It’s quite a serious science story, actually. Roughly put, the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) just broke a story about how researchers are engineering mice to act as “avatars” for a particular patient, so they could examine cancer biology from a more personalized perspective.
The cover notion called for a shirtless male, with a shaved head (to intimate, potentially, someone involved in a chemotherapy protocol) holding a mouse, proffering it towards the camera. The intense light is on his hands, and thus on the mouse, who is the star of the show. Easy enough to do, but the control of light was obviously my paramount concern.
Naturally, the mouse had a rep, and a handler. (Thank God, not a masseuse and a publicity agent.) She was a bit of a diva, ignoring my requests and crapping all over our patient model’s hands. But she did look at the camera once or twice, and those looks provided just enough personality for the cover shot.
Due to a tight budget, it was seat of the pants stuff. I set up a studio in my driveway. There was only one law governing the entire day. My unbelievably patient wife, Annie, has been historically gracious about obstructions in the driveway, a garage filled with photo junk, and even, quite recently, two mostly naked, body painted models running around our kitchen, preparing for a forest shoot in the backyard. But there was no give on this one. No mouse in the house.
Bill and I stayed in touch via the miracle of the internet throughout the shoot, as I was sending him samples of the lighting, the cropping, etc. I have great confidence in him as a picture editor and have spoken of him before on this blog. He was a picture editor at the National Geographic for 34 years, until he was exited, as they say. This happens a great deal nowadays in the print journalism game. We worked together quite frequently, until, of course, we didn’t.
Happens. When I was a staff photog at LIFE, I was shown the door. At Time Warner, they call it a “reduction in force.” So, in the hallway vernacular, I got riffed. Same thing happened to Bill, though they probably call it something different at the Geographic. Given their particular bent for reporting on the natural world, maybe it’s referred to as “the circle of life.” I digress.
Anyway, what started as a stark silhouette became a semi-silhouette, with a shimmer of detail in the face and body. The background was lit with two Profoto B4 flashes, punching the white. When the call came in to open the silhouette a bit, I introduced two Profoto 1×6 strip lights on either side, both sporting egg crates to control the flow of light.
Up front, a 1×3 RFI strip light, fitted to a B1 unit, also outfitted with an egg crate, washed some detail up into the bottom of his hands and forearms. Overhead, a B1 governed by a ten degree spot grid became a snappy, intense main light. Then it was all up to Eric, our wonderfully serene human model, and our rodent friend, upon whom we bestowed the name, Trixie. She of course needed some guidance now and then.
The lighting broke down like this: Two B4’s with heads wrapped in black wrap to pop the background; two B4 big strips for edge light on the model; one B1 overhead in a 10 degree spot for the main; and one B1 underneath in a small strip for under lighting the hands. Every light has a specific job. The camera is a D810, and lens is 70-200mm f2.8 Nikkor. Exposure specs: 1/200th @ f22, ISO 160, lens set to 170mm. The set sorta, kinda looked like the sketch below. The solid black overhead nixed any potential for ambient light to influence the equation. We brought space heaters on the set so our talent was comfy. Whole shoot, including the lunch break, took 2 hours. Setup was the key. That took a while, getting all the pieces in place.
Studio in a driveway? Sure made it easy to put the gear away. More tk…..