I’m not a fan of free, but this was one of those circumstances where I’d never shot something quite like this, and figured it’d be a fun learning experience. And an excuse to use those new Profotos in a more dynamic environment than the studio. The job was the first fashion show for a recent fashion design school grad, and the location was, to put it mildly, not pretty. I’ll get into all that, but first, some samples.

Location #1 (start of the catwalk) Location #2 (mid-catwalk) Location #3 (mini-studio)

Alright let’s get into it. The very first thing you probably noticed was the floor. It’s… not nice. Being a budget project, almost everything there was given, donated or loaned, which as you know if you’ve ever depended on lots of free stuff coming in at the same time, some stuff just won’t show up. As was the case with the catwalk. They were supposed to have a raised platform, but didn’t. Which might have been OK if this carpet wasn’t so… well, you know. And there was clearly not a thing we could do about that.

Next up was the background. You’ll see in the catwalk photos that the background is black. I did that. Here’s what the background looked like originally (grabbed from one of the few photos I have that show the original backdrop):

Nice backdrop!

There are no words. “Oh but that’s not so awful, is it Joseph?” you might ask. Yes. Yes it was. And here’s why, and tragically I don’t have these test photos anymore… I wiped my CF cards before the show started, not thinking that I’d want those nasty pictures to show off later. See the ground? One color/texture. Then the main curtain; another color/texture. Then the top little curtain, a third color/texture. And finally above that was empty, revealing the wall and window behind it, which made for color/texture/horrible thing #4. We tried to block and disguise before deciding to just cover it entirely. Those four textures meant that the model got completely lost against all that mess. Someone procured (not a clue where this came from) a 6-foot wide by about a football-field long piece of black duvetyne. Lovely, black, stretchy, duvetyne. So 45 minutes, a tall ladder, and every last one of my clamps later, we had a new background. There was no way to make it seamless, so instead of trying to hide the seams, I embraced the seams and draped and folded and stretched the material until everything was hidden and the background was a dark wavy lovely thing. The other photographer asked if I’d been raised by Bedouins. Here’s the new backdrop, with the lights and all.

Lovely new black backdrop. See the old one peeking out the back? Ick. That’s Carl, we worked together on this thing.Carl is standing in position #1. The girls would come from stage right, stop on their mark there and strike a pose, then walk down the catwalk (towards this camera position). Half-way down the walk we had position #2. The models didn’t stop there, so we could catch them mid-walk. And finally, because we knew that the floor was so awful looking and that there was nothing we could do about that, we decided to set up a third shooting area, like a mini studio, to shoot the models as they came off the catwalk and before they went back to the dressing room. That’s position #3. Here’s a fabulous drawing to show what we did (I need to take a page out of Joe McNally’s book and draw these on cocktail napkins. Much more impressive).

My beautiful plan. I couldn’t find a cocktail napkin so had to use Photoshop instead.Blue path is the model’s path. Green “model #’s” are their (our) shooting marks. Photographer 1 and 2 are myself and Carl, and we swapped locations half-way through the show. And this is where it gets fun. I rented eight PocketWizard Plus II’s for this setup; one receiver for each light, and one transmitter for each camera (Carl and I were both shooting with two bodies). On the diagram, pw1 is for PocketWizard preset 1, pw2 is 2, and so-on. This was so cool and really showed off the power of these things. pw1 is a 300w head in a big ol’ softbox. I had a skinny white seamless set up for head-shots (I would have loved to set up a big full-body setup but there simply wasn’t space. This was a small venue). There’s two big pieces of black foamcore on either side of model #3 position; one to block the view from the audience (minimal distractions) and one to block the yellow cast I was getting off the yellow wall to her yellow right. Exposure was ISO 100 f/11. pw2 is controlling both 600w lights, which I realize in this not-to-scale drawing they look quite close to the model, but were far enough away where the 300w lights there weren’t enough; we actually had to swap them out. Exposure there was ISO 200 f/11. Then pw3 was controlling that one last 300w light, which I dialed down and shot at ISO 100 f/4 with hopes of throwing some of the background out of focus. It also meant that we had a very narrow window to catch the model; two steps=one stop, so we had to nail it.

And there you have it. Model positions 1 and 2 were dialed in on two cameras, so we’d shoot #1 with one camera, then as soon as they started to walk, grab the other camera, already dialed in for position 2. And when Carl and I swapped places, it just mean moving the PocketWizard to the appropriate channel and changing the aperture.

It was fun, and a great experience. And now I gotta save up for some PocketWizards of my own!