January 16, 2013

Using smoke and gels to bring Top Shelf Entertainment’s Magic Mike show to life!

Top Shelf Entertainment Magic Mike Show COMING SOON

Perth born male entertainment company Top Shelf Entertainment are at it again with a brand new stage show that is coming real soon to Perth!  With their Melbourne branch up and running now it’s very likely the eastern staters will catch a glimpse of this show too. The image above gave it away but the show is obviously Magic Mike, based on the 2012 film starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey.

Anyway, you don’t care about all that stuff, you just want to know what made the picture! I have to say, I really do like this picture. In fact I always love shooting with the Top Shelf boys because they always have some cool theme that they want to recreate. I would love to be able to put a lot more time and resources into them but we usually have very limited time with fairly little notice to make these things happen, and it seems I’ve just got enough smarts and skills to get by with an awesome result that everyones happy with.

Read on…

First of all lets strip away all the text and see the final image alone….

Top Shelf Entertainments Magic Mike Show

Do you think this is a composite?

Go on have a guess…

Well it’s kind of a trick question. The core of this picture is not a composite. The stage, the guys, it was all in one shot. What I did do though, was merge in smoke from about 5 or 6 different photos, just to fill in all the gaps nicely and have nice even smoke that really looked good. It’s extremely difficult trying to get a smoke machine to behave on-set, especially at the exact same time that your subjects are all giving their best blue steel.

The rest of the retouching was just cleaning up and enhancing what’s already there such as cleaning up the stage and the background and enhancing the details in the clothes and skin. Nothing painted on here thank you!

In this image below, you can see my assistant Steve working the smoke machine so we could do some tests, all while the talent was getting ready. I always try to get ready before the talent arrives, because you don’t want to waste their time while you’re thinking about F Stops and smoke density and radio triggers etc. You want to be focused on your subject.

Behind The Scenes with Top Shelf Entertainment


Lighting Setup

In the image above you will be able to pick the whole lighting setup if you look carefully.

Rear Light
There is a 400WS strobe light sitting up on the rear stage and this is aimed directly back at the camera with a deep blue gel on it. The idea of this strobe is to illuminate the smoke in a blue light and give us that blue Magic Mike atmosphere. If you ever play with smoke, remember… you always want to light it from behind, otherwise it just looks crap!

Side/Rim Lights
The two small blue light sources on each side of the stage are both Canon Speedlights. One was a 580 EXII and one a 430 EX II to be precise. Both had about a full CTB (Colour Temperature Blue) gel. These were actually positioned towards the rear of the stage aimed back towards the camera on a 45 degree angle. This is because they were to act as rim lights for the guys on stage. These two speedlights didnt have to fire through the smoke, but sometimes the smoke would drift out that far and they would catch it.

Main Light
My main light was an Elinchrom Ranger RX Speed AS unit with a single action head. This head had an Elinchrom High Performance 48 degree 26cm modifier attached to it.  This modifier provides a much more concentrated beam of light and that’s what I wanted because I wanted to simulate a stage spotlight. I didn’t want to use any soft light for this photo and anyone that follows me will know how much I love and use very soft light. It’s important to understand why you are using what you are using, and use the right modifier for the job.

If you look closely at the last image, on the right hand side you will see the base of a light stand on a table. This is what my main light was attached to. The light stand went as high as I could take it and that was my main light.

I exposed this light correctly for the two subjects in front.  To even out the lighting though, I backed the main light up as far away from the stage as I could.  Using the inverse square law this means the consistency of light from the front of the stage to the back would be much more even. So there was very little falloff of light in this area. I didn’t mind if the two subjects in the back went underexposed by a third or two-thirds of a stop because the focus is meant to be on the two up front, but I still didn’t want them to be underexposed too much so we couldn’t see the detail.

Behind The Scenes with Top Shelf Entertainment


I love a good team photo so here’s the team from the shoot except 1. We lost one of the guys as he had to run. Thanks to Steve(left) for all his help assisting on the day. We managed to wrap this one in under an hour I think taking less than 50 shots.  It was a perfect shoot and a perfect result. Something I will certainly strive for more often!