I flew to Liverpool, UK to photograph the advertisements and press shots for a new kids TV show called House of Anubis. I've always been impressed with the art direction (David Hamed) of Nickelodeon photo shoots. Even though they are shows for younger audiences, they really take a really in-depth approach to everything visual they do and put a lot of effort into production value. Working with these kind of creative people is a dream for any photographer. This is one of my favorite shots from my shoot...
Nickelodeon had a great set builder design and construct this set for filming the actual TV show, and I got to use it for my photo shoot. I love doing shoots on sets because they are designed for productions- there are trusses to hang lights, room outside to put lights through the windows… you really feel spoiled. For someone who is used to taping backgrounds to huts, this is like royalty. Sometimes a set can be a really confusing labyrinth of odd different rooms and you have to make sure you go to the bathroom in the real bathroom, as the fake one can look really convincing.
Each lighting element is created and added tediously step by step. On shoots like this, a certain amount of time is alloted to “pre-light”. This is the day before the actual shoot, (or a few hours before) in which you have time to figure out how you’re going to approach the lighting setup and work out any bugs.
1) Main light
This started out as a Proglobe, which is a spherical “bulb-like” modifier which spreads the light around 360 degrees. When we first did a test shot with this, I didn’t like the way the light was spreading all over the walls. It was too bright and uniform- it didn’t look cosy, warm and moody like I wanted. To obtain what I wanted, I taped some black paper to the areas of the bulb where the light was over-spraying. This focussed the light only on the subjects, not the walls. I then added a sheet of diffusion paper to the bulb to further help soften the light from the bulb.
2) Rim lights
These backlights are beauty dishes with grids inside. Each is gelled with some 1/2 CTO orange warming gel. This created a nice warm glow from behind around the edges of the subjects, and helps separate them from the background. Since we have the illusion of warm window light shining behind the group in the shot, these particular lights help enhance that effect.
3) Additional back light
The actress on the far left of the image (Anastasia) needed an additional light to help her stand out in the dark corner of the image. This is just a standard head with grid and more 1/2 CTO gel. In the final picture, you can see the light flare, but I decided to keep it since it looks nice, and like it might be coming from an interior light in the house.
4) White bounce
The left side of the image wasn’t as evenly with the main light, so we added a white foam core bounce to help reflect some light back onto the two subjects in the chair.
5+6) Outside lights
There are two lights outside the set windows to replicate a kind of sunset light coming in. It is supposed to look like one source, but really required two separate lights with zoom reflectors to create the effect since the windows are so far apart from each other. The cast on the far right of the image also benefit from this light since it helps define their pose by lighting the wallpaper behind them.
7) Additional bounce
There is a white piece of foam core hidden from the camera under the table. The purpose of this is to bounce some light back onto the bottom of their faces. The globe light (1) looks great, but casted too harsh shadows on their face. This piece of white helps even those out without effecting much else in the image.
LIGHT SHAPING TOOLS
The prelight is always done with test subjects, not the actual cast. Now that I was happy with the way everything looked, it was time to pose the subjects. I had been working with the cast for 3 days on other shots prior to this, so at this point we were all very comfortable working together and it was easy to place them around and see what group composition worked best. Placing 9 people anywhere can be pretty tricky (well, 10 if you count the crocodile). I wanted to make variations of eye level and make sure nobody was sitting exactly the same way- some of the cast are sitting up high on the couch while others are lower, some standing, etc. I placed them one at a time until I was happy with the way it flowed to my eye. It was also important to leave spaces behind them so we could see some of the interesting props on the shelf.
With everyone posed at once, I shot the image in two separate panels. I did this for 2 reasons. The first is because I don’t like the look of super wide angle lenses, they distort the objects and people in a weird way and I want my images to be from a similar perspective as human eyes. When you merge two images together taken with a 80mm lens, it will have a completely different look than using a wide angle. I used a Panoramic Adapter to rotate the camera on the correct axis so I could combine the two images together later with a photo merge. I use this technique quite a bit on all my panoramic images, even in my personal work from Ethiopia. All the subjects are in place, but the camera is moved back and forth in two positions on each shot.
The show comes out soon, and I wish the cast and crew luck on the premiere!
PS- And ooooohhhhh yeah, if you want to find out more about my photographic / lighting techniques, check out my new tutorial Sessions With Joey L. ;-)