Behind the Scenes on the Philadelphia Weekly cover shoot with Neil Gaiman.
While it’s the cover shoot, it ended up not being the actual cover photo. The actual cover was a photo I took last year of Neil taking a Behind The Scenes tour of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology given by Dr. Brad Hafford (you can read about that here. The photo that I’d actually taken for the cover ended up on a full page on the inside, which is fine, because it’s a better photo and the cover had an ad on it that needed to be fit in, so the one I liked better got an uncluttered layout. There were about six different cover variants, of which I got to see the final two.
Which do you prefer? You may clickenzee to embiggen.
Anyway, the shoot was really basic and really fast. It was late at night, Neil had just gotten into town and picked Trillian Stars, Amanda and I up at a house party in North Philly
and we were headed back to center city. I’d wanted to do something with the Philly Skyline in the background because the story’s about a speech that he gave in Philly a year ago. So we went out onto an island in the middle of broad street. I love the view down that street and I’ve used it a couple of times before.
Here’s one that I took of Trillian on our way home from somewhere a couple of months ago — a fog bank had rolled down and the place was lit up wonderfully.
Clickenzee to Embiggen!
One of the things that happens when you take a lot of photos of things is that you start to tuck little shortcuts away in your brain like “ah, now I know how to do this, I can pull it out of my hat later.” I figured this lighting setup with this background might be useful later and it was.
So, with the idea of getting Neil and Amanda out of the street and into bed as quickly as possible, I figured the easiest and coolest thing to do would be to photograph Neil the same way, right in front of the pretty-pretty city hall. This is, I think, one of the most important aspects of a lot of my photography — being able to move really fast.
Photo by Amanda
The lighting setup is really simple, there’s one flash behind a shoot-thru umbrella. I’m using a Luma Pro LP605s light stand
because it folds down really small and some generic double fold umbrella
for the same reason. The camera is a Panasonic GX1 and a 20mm f1.7 lens — I’d brought a Leica 45mm f2.8 as well but that had somehow broken earlier in the day and wouldn’t focus — which brings up a point — when you’re going on an important shoot, bring two of everything. I had a backup camera body and two lenses which the small footprint of the micro 4:3 format allows you to do relatively easily.
So, shooting with the 20mm lens and an off-camera flash you have two sources of light, the flash, and the ambient street light. The ambient street light is made up of traffic lights, street lights, and the bright klieg lights aimed at city hall. The first thing to do is expose for city hall, and you do that by setting your f-stop and aperture until it shows up properly. In this case it was f 2.2 at 1/130th of a second at an ISO of 200. THEN, once that’s figured out, you set the exposure for your subject with the flash power. Two light sources, two different controls — camera first, then flash.
Once the light is properly balanced, you just start shooting. Badda badda bing.
Later in photoshop I burned in the edges to darken the bottom of his jacket and most of the street behind him — this draws your eyes to the subject — there are two things you want the photo to say “Neil” and “Philadelphia”, and here you have it. You can read the article about “Make Good Art” here
Hope this was useful.
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