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It was early morning at the Melbourne Museum. All was quiet. There was no one about, except for Ben McKenzie, Petra Elliott and Dave Lamb of Museum Comedy, me, a few security personnel, the cleaning crew, some early starters, the admin staff, the cafe staff, a few dozen researchers and… But it was quiet, very quiet.
We had an hour to make magic, or at least enough images for the Museum Comedy publicity. So, a couple of light stands, Nikon flash units, umbrellas and camera and tripod got trekked about to several locations in the museum and an hour later we were done and packing up as the first sight-seers arrived.
Thanks to the staff of the Melbourne Museum for letting us play with the exhibits.
My good friend Ben McKenzie and I were discussing some photos that Ben could use for publicity. We decided to start with a traditional black and white head shot that could be used as an avatar for Twitter (@labcoatman) and other online uses, and could also be printed and handed out when needed.
The aim of the photo was to let Ben’s personality come to the fore, so I decided to use the classic Hollywood-style clam shell lighting. One umbrella is placed directly in front and slightly above the victim’s eyeline with a second umbrella lower down and set two stops below the main light to fill in the shadows and put light in the eyes. The white back drop is a piece of foamcore clamped to a stand.
It is a simple setup and one that gives very even results. The rest I left up to Ben.
And yet again…
I put the big lens on the camera, which not only gave me a 200mm reach, but also f2.8 to work with. With the ISO set as high as it would go (1600) I then had to wait until the stage lights came up to see what shutter speed I was going to be working with.
The early estimates weren’t good. But after checking the histogram and the image on the LCD screen, I realised that the light meter was over-compensating for the black curtain behind the actors and the light on their faces was too bright. I was able to underexpose (according to the light meter) by a stop and a half. This brought the shutter speed up to something that I could work with; just.
In the early part of the show I tried to get some close-ups from near the stage, but I wasn’t able to hold the camera steady. I settled in at a bench behind the audience where I could brace my elbows and support the camera. The challenge then was to catch the moment when as many actors as possible weren’t moving.
I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the images the camera produced. There is a little noise in the dark areas that the RAW converter took care of. The major problem was the movement of the actors, but I managed to get enough usable images for the Labcoatman’s website.
Ben McKenzie is a friend and mild-mannered work colleague, but in reality, he is the Man in the Lab Coat.
Apart from working with me, Ben is an actor, comedian, writer and improviser who specialises in science comedy, and therefore usually describes himself as a “scientician”.
Ben has written, performed and produced a series of comedy science lectures as “The Man in the Lab Coat” since 2004. His shows have appeared in both the Adelaide and Melbourne Fringe Festivals, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and as part of the National Science Week programme.
A trained public speaker, Ben has made numerous appearances for schools, corporations, scientific institutions, charity events and art gallery openings, always able to find a unique scientific angle on proceedings.
The aim of this series of shots was to provide Ben with several images with a plain white background that could be used for promotional purposes.
The set up was simple. The white backdrop is the wall of the living room in my house. The main light is a Nikon SB-28 speedlight fired through a white umbrella at the left of camera to produce a large, soft light. At the right of the image was a large sheet of white foam core acting as a reflector. There is another SB-28 directly behind Ben aimed at the wall to make it white. The flashes were triggered by Cybersyncs.The rest of the work was left to Ben.
This was a very enjoyable shoot. Ben is an experienced public speaker and actor and is very relaxed in front of a camera. All I had to do was stand there and press the shutter button.
Sharon Carpenter, St John Ambulance
Sharon and I work for the same organisation. The organisation’s internal website regularly features profiles of staff, showing what they do outside of work. And it was Sharon’s turn to be featured.
Amongst her many other interests and activities (she is also a medical guinea pig, read her story over at her blog), Sharon is a volunteer emergency worker with St John Ambulance.
We decided that apart from the uniform and tools of the trade, we would only hint at the work she does, rather than try to show her in a dramatic setting. The photo was first and foremost a portrait of Sharon. We wanted anyone who saw the photo to recognise a colleague in an unfamiliar setting.
For our backdrop we chose the interior of an ambulance. I didn’t want to show it in detail, but dimly lit and out of focus. I used a Nikon SB-28 speedlight to put some light in the ambulance interior. I also put a blue gel on it, partly to contrast with the green uniform and warm main light I was planning to use and partly to echo the blue emergency light of the ambulance.
The main light is from a Westcott Apollo 28 inch softbox with a Nikon SB-28 speedlight. I was also using a Rosco 08 gold gel on the speedlight to simulate warm evening light. The speedlights were fired using Paul Buff Cybersync remote triggers.
To get the light as soft as possible, the softbox was placed at left of frame as close to Sharon as I could get it without being it in the shot. The 200mm lens I used gave me an out of focus background and kept the focus on Sharon.