Monday, March 21, 2011

25/52 Justin Purcell

This week I caught up with a friend of mine from high school, who is also an Indiana expatriate. 

Justin Purcell Is an improv comedian and magician from New Palestine, Indiana. He's part of a larger group of former Hoosiers who all have moved to Chicago, the majority hailing from New Palestine High School. Now he lives just a few blocks down the street from me. He's done work with Improv Olympics, Second City, and the Annoyance theater. As for magic, he specialized in up-close magic, specifically sleight of hand and card tricks. Watching Justin perform is amazing. Even a person as skeptical as me is completely confounded by Justin's level of talent. He has an upcoming show combining his two areas of expertise at The Cornservatory this March.

To continue with my theme of recreating famous portraits, Justin and I decided to replicate a famous photo taken of Dai Vernon. Dai was slight of hand expert who is looked up to by many young, technically-driven magicians. Here's the original image we set out to recreate:

Never one satisfied to leave well enough alone, I decided to completely redo the lighting. The original image is on single light, directly above the camera. It leaves giant shadows over Vernon's eyes, as well as a nasty specular off of the card that he's holding, making it hard to read.  I wanted to change the look of the light but keep the feel. I decided to move the key slightly off to the right, adding some dimension to the subject's face, and to add an edge so the subject wouldn't get lost in the background.

Capturing smoke is hard. And so is capturing the exact posture you're trying to recreate. All told, we shot maybe 200 frames. To keep things consistent I used a tripod to keep the framing same each time. We also had difficulty finding a background to use. We ended up using a fuzzy navy blue blanket, which  was just big enough to cover the frame, ending just outside of it on each edge. We did the shoot in Justin's kitchen, the result being that we had just enough space to fit everything in with the camera crammed up against the wall.

It was difficult to keep the key from spilling over onto the background, so I ended up constructing a weird hood-flag kind of thing out of black foil. Professional? Not really. Effective? Very. I did this whole shoot with my Einsteins, and the beauty dish worked out perfectly for the key. The edge was an Einstein in a gridded strip box. Here's a shot of the setup:

The biggest difference between the original photo and our recreation is the appearance of the smoke. It wasn't till after the shoot that I realized what caused the difference. Hot lights! When originally shooting Vernon, the photographer must have used a constant light source. When they dragged the shutter the smoke all became blurry. Using strobes for the remake, we ended up with perfectly frozen wisps of smoke, not the blurry cloud. In the end I'm happy that our smoke looks the way it does.

One final note: the camera was so close to the wall that I couldn't easily adjust it. Somehow this led to me bumping into the controls, resulting in a shutter speed of 1/30. I don't think this hurt the image at all, but it certainly wasn't an intentional decision.

Here are a few shots we did after the fact, showing Justin doing his thing:

Not everything always goes as planned:

Strobist Info:
PCB Einstein high camera right through 22" beauty dish at 1/6
PCB Einstein back camera left through gridded strip box at 1/2

Camera Settings:
1/30 f/10 at ISO 100
Nikon 35mm f/1.8

1 comment:

  1. Side note: Justin doesn't even smoke. He was obliging enough to put up with the cheapest cigarettes we could find for the duration of the shoot.