Steve E. Miller Knocks 'em Dead

I worked at newspaper for twenty years, and to be honest I do not think I could have ever sold an idea to shoot dead artists for a fall arts preview package.

My problem, of course, was that I shot for the mainstream media, and not the alternative media. In that world, they come up with the dead artists idea all by themselves and ask you to shoot it.

Which is exactly what happened to photographer Steve E. Miller, who shoots for the San Luis Opisbo (CA) New Times.

Video, how-to and links to more of the series, inside.

The video is a time-lapse, which will let you see the physical progression of the lights. But the lighting ratios are what is key here.

This is an exercise in finely tuned fill light, and you can easily do it without a flash meter. The sheets are white, but Steve wanted them to be muted and textured in the final photo. So the idea is to design that fill light first, expose it properly -- white sheets -- and then dial the aperture down until you get the muted greys that you want on the linens.

Now, it is just a matter of gridding the key light to bring up the "demised" photographer's face. Obviously, you can grid the art on the walls, too, to bring up other areas of interest and better sell that tonal shift in the sheets. But the key to the look of the photo is how far down you take the fill, and you can do that by eye and histogram on the LCD screen without a flash meter.

Just dial down your aperture until your sheets look the way you want after you lay in that fill. Watch the histogram for blocked-up blacks, tho. Then bring up the gridded key light to make the dead guy the right exposure. Again, look at the image onscreen for the light relationships, but mind that histogram to make sure you have something you can work with in post.

I'll bet people were talking about Steve's dead artists spread in SLO for several days. You can see the other images Steve made in his Flickr gallery, and more time-lapse videos here. The paper did a nice piece online, too.

And the most important thing to remember (if you are Steve E. Miller) is that you parlay the success of this "kinda-out-there" project into a green light to do your next (even-more-out-there) project. Just be sure you pull it off, so you keep the good times rolling.

Question, to the other newspaper shooters out there: Could you ever hope to sell a "dead artists" spread in your Fall Arts preview? What would your strategy be to make it happen?

(FWIW, I don't think I could ever have squeezed this one past the Features Ed at The Sun.)


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