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bts – a few good men headshot session

The Washington High School Theater Company (WTC) does three or four productions every semester. There is usually a production that opens the first week of the school year. This year, the opening show is A Few Good Men.

After recovering from band camp the week before, I offered to do just-in-time headshots Thursday night for the WTC cast. Angela Gonzales, who is a reporter with the Phoenix Business Journal, and a volunteer with the WTC, takes care of having playbills printed for every show.  Her deadline was Friday.  Tight turnaround.  But that is part of the fun….

There are a bunch of useful how-to posts on the web about doing people pictures. Sara Lando, who is a strobist.blogspot.com contributor, posted the first in a three part series on photographing people just this week.  Her post has a short pre-shoot checklist to which I would add 1) Always be sure that you have all of your kit; 2) Allow plenty of time for setup.  This session falls into the Something Learned category because, after using it three times now, I have learned that the headshot setup takes about 50 minutes to put together by myself.  Next time I’ll allocate an hour.  Unfortunately, I went off without the Manfrotto 231ARM slide arms that I use for my Low Stand setup so I was behind from the start.  It is good to live just 6 minutes from school.

Someday I’ll add a pair of Manfrotto 8′ Column light stands to the stand bag.  It is way cool to be able to adjust light height with just one hand on the Low Stand setup, which uses the same 231ARM as the Manfrotto Column stand.  While the Low Stand is an affordable DIY that can be done with Manfrotto 231ARMs, super clamps, and a piece of 1 3/8″ aluminum tube, I am interested in the real deal because the Manrotto Column stand legs are very close to the floor.  Once you get 5 or 6 light stands on a set, there is a jungle of aluminum and steel that extends three feet up from the floor.  It can become hard to move around.  The legs for the Column stand are just inches off the floor. And, they have casters.

The setup that I have been working with for headshots is something that I put together after watching a Peter Hurley marketing video on youTube for his headshot instructional DVD.  Hurley uses Kino Flo lamps, which are constant-light, fluorescent  fixtures.  If you grub around on the web, you can find DIY versions that use fixtures and tubes from the Home Depot.

In addition to showing his light setup, the Hurley video has some useful insight on how to coach subjects.  Check out his “suction-cup” technique for adjusting model head position.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to setup tethering.  Showing the subject images on a laptop monitor, or an iPad, to see what is going works great.  It is way better than looking at the back of the camera. I’ve played with ShutterSnitch to an iPod Touch using an Eye-Fi card. The iPod display is only marginally better than the back of the camera.


I like the “Hurley look” for headshots and am able to get about the same thing using a pair of PhotoFlex Medium HalfDomes camera right and left and a pair of PhotoFlex Small HalfDomes above and below on axis. It appears as though Hurley does not have a light across the bottom. I like lights above and below on axis because the lower light allows for shadow management under the chin.

This is the first time I have created a behind-the-scenes (bts) video.  You can check it out on the acmesnaps.com youtube channel.  I decided to use 1 frame per second with 5 Mb image size settings on a GoPro Hero 2.  I found a few useful youTube posts on GoPro time-lapse processing.  This one from camarush is the one I used because it talks about how to glue the time-lapse images together using QuickTime Pro.  The location of the GoPro was a wild guess that happened to work out about right.  Next time I’ll have two GoPro running: one from the camera perspective and one from the subject perspective.

The BTS post processing was done with QuickTime Pro and Adobe Premier Pro.  I had been using FCP, but finally made the change to Premier Pro when Adobe launched its Creative subscription service.  For the introductory price of $25 a month, the Creative subscription service includes access to all of the Adobe CS6 products.  It is a screamin’ deal for the first year.  Even after year two at $45 a month, the total cost of two years for the subscription service is less than the one-time upgrade cost to move from CS5 Design Premium to CS6 Master Collection.  The Adobe Application Manager that comes with Creative makes updates a snap.

Another learning:  always take the cheesy-smile snap.  The cast wanted to be in character for their headshots.  “What is your role?”  “I’m so and so and such and such are my character’s primary attributes.”  “Ok, let’s see it.”  Wonder why they all think their character would have that blank-stare sorta look.  Well, because I let them, I think.  Next time I’ll take em out of character.  🙂