again, another Vivitar 285 was perched on this light stand but I had this one firing a bit more juice. This strobe was set to 1/2 power on the Vari Power module. This is a perfect example of using the Inverse Square Law. I wasn't expecting any more light from this strobe at the higher power. Why? The Inverse Square Law is why. Basically due to the flash to subject distance, the amount of light hitting the subject(s) will be about the same as the other tow strobes firing at lower power levels. Physics, go figure.

The last but not least significant item in the BTS photo is the chair sitting on the center of the floor. That would be my working spot. After setting up the strobes and testing each and every one, I scouted the room for a sturdy chair. The reason for sturdy is for the simple fact that I'm not a little guy. I was not about to be standing on a chair and having it collapse, mid shoot. That would be just a tad embarrassing. The chair would allow me to shoot from many different angles. This one key secret to making better photos, change your angles. Simple yet highly effective. For this shoot I was standing on the chair, squatting on the chair, sitting on the chair, standing on the floor, squatting on the floor and last but not least, sitting on the floor. All of these positions to find the one that was most interesting and complimentary to what was going on in the scene.

Time For Some Action

Well chosen words, sampled from Cypress Hill and mixed into the Redman song, it was now time for some action. Not sure where I come up with this stuff. Anyway, I digress.

Strobes were firing and the battery juice was filled to the max. I shut down the one Pocketwizard on the hotshoe so that I could dial in the ambient a bit closer to how I wanted it. Upon arrival to the set I took some basic readings but now it was time to dial everything in.

Take notice of the lamps hanging over the bar. I wanted them to glow nicely into the image. The camera's shutter would play the role in getting those lights to pop. Turned out I needed to get a very slow shutter speed to make it possible. In the end I was working with at 1/25 of a second, much slower than I usually shoot with. Next I would work my aperture to do any final tweaking of strobe power as when working with strobes, ambient controls this output. For a nice balance I had dialed into an f/6.3. This would allow for even lighting and enough depth of field to get most of the frame pretty sharp. Finally, was the ISO which I had chosen before anything. Working with the Canon 7d allows for much wider and cleaner ISO ranges than I'm typically used to. The chosen ISO was 400.

It was about 7:30 or so. All cast had arrived and it was time to make some visual magic. After weeks of emails, I had finally met Jordi Wallen, the star and emcee of the show. She was super cool and super helpful. As I took my place high on the chair, Jordi assisted in my direction. Everyone took their places. It was about this time that my assistants finally strolled through the door. Better late than never I suppose. I didn't let that little mishap distract the task at hand. They sidled up almost immediately, asking what it was that I needed them to do. At that point, I was ready to shoot, I directed them to stand by and if needed I would call on them.

The show was to start at 9 p.m., sharp. Ticket holders would be arriving shortly before the show's opening curtain. I figured I had about 30 minutes or so to get a couple awesome shots. The Inquirer would most likely be running one of the many photos taken. Without hesitation, I began to get as many frames as possible. Shortly after 8:00, I believed to have gotten "the shot."


Only seconds after wrapping up the shoot, I directed my assistants to begin breaking down and packing up the gear. The three of us worked like a well oiled machine. It had to be under 10 minutes, that all gear was packed up and making its way down the stairs and into the co-assistant, Mikey's, vehicle, which was parked nearby on Front St.

We headed back in to take our seats and a few beverages for the show. I wasn't sure if a Dogfish Head 60 minute I.P.A. would help or hurt my physical state. Although I wasn't feeling hot I was feeling the success of the shoot. I decided to go with a couple brews while watching the comedy unravel. Unfortunately, the beer wasn't making things feel better. The laughter, on the other hand, did help my aching body.


I awoke the following morning with little time to spare. I was to have all photos edited and sent to Josh Dunkin, one of the show's creators, by Monday morning. From there the files would need to be at the Inquirer by the end of business on Monday.

I ran through the RAW files as quickly as I could, avoiding any mistakes. Tricky thing here is how to edit for a newspaper. The edits are much different than those for regular prints. It all has to do with that paper and how the ink falls on it. This was new to me and I admit was a little apprehensive when processing the files. As you all may know, I'm a big fan of bumping up the blacks for mucho contrast. For the papers, this would not be possible. Go too black and the ink will bleed pure black onto the paper. On the flip side, if the whites are too white, well, no ink will hit those spots, whatsoever.

The shadows and highlights were not being clipped but I decided to play it safe for the paper and take it a step further. After running the files through the RAW editor, I opened them in Photoshop to do some more correcting and tweaking. Along with my usual processing, I added a final touch for the paper's sake. I added a levels adjustment layer and took the highlights down from 255 to 250 and the shadows from 0 to 5. Again, this is not how I would edit for a typical shoot but felt I had to back off of my typical high contrasty edits for these files.

By midday the edits were complete and on their way to the proper recipients. When they hit the press, I will be sure to let you know about it.

Until next time...