Behind the Mask: a behind the scenes breakdown of the photoshoot.

I’ve been asked for a little background on how I took the shots of Steph for my new project. So here you go. My first sort of behind the scenes post.


Portrait of Loki looking menacing and mean

Before turning up to shoot Steph as Loki I had only met her for about 1 minute. I stopped her outside a comic convention and asked if she’d take part in my portrait thing. Amazingly, she said yes. We exchanged a few emails and I arranged to drive up to the west midlands to shoot her. I’d never seen  the venue but was informed it was a pub/restaurant and that Steph had arranged with a friend (the manageress) to cordon off a small section to ourselves.  I knew little at all about Steph as a person but I did know all about the Loki character as I was a reader of the Thor comics as a child as well as having seen the film as a grown up. I also went to see The Avengers two days before our meeting in the hope it would inspire some ideas. I would have seen it regardless though as I am a huge Joss Whedon fan, even going as far as calling myself MrGordo when posting in the old BRONZE chat rooms back in the days of Buffy in late 90’s. (for those who don’t know, MrGordo was the name of Buffy’s stuffed pig soft toy…remember that, it may be the answer to a question in Who wants to be a millionaire and i want my cut!)

From the research I knew I wanted to try to do a few things. I wanted a classic portrait of the character as well as some other conceptual shots. Loki is mischievous, he has a King/God complex, he is devious and evil and chaotic. Somehow I had to try to do a series of shots that may convey these things. The day before the shoot I set out the ideas in my head and thought about the sort of lighting I’d need. As well as photography I was going to do a video interview and I’d done some test runs at home with different lighting to see if I could do some clever stuff with it as well. (The answer is learn to walk before you run! ie no…) So myself and assistant Elizabeth, who took all these shots, filled up my car with lights, tripods, mains reels, backgrounds and stands, then off we went.

On arrival we ordered a coffee and chatted to Stephs boyfriend while we waited for her to arrive. Once she was with us we had a chat about what I was thinking of doing. During this, I got some background about the real woman behind the mask and at the same time I showed her some older test shots I’d done for some other ideas. I didn’t realise it at the time but this seemed to have been useful in giving her and her partner some confidence in my abilities. I presumed they had looked at the blog and researched me but I  think they may not have realised I would be doing all this on an iphone. That’s understandable though as many folk who view my shots do not believe they come from a phone. Just in case though I had brought a couple of Canon 5DMK11’s with me as back up (and yes I know this sounds insane). Pleasantries out of the way Steph showed me our little closed off area. The section we had was actually pretty great. It was right at the back with no windows. Not only that it was possible to turn off all the lights so if we wanted it could get blacked out and I’d have control of all the light myself. This last part was sort of crucial to my main portrait idea. I picked out the three main location areas I would use for all the shots and we started to get to work.

portrait of Gordon Fraser, iNOLOGIST, sitting on a stool in bar in West Midlands wondering how he got there

will i ever see the light?

So this is me sitting contemplating how on earth to take all the shots required. It takes a good 10-15 minutes for her to get in to costume and really, we didn’t’ want to have to be changing in and out all the time. This meant i had to do a timetable of each shot in order. As some of my conceptual ideas would require comping in multiple images it started to get complex. I had multiple camera’s and multiple iphones in case. Once plan was set we had to remove the unwanted clutter and unpack boot of car to get the kit out. There had been two round tables in the middle of this carpet and we all mucked in and moved them to another area of the restaurant.  Then it was building up the lights time The large softbox in the image would be used for some of my conceptual shots. The logs behind me were used as a nice backdrop for the main portrait of Steph but I’m sure you worked that out already.

The lighting for the Loki portrait can be seen in this picture below.

lighting set up. twin heads 90 degrees either side of subject

On Loki’s left you can see one of my studio heads with 500watts lit up. It ended up with a honeycomb grid stuck on it to make the light even more focussed compared to how it looks here. The same (but unguided) light was firing through a gap on the other side of the wall directly opposite the first light. As I didn’t have a grid on that lamp the light was spilling in to the wooden window frame where Loki’s hands are. So we got three Menu’s from the restaurant and taped them to the other side (where the wire cone thing is in this shot) to create a light block like a set of barndoors (note to self…buy barndoors). Lastly, we threw up a black cloth backdrop about 3 or 4 feet behind her. I took the shot from the other side of the wall, using that little rectangular window as the frame for the portrait.

We did three other series of conceptual shots which I am still working on. In this shot you can see i am using an old s/h theatre spotlight as the main light. It’s fired on to ceiling to make big softbox. I didn’t use the softbox as I wanted to keep light consistent in all the multi layered shots so I didn’t want to be moving the lights around. So fixed lighting and tripods for each series. This spot is the same light that I used for the portrait of Steph in front of the logs, except on this occasion it was firing straight at her face. I made her look sideways from the light towards me as that thing is BLINDING. I did that portrait shot last, as I completely forgot about it when doing the plan! Other thing to note in that shot is the mount the iphone is in. It was given to me to review by Glyn at   the first iphoneography blog and one of my daily reads. The mount is an Owle Bubo. I’ve now used it a few times for these complex multi layer shots i’ve been trying out. Originally it was designed to make video more stable but I was using it just as a solid tripod mount. They also supply a nice wee microphone that was used for the video recordings and a wide angle lens adaptor that I have not tried but am considering for another project in the future. Thanks Glyn!

So there you go. Three images shown on the blog so far. Total time spent with Steph, about 4.5hrs…time spent driving there and back 5hrs. Fuel costs..well there is mastercard for that. Satisfaction level= very high.

2 Responses to “Behind the Mask: a behind the scenes breakdown of the photoshoot.”

  1. Jim says:

    Fascinating Gordon – very interesting stuff – I thought you just told her to dress up – pointed the camera and “there you go” ;)

  2. James Watt says:

    Nice work! Like the whole idea. Also, looking forward to the interview…

    Looks like a pretty wide angle lens on that last shot. Either that or you’ve changed proportions since the last time I saw you…

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