It’s often said that one’s gear doesn’t make the image. I think a more accurate statement would be one’s gear doesn’t make the image without an individual’s vision and creativity. Whatever the gear – they’re inanimate objects until put into service by the photographer. And on top of that, all gear isn’t created equal. Engineering, technology, quality, design and capabilities are all factors that can make a particular piece of gear more up to the task than another.
I wrote an article for Manfrotto earlier this year about some of the unique challenges toy photographers face. I thought it might be fun to follow that up with a few Halloween-inspired shoots to show how I use my Manfrotto gear during a shoot, and how the gear helps me achieve the vision I have for each image. Let’s take a look at my first image – a fun image I call “Swing Shift.”
Here we have the Grim Reaper, someone I hope not to meet for a very long time, enjoying some downtime in a misty graveyard (a place he feels particularly at home). I created this set on my porch, a location I often shoot at because of the quality of light present in the morning. I use my Manfrotto 057 Carbon Fiber Tripod for images shot in the studio or around my home. Portability and weight are not as much a concern as they are when I’m on location or in the field, so I prefer the heavier build of the 057 for it’s added stability. I used three lights to add additional light to this scene – 2 Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color LEDs mounted on Manfrotto Nano Stands, and one Manfrotto Lumimuse 3. One of the Lykos LEDs was camera right, adding some fill to the overall set and helping to make the character pop. The 2nd Lykos LED was positioned camera left, behind the scene, to help shape the light and add volume and depth. And the small but mighty Lumimuse 3 was propped up on a little sand bag camera left, aimed directly at the Reaper’s flowing cape to add volume and bring out more fold detail. The entire scene was set up on a large foam block (typically used for flower arranging) so that I could easily position and reposition as needed branches and handmade, cardboard tombstones. And for this image, I put another foam block farther back for to hold a couple more branches (doubling as trees) to create a little more depth. A simple black poster board behind the scene created a nighttime backdrop, and to finish things off I sprayed Atmosphere Aerosol into the scene to add to the spooky, misty graveyard look. The final image here very closely matches the vision I had in my head, a great example of how having the right gear can help you achieve your vision. Here are some behind the scenes images to give you a better idea of how I set everything up.
Now let’s take a look at my second image – one I simply call, “Jason Voorhees – Pumpkin Carver.”
What if Jason Voorhees, of “Friday the 13th” horror movie fame, had taken to carving up pumpkins instead of carving up hapless teens at Crystal Lake Summer Camp? Well for one, I don’t think there would have been 12 movies in the series! But even so, this is another fun example of how I present well-known characters in unexpected ways, warping expectations and preconceptions we’ve built up about them over the years. I set up this shot in a corner of my backyard at dawn, wanting a more subdued, cooler quality of light. The shot required that my camera be positioned lower to the ground than a regular tripod would allow so I ended up reaching for my Manfrotto 055 Carbon Fiber Tripod. In addition to having legs that are able to open and spread completely flat, the Manfrotto 055 CF Tripod has the ability to convert its vertical center column to horizontal. These two features allowed me to easily get my camera into the correct position. I actually could have gone even lower if I needed (which I often do). I added a Lumimuse LED light on low power to give the figure a subtle pop, being careful not to overwhelm the entire scene with light. The Lumimuse was mounted on a Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2 mini tripod. To finish off the scene, and to give it some added mood, I again added some mist to the environment. My images and stories often evolve during photography and editing. I had actually just completed editing this image when I started wondering if I’d rather show the pumpkin already carved, as opposed
to having Jason about to carve it. In the end I felt showing a pumpkin that was freshly carved added to the narrative, and actually helped emphasize this unexpected side of Jason. If I left the pumpkin uncarved I felt the viewer might imagine Jason angrily chopping the pumpkin to bits, which isn’t what I wanted to convey. I ended up doing the pumpkin carving in Photoshop, using a Wacom tablet and pen tool. Check out these behind the scenes images on my setup.
And for my third image, titled “Oogie Boogie Nights,” I chose to feature Oogie Boogie, the main
antagonist from Walt Disney Studios’ 1993 stop motion holiday classic, “The Nightmare Before
Like the image “Swing Shift” above, with the Grim Reaper, I photographed this image on my porch, using a similar setup and much of the same equipment. I again used my Manfrotto 057 Carbon Fiber Tripod, as well as two Manfrotto Lykos Bi-Color LED lights – one positioned camera right and one at camera left. The Lykos LEDs were used to light Oogie Boogie, which allowed the background to go much darker than had I photographed the entire image using only natural light. The more I lit up Oogie Boogie with the Lykos LEDs (and exposed for him), the darker the background subsequently became. And instead of using the black poster board backdrop I just used the shrubs in my yard as the backdrop. Shooting with my 135mm at f/2 removes most of the shrub detail and just leaves me with a beautiful green backdrop. The skull and bones were shot separately in the scene and then composited in. I actually sculpted and painted the skull myself. Here’s several photos showing my setup.