Simon Carter's picture

Lily La Mer & Company

Lily and I have shot together on any number of occasions and this was easily our most ambitious shoot yet. We have a habit of egging each other on - and when one of us suggests an idea the other never says 'no', they just add another element. We were in the studio 13 hours all told - but we did shoot some other stuff too.

Lily creates performance installations for high end events and needed to show off her incredible costume and set making skills. Her costumes take numerous people many months to create.

The brief for the shoot was to create a dramatic scene to show off what her clients would get without it being too moody & glum - in Lily's words 'dark light and light shadows'.

I had 8 lights, 3 assistants, one specialist low-level fog machine, lots of fairy lights and yards and yards of muslin. There were also a couple of rolls of fake snow, 4 bags of ice, a number of confetti cannons (they were overkill) and a number of painted trees.

We started off by dismantling a partition wall to make room for the set. Building it took 4 hours. There are lots of behind-the-scenes shots on my blog: http://www.simoncarterphotography.com/blog/2016/12/winter-magic

Technical stuff..

I needed to ensure that the fairy lights in the set and costumes weren't drowned out by the flash but that the image wasn't too dark.

The approach I took was to give each performer or detail their own snooted, gridded or flagged flash - or in some cases all 3. Using such hard light sources meant that the angle and pose of each performer was critical to avoid unpleasant shadows. The shadow of the crystal ball is deliberate - it got a bit lost without. The fill lights were on very low power and fitted with blue gels.

I did try with spots from both sides of the set but the results looked horrible - I ended up with a veritable forest of lights nearly all to camera right.

I needed f8 to get enough DoF and 1/50s at ISO400 to get the LEDs to register as I wanted. Then the flashes were tweaked individually using a light meter and checking the results by shooting tethered. f11 would have made focusing easier but I didn't really want to go above ISO400 or slower than 1/50s.

The difficult parts were idiotic things like arranging the fake snow in a way which was safe for the stilt walkers, anchoring the trees, stopping the hoop from spinning and finding a relaxed looking pose for the mermaid - it takes an aerialist's muscles to hold the tail fin up like that.

Processing... I couldn't go overboard as it had to represent reality. There was a little bit of cloning & toning but it was mainly dodge & burn work.

Nikon D750
37 · f/8 · 1/50 · ISO 400
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