Annie does (Red)

UPDATE: Thanks to a tipster in the comments, I added a great video of some of the shoots at the bottom of the post. Bono, dude, you are an art director!

I belatedly caught the July issue of Vanity Fair in the waiting room at the dentist yesterday. The theme of the issue was the (red) campaign, which seeks to benefit people in Africa by donating a portion of (red)-designated items to various causes.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz traversed the globe with her cameras, lights and red background paper, photographing a human telegraph of world leaders and cultural icons to illustrate the chain of events that leads from, say, Bono raising awareness about an issue to the US government funding money for it.

If you think about it, that is a fairly complex idea to illustrate in a series of photos. But this is where being able travel with a background and lights can allow you to unify a series of photos shot in many different places and at different times.

This shot shows her setup for a shoot at the White House. How many people go to the diplomatic reception room at the White House and drop seamless paper? It makes sense if your story is about a theme that is bigger than the White House, or the person who happens to reside there.

This is a technique that you can use with any portable backdrop and a speedlight in an umbrella, if you think about it. In fact, you could choose to keep the various locations natural and visually unify a series of photos by using a standardized lighting setup, too.

It is all about having control. Knowing how to create and use various forms of light gives you options that an available light photographer doesn't have. And if you want to use available light, that option is always open to you. No so the reverse for the flash-wary photographer.

Looking at her setup shot, I see:

• Backdrop
• Two large light sources (she appeared to use just one in the photos)
• Diffusion material to create even bigger, double-difused light source -- she could fire the second light through it to make highly variable and/or subtle fill
• Two stools
• Posing table, covered in black velvet
• Wind machine

(And probably a gazillion assistants.)

Yeah, it's a bit of a production. But you can scale this concept down very well to speedlights. It all about the basic idea of having a unified look that is portable. Which comes down to controlling your environment and your light.

The only things many of us would not be able to cobble together pretty easily are the posing table and the wind machine. But those are actually pretty inexpensive items. You can get an adjustable posing table ($80) at Amazon. And this Stanley utility fan ($50) makes a great, portable directional wind machine. It also has two, 120v outlets.

Whether you are shooting far-flung employees for an annual report or prep athletes for a fall preview, being able to control your light and background to unify a series of photos done at different times and locations.

And did you notice that the majority of the shoots were done with a Canon DSLR?

Wow. I woulda thought medium format, at least.


Related links:

:: Vanity Fair Slideshow ::
:: (red) Campaign ::
:: Stanley utility fan ::
:: Posing Table ::


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