LOL! Lighting On Location – Comic Book Store Edition
As you may well know by now, one of my favorite photographic challenges is to make a portrait under less than ideal circumstances. When I was contacted by my friend Jason Rockman to make some portraits in a comic book store, I knew it was going to be very fun.
Jason, a DJ for Montreal’s CHOM 97.7 FM radio station and singer for Slaves On Dope, is a bona-fide comic book freak. It is a passion he literally wears on his sleeves. As it turns out British tattoo magazine Skin Deep is putting out a special edition which will focus on super-hero inspired ink, and they decided to profile Jason and his super-hero themed tattoos. A good part of Jason’s work was done by Montreal’s Dave Cummings who is an incredibly talented tattoo artist, check him out if you need anything done!
I knew a few things going into the shoot. The store, Expert Comics, would be open for business. And though it is a pretty big store, it cannot be compared to the size we are used to working with in a studio.
I knew I wanted a colorful background that complemented Jason, his tattoos, and the spirit of the article.
Finally, since the shoot is super-hero themed, I wanted to treat Jason to some beautiful light with a bit of an edge.
Upon arriving at Expert, I knew immediately what background I wanted. Along one of the walls was a huge rack of extremely colorful comics and graphic novels. Perfect! The biggest challenge facing me now was that the space was only 15-20 feet wide. Ideally I want my subject at least 10 feet off of the background, that just wasn’t an option here. Jason was going to be no more than 6 feet from the wall. I didn’t want the background to be too distracting, so I opted to shoot with my fast prime lenses instead of my zooms; this allowed me to shoot at f/2.8 and allowed the background to fall out of focus. I started my tests wide open at f/1.4, but found the depth of field to be too narrow and the background became way too abstract. Here is what the light set-up looked like…
My main light is an Alien-Bees B400 strobe shooting through one of my favorite modifiers, my Photoflex 5-foot OctoDome. The beauty of the OctoDome is that it has a narrow profile; I can have a large light source which doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. I had the light up as high as I could get it without damaging the ceiling, and angled downwards to get a slight butterfly pattern and some shadow under his chin. Has the light been too direct, his face would have lost definition. I have had a lot of question from colleagues regarding the seemingly wimpy strobes that I use, afterall, the Alien Bees B400 is only rated at 160 Ws. It actually suits my needs perfectly! I rarely shoot outdoors in the blazing sun so I do not need a huge amount of output for that. I also shoot at very large apertures, for the most part at f/1.4 to f/4. If my lights were too powerful, I would not be able to get the shallow depth of field I am often after since at their lowest output they are still too strong.
I then placed 2 Canon speedlites on either side of Jason, approximately 8 feet away and slightly behind him. I oriented the heads of the flashes vertically to give me a taller and thinner spread of light. To control flare I attached a flag on each light that I made from an old pair of 4×5 darkslides. These lights served 2 purposes; they help separate Jason from the background and, more importantly, the light added a nice rim around Jason which helped highlight his arms and face, as well as his tattoos. It gave the photographs a nice sense of dimension.
The whole system was triggered using my trusty Pocket Wizards.
Not knowing the final layout of the magazine, I made sure to capture some horizontal as well as some vertical photographs. I also wanted to give the magazine some other options, so we shot a few other set-ups switching up backgrounds, as well as jumping between available light as well as strobe.
As soon as I receive the page layouts I will update the post!