Meet the cast of “The Fourth Wall,” one of this summer’s productions by the New Vintage Ensemble. The fourth wall, for those of you who may not be familiar with the phrase, is a performance term for the space between the performance and the viewers. If a set has three physical walls, then the the fourth wall is what separates the actors from the “real world,” a fourth wall that is usually ignored, but is sometimes broken to good dramatic or comedic effect.
When I met with director Kimmie Leff and her cast last week for the promotional photo shoot, we had already decided to shoot the photos in a play off the idea of a fourth wall. So when we began with the group promotional photos, we arranged the case in a series of setups that included an actual wall.
Facing the wall, peering around the wall, against the wall – that last one is a little cliche, perhaps, but it’s repeated time and time again because it does work. With these photos, when the cast is done with the show, they could start a band and have their first album cover!
The real highlight of this shoot, however, is the actor headshots. As a quick aside, headshots can be a bit formulaic sometimes; a lot of productions just want a nice, clean portrait of their actors against a while or colored backdrop. Crisp and classic, and always a good look.
But sometimes you get to play and do something a bit more fun…
This is what happens when you run into the fourth wall face-first!
As much as I’d love to take credit for this concept, it was Director Kimmie Leff’s idea, and it played out perfectly. We were able to find a glass door for the actors to smush their faces against, and we had a lot of fun in the process. It’s a fresh, creative take on the idea of headshots, and I love it.
“The Fourth Wall” will open for a one-day engagement at The Cooperage Project in Honesdale, PA, on 10 July.
This is Keith, a local web developer and friend of mine. He’s spent one night a week for the past couple of months meeting to teach me HTML/CSS coding, so when he asked if I’d be willing to do some portraits for him, I couldn’t have been happier.
Keith is a bit of a character, and he wanted his photos to convey that – nothing stuffy. Something different. Something fun. So we setup the studio and grabbed a few shots.
You might recognize him from my NetDriven Christmas photos the past two years [LINK], as he appeared in several of those shots as well, and I’m pretty sure he recycled a few of those poses for his portrait session.
We may do another set in the near future, with more of a business-casual feel. But in the meantime, this is a good reminder that portraits don’t have to be serious. We don’t all have to look like a power-suit on the cover of Forbes. Sometimes, it’s fun to just have fun.
This is Mandy, my lovely, brilliant, talented wife. Mandy hates having her photo taken and is visibly uncomfortable in front of the camera, despite excelling as an actor. After eight years together, I know better than to ask her to model for me, and she rarely volunteers.
But this spring, Mandy asked me to shoot some new portraits for her, for professional use. And so began the day-long agony of a photo shoot that seemed doomed from the start.
The funny thing is, most people are a lot like Mandy. No exaggeration, almost every single time I shoot portraits for a client, the client – who hired me in the first place! – will begin by telling me how much they dislike having their photo taken, and how bad they are at being photographed. For real, if I had a dollar for every time someone says that to me, I wouldn’t need to keep working as a photographer.
Such statements are rubbish, of course. The vast majority of people are actually just fine at having their photo taken, and many people even get into it, hamming it up a little, once the get comfortable. And that’s the key, right there – comfort. When I start a photo shoot with someone, I know that the first entire pose, the first 20-30 photos, are all throw aways. Their only purpose is to let the subject become comfortable in front of the camera so they can act naturally.
Unfortunately, Mandy isn’t a part of that vast majority, and after several hours of shooting in the studio, she still wasn’t happy with the photos. She was becoming frustrated and soured on the idea, and it was harder and harder to even try and help her relax.
So we switched it up. Sometimes the studio just isn’t the right setting. It may be too confining or too sterile, or it may be too intimidating to the subject. So we threw some gear in a bag and took the show on the road, to Marywood University, where she was both a student and is now an adjunct professor. It was her home turf, and there’s a definite sense of comfort that comes from being in a setting where you are familiar and in control.
She ended up like the Marywood photos better than the studio shots overall, although we ultimately agreed on a few of each as her final selection. Including the one below, which she doesn’t like, but I love.
I love shooting portraits, but not everyone loves being a model/subject. It’s my goal to make sure my subjects become comfortable with the process so we can make some great photos, and I offer up Mandy as proof that it’s possible.
A flashback to autumn, when it was still warm before the snow began flying. I met up with Kimmy down in the Back Mountain for a senior portrait session, where she simply rocked the camera like a pro!
We began with a couple of setups around her home – she wanted all outdoor shots – including some great shots of her sitting in a rope swing under a maple tree.
There are moments like this where a photographer couldn’t ask for more – and a full Hollywood design team couldn’t create a better setup. A maple tree aflame with fall color, the lawn behind thick with leaves, an overcast day with perfect, soft light – it doesn’t get any better than this! (Although we did have to run and stop Kimmy’s dad from using the lawnmower to clean up the leaves until we’d finished our shoot!)
From there, we make a short drive down to The Lands at Hillside Farms and took advantage of the beautiful grounds there for a few more setups. We stopped in the barn and grabbed the hay bale shot above, then worked our way along the creek and finally ended up inside the greenhouse for a few last, bright portraits.
There are folks who step in front of the camera and need a lot of coaching to feel – and look – comfortable for portraits. And that’s fine, it’s part of the job and I’m always more than happy to help them get just the right pose, just the right expression. It’s a fun challenge for both of us to overcome. But then there are others like Kimmy, who step in front of the camera like the own it, and I spend the whole session yelling, “Don’t move, that’s perfect!” They make my job easy.
Here’s to you, Kimmy – may your senior year be great!
I had the sincere pleasure of shooting this year’s Net Driven Christmas party earlier in December, and wanted to share a few photos from that fantastic evening. This is my second year providing photographic coverage for Net Driven’s party, and I am just thrilled that they invited me back. Throughout the past year I kept hearing about how much fun they were having with the photos from 2014, and that’s about the highest praise a photographer can get!
This year’s party was held at the Colannade in Scranton, an old mansion in the historic Hills Section that’s been restored to glory and now serves as an events space. I can’t overstate what a lovely setting it was, especially done up for the holidays, which included at least three large, ornately decorated Christmas trees. I was able to setup in the blue room, using the fireplace as a backdrop, and with the addition of a little photography lighting magic we had the perfect set.
I think it’s a good tradition, having photos at a Christmas party. It’s a way of recording a company’s history, or including it’s employees, but most of all it’s just plain downright fun! Folks really get into it, and I had a steady stream of smiling models all night long. I shot couples and friends, coworking teams and even whole departments.
And as they did last year, Net Driven provided a supply of props that could be used in the photos, everything from Santa hats and reindeer antlers to oversized sunglasses and silly signs. The props are a big hit, and while I shot a lot of prop-less photos for people who wanted a nice holiday photograph, many of them then opted for a second, fun photo to indulge a moment of silliness.
Of course no party would be complete without some dancing and karaoke at the end! And I made sure to grab a few photos of that as well. Those probably aren’t the shots that will make the company newsletter, but I know that everyone will enjoy them!
The New Vintage Ensemble’s winter production of “Hamlet” is fast approaching, and it’s been announced that they will be holding it at the amazing Scranton Cultural Center. But amid an increasingly hectic rehearsal schedule, the cast took a few minutes out for another photoshoot with me.
We began our session with a group photo, which is a combination of promotional cast shot and a holiday greeting. Conor is back in the center chair in his role as Hamlet, with the rest of the cast around him. I’m not sure if the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” concept at top was planned from the start, or if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but either way I absolutely love it! “Hamlet” is a pretty serious story and there’s plenty of evil to go around, so the juxtaposition of the cast’s seeming innocence versus Conor’s nonchalance in the middle of it all is just amazing.
After the group photos, the cast began their nightly briefing session and I changed my setup for some headshots. Everyone cycled through in the span of about fifteen minutes – I made the headshots short and painless, and am very pleased with how they came out:
As with the first batch of promotional photography, we knew starting out that everything would be processed in black & white. It’s vital to know this ahead of time, so you can focus on tonalities instead of colors. You’d never know that the backdrop wall in the headshots is actually a lovely blue that translated very well as a neutral gray.
The next time I see this cast, they’ll be on stage. After almost three months of rehearsals, I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with. Break a leg guys!
“To be, or not to be, that is the question….” Ah yes, that quote that everyone knows – even those of you who didn’t spend an entire semester in college studying the works of Shakespeare! That, and the quintessential image of Hamlet, the mad prince of Denmark, holding the skull of poor Yorik. “I knew him well, Hortatio.”
We tried to put a slightly different spin on things…
I’m speaking, of course, of the New Vintage Ensemble’s upcoming production of “Hamlet,” which will appear on stage in Scranton this coming January. This will be NVE’s first mainstage production since their smash hit rendition of “Pride and Prejudice” in 2013, and I know that I’m not alone when I say that I am VERY curious to see what they’ve come up with this time.
A few weeks back I worked with the “Hamlet” production team to shoot a series of early promotional photos, and although that kind of access gives me a peek inside the production, I still don’t know all the details, except that it’s looking damn good!
Conor O’Brien is taking the lead as the mad prince himself, and he took to the stage for us during the photoshoot. The whole concept from the production team and director Casey Thomas was a series of images that emphasized darkness. Hamlet alone in blackness, seeming to come out of the darkness, with a little help from some well-considered props.
We had four concepts going in, and we used variations on the same overall setup to capture each of them. First, Conor in an antique high-back chair, almost lounging in it, both with and without some props. Then the three-hands image, which is featured at the top of this post, with Conor still in the chair, but three shadowy hands reaching out, one to each side and one above, holding props.
This was, by far, the biggest success of our shoot that day – a relatively complex scene that came together perfectly, and perhaps even better than we had imagined. Some fun facts: we weren’t able to find a crown that looked right, so we actually fashioned one out of materials we found on-site moments before taking these photos. And the liquid in the goblet? Yeah, it’s hot chocolate.
Our third concept was to get Conor up out of his chair and have him standing, screaming for the camera. This is more of a play on the “mad prince” aspect of the character, but it was a lot of fun to shoot, since Conor wasn’t able to fake a scream. So for each frame we shot, he actually screamed random words at the camera – including “dooooooooor!” – which usually left all of us dissolving into laughter.
We ended the day with the most unusual series, where we wrote the famous “to be or not to be” quote across Conor’s face and neck with a makeup pencil. We put him back on stage, standing, and coaxed some madness-inspired expressions from him before calling it a wrap.
We knew all along that the final photos would be in black & white, which gave us a lot of leeway in our setups. It’s really essential to know if you’re using color of black & white before you walk into a shoot; with color you have to really pay attention to the colors that are present, how they interact and contrast, and how they actually appear in the photos. With black & white, it’s all about tones – a half-dozen different colors may all produce the same shade of gray, so you can drop that factor out of the mental equation.
Working with the New Vintage Ensemble is always a pleasure, and I’ve come to expect that these folks will just hit it out of the park any time they step in front of my camera. I guess that sets the bar pretty high for them, but they keep meeting it!
I broke out the studio gear recently to work with Kate, an actress who works with a number of the local theater ensembles, including The New Vintage Ensemble. She came to me needing some new headshots as she works to enhance her acting career, and I was thrilled to be able to help her out!
While I’m always happy to work with any portrait client, I’m always a little extra excited to work with theater folks, for the simple reason that they are almost always more comfortable in front of the camera. These are people who stand on stage in front of audiences of dozens or even hundreds and perform, so the camera doesn’t usually intimidate them much, once you give them a part to play.Read More...
The absolute best reason to make a portrait is out of love. Whether it’s the love one person has for another, or the passion someone has for a cause, or the sheer love of creating great images for a team.
The photos here feature my beautiful fiancee Mandy and they are portraits of love. But not only because she – my love – is featured in them, but even more so because she agreed to work with me to make them. Mandy doesn’t really enjoy having her photo taken, she doesn’t really enjoy modeling. But when I needed a model so I could try out some new lighting ideas, she did her hair and put on a dress and stepped in front of the camera for me.
Now that’s love!Read More...
I was fortunate enough to be asked to provide photos for the Net Driven Christmas Party this past month, a couple of weeks before the holidays. Net Driven is the new home of my very own beloved fiancee and, thanks to her, I’ve had the change to meet some of the fantastic folks who work there, so when they offered me the gig I couldn’t say yes fast enough!Read More...