Friday, June 12, 2015

Publicity Photo Shoot for the Play "Stones In His Pockets"

Stephen Farrell and Mark Whelan in Character

I had a friend many, many years ago who used to exclaim "Good humour!" whenever he heard a funny story. For some reason I could hear his words echoing in my mind as I thought back on my shoot with actors Mark Whelan and Stephen Farrell soon (November 2015 at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto) to be starring in the play Stones in His Pockets by Irish writer Marie Jones. The play is set in a rural town in County Kerry Ireland which becomes overrun by a Hollywood film crew, and features two actors who play, between them, fifteen characters.

We had a budget about as limited as a budget could be (it's the arts!), so Mark did the location scout himself and we met on the designated shoot date in a parking lot at a park. Because we were limited by various work schedules in terms of the time at which we could shoot, we were just going to have to make the light work whether it was cloudy or sunny, and regardless of the direction of whatever light there might be at shoot time. This is why I always bring some kind of lighting! I was either going to have to create some directional light where there wasn't any, or combine with and/or overpower the light was there.

They had the idea of making a poster for the play that evoked an old fashioned Hollywood movie poster, so there may be some more monkeying around in Photoshop during the poster design phase. But that's later. At this stage, Mark had a very specific idea about the background...he'd found a spot here along the lake shore in Toronto that was reminiscent of a rocky shoreline in Ireland, and showed a spit of land in the distance that, again, somewhat mimicked an Irish coastline. Unfortunately when we got there, Mark was not sure exactly where he'd been so we started off marching along with all our gear, some of which I had cleverly disguised as picnic stuff (we didn't have permits to shoot there) by draping a  flowery blanket over it, only to discover we had gone to the wrong part of the park.

When we finally found the right spot, the sun was not quite in the "right" spot and the branches near Stephen's face cast really creepy, ugly shadows on his face. So I set up a light to overpower the sun catching S's face, and on top of that, being the consummate actors that they are, they just kept moving around as the sun moved, to keep their faces out of the sun, while still looking comfortable and in character.

One of the reasons it's good to have a photo assistant on any shoot is that if the light isn't firing he or she will tell you this. I wish we'd had one with us! Sometimes it's easy to see the flash going off (for example in a studio), and sometimes it's not (for example outside in the sun).  So after a number of misfires when Mark and Stephen pointed out that the light wasn't flashing, I stopped shooting, figured out what was wrong, fixed it and reshot at least as many frames as we'd missed. 

The next thing to go wrong was the CF card in the camera. Once every huge number of captures (honestly, it's incredibly rare for this to happen... I think I've had this happen maybe twice in all my years of shooting digitally) a card will suddenly fail for no apparent reason. The camera I was using for this shoot was not the one with dual CF card slots for redundant shooting, so I had to yank the now and forever more unreadable card and reshoot whatever we thought we'd missed, again! Luckily Mark and Stephen were such pro's they had no trouble continuing their performances pretty much indefinitely, so we still got a couple of hundred frames (not including the outtakes) to choose from in the end, and we definitely got the shot. In fact they saw so many they liked they decided to use a series of them on their website (to be launched in the next few months) instead of selecting just one "winner". Too many good ones is a very good problem to have.

In fact, my favourites were different from theirs. So to see my first choice please visit my website at and to contact me about this or any other shoot, e-mail me at

I'll announce their Facebook page when it's up and you'll see their selects and be able to read more about the play, which I can't wait to see!

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