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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

••◊ ...more thoughts on following personality

Just about every month I attend the San Diego filmmaker's meetings. This month they had a Hollywood actor named Doug Jones. Never heard of him? Well that's because he is often a "costumed" actor playing parts such as Abe Sapien in Hellboy or The Fawn and Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth. Most recently he played the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four. Still don't know what I'm talking about? You must be over 35 (he, he).

I took my camera to the meeting just for the heck of it. Unfortunately the large cyc (pronounced "sike" like "bike" and short for cyclorama) room at Groovy Like a Movie is not well lit for our meeting because it doesn't really need to be for the meeting itself. It's a nice production facility with a lighting grid and what-not, but the organization is run by volunteers and they are busy enough getting chairs, projectors, and a microphone for the guest speaker. What this means to me is typically shooting ISO800 at f/4 or wider to get a decent shutter speed. With my camera that also means low saturation, CMOS noise, and poor contrast. What's the answer to this problematic combination(?) - monochrome and a tweak of the contrast during RAW conversion. Just call the noise "film grain" and everybody thinks it's suddenly retro and cool. I know what you are thinking, but they recently banned flash photography at the meetings...so no, I can't just bounce a strobe into the cyc.

Doug is a great speaker, but a bare cyc room doesn't provide a whole lot of personality. The meeting starts and Doug starts talking about how he is a 'recovering' mime who was initially typecast by his past managers. The great thing is that he has retained a lot of the grand gestures of being a silent actor and I realized that this could provide interesting pictures. So I start popping off some shots of his animated looks. I mean there's a reason this guy works a steady gig in Hollywood.

When I started downloading the pictures there were about 60-ish shots, but who is going to want to look at these without context (yawn)? Since Doug was in a few well known movies based on comic books I thought I would turn some of these individual gestures into a set of comic strip. For the most part I think it worked and gives a subject without context and without a real backdrop, context and personality. Turns out that Doug liked the pictures too and added them to his web page. The entire set can be seen here.

To quote Space Quest, "never give up, never surrender!"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

••◊ Contact me

Contact me on Flickr or Vimeo using the links to my portfolio on the left pane of the blog.

••◊ Terms of Service

First I beg of you, I don't want to get lawyers involved. Please don't make me.

Illuma is a blog of my work and contains original content, except where credited elsewhere. In order to not get the aforementioned bulldog lawyers involved there are a few rules.

  • Content Ownership - Everything you see on Illuma is copyright Stuart Allman in the year that it was first published. In the case of third-party contributors, they retain the copyright and permission was cleared with those content owners.
  • Responsibility of Content Use - If you want to link to the articles, thank you for the complement. Feel free to quote brief abstracts of the original posts. Please limit any direct quotes to one or two paragraphs at the most. A prominent link to the original source and credit for the content (i.e. me) is required. If you wish to use any images/video/audio please contact me and get pre-approval.
  • Content Aggregation - Ever notice how aggregate sounds like aggravate? Wholesale cut-and-paste reproductions of entire posts are strictly prohibited and will taken very seriously as copyright infringement. Punitive damages, much less dealing with lawyers is painful. Please don't make me prove my statement the hard way.
  • Copyright Infrigement - I will consider anyone (or web site) caught stealing my content in extensive verbatim text or images/video/audio used without permission to be in violation of my copyright ownership. The web site host and ISP will quickly receive a complaint that copyrighted content is being stolen. It's a very easy thing to get a website or blog shut down (and the content deleted) by demonstrating to the ISP and/or host that one of their publishers is flagrantly infringing copyright. If they do not shut you down they are liable too.
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    -Stuart Allman

Monday, December 29, 2008

••◊ Christmas Portraits

My friends are finally coming off the Christmas crack and onto the hopes of the new year. Since I stayed in town for the holidays I decided to attend my friend Brooklyn's 'home for wayward musicians' gig in downtown San Diego. It was a great event with some of the best folk musicians that San Diego has to offer. San Diego is never a substitute for being in Seattle (ahhh...home) but what is? I guess I'm part amphibian. Being a special occasion I decided to pull out my Strobist 'studio in a bag' and take some nice Christmas portraits of the guitar slingers (except for one). Just for the record, no...none of them look like Jewel (San Diego inside joke). The lighting setup was pretty basic since I had a series of musicians and about ten minutes to spend with each person. The back bar room is about 15'x30' and has windows at one end and the bar at the other. I chose to shoot everyone at the bar since the street wasn't very pretty but the nice Christmas lights provided a decent backdrop. The trick was to drag the shutter a bit (1.3s @f/4 to f/8) so I could pick up the background lights and the nice glowing red lights under the bar counter. ETTL on the speedlights handled the expose close enough most of the time, but I did have to manually tweak the flash compensation with test shots for each setup. The lighting setup was basically two speedlights and one reflector. If the person had blonde-ish color hair I might throw on a 1/4 or 1/2 CTO gell on the hair light. Also depending on the situation I used the two umbrellas I had with me as reflectors or just a shoot-through on camera left. The reflector and hair light were always on camera right.

The main issue with doing so much so quickly is mainly listening to your subject and trying to get a feel for their individuality in a minute or less. In Brenda's case she wasn't happy about the first outcome. I had to bring over three people to prove to her that she looked beautiful and had a nice smile. She still said "I hate my smile" and "all my songs are depressing." Funny, she looks slightly older than 14(?) OK, change of plans. Her personality didn't come off this way at first, but the customer is always right. So I had to go to an edge-ier setup.

Try #2 with Brenda. I went for something a little more Yoko here. Build mystery and give her a little more serious look. Yeah, I know it's artsy...but I always find it's easier to bring out a person's personality than to force one on them. I just linked to her web page and noticed that she picked out this picture for her profile (Hah!)

For Brooklyn I chose a two umbrella shoot-through setup with a two stop difference. I wish I would have had a red rim light to frame her out against the backdrop at camera right, but I was out of speedlights here. Oh well, everyone is going to be paying attention to the pretty redhead anyway. Maybe next Christmas I'll get myself another speedlight.

J. Bradley is another musician and close friend of Brooklyn. I've photographed him before and knew that he doesn't always come off with the best modeling smile (no offense). In person he's a nice guy, but it's like I wrote...you have to go with who the personal naturally is. So the answer was go film noire on him and give him a more manly look. Note that I didn't need the hair light because his skin separates the foreground from background by luminance alone. One issue I see with this picture is the reflection of the umbrella in the Murphy's sign, which can be good or bad. It's a distraction - which is bad, but the distraction gets your attention up to the area around his head - which is good. I like the picture.

The entire set of photos can be seen here.