A couple weeks ago I was asked to take a photograph of the man who runs Hartford's Xfinity Theater for an insert piece going in this week's CTNow [formerly the Advocate].
The man, Jim Koplik, has been around the Hartford music scene for decades. Not only does he run the Xfinity Theater, he actually built the thing twenty years ago. It was later bought by one company, which was eventually bought by Live Nation.
The venue has famously changed names through the years- it was formerly the Comcast Theater, which was formerly the New England Dodge Music Center, which was formerly ctnow.com Meadows Music Theater. Before that, and the name that always seems to follow it, is simply "The Meadows"
How do you take a photo that captures the full expanse of a music venue? Especially one the size of the Meadows. The place has a capacity of more than 25,000, including the lawn. In the past few years I've been lucky enough to photograph a lot of shows at the Meadows, and an idea actually came pretty quick. I wanted a shot of Jim from the stage, with the vast expanse of the venue, including that lawn, spreading out behind him.
The problem was planning for the light difference between the lawn outside and the covered pavilion. The throw from the stage was at least a couple hundred feet, so I made a plan with all the firepower I had available.
My plan: expose for the lawn and background sky, use an Alien Bee B800 strobe on full power to bounce off the ceiling and brighten up the pavilion, and a speedlight off a highly reflective silver umbrella to light Jim, and an on-camera speedlight to help fill and trigger all the lights. Easy!
I brought extra to the shoot because it's better to be overprepared than missing something crucial. It also happened to be a day in mid-May so warm and humid it could have been August. But the extra fifteen or so pounds proved to be worth it.
Jim was shooting a few television promo segments, so I was told I would have only five minutes between takes to get the shot. From the stage the pavilion was even more cavernous than I thought. Trying to brush away panic, I thought and planned.
I was able to set up my stands offstage and prepared everything to max power. The day's haziness helped- the lawn wasn't as bright as it could have been, and some of the light diffused nicely to help light the back of the pavilion.
Jim finished his segment, and I rushed to set up a speedlight off the floor of the venue, a good 16 feet below Jim's eye level.
Camera geek talk: Both that rim strobe and the key light strobe were set to remote "SU-4" mode, meaning they would simply fire at whatever power they were set to when hit by the light of another flash, just like a studio strobe photocell. When shooting with photocell it's important to set everything to manual mode- the TTL pre-flashes will trip all the lights out of sync with the camera.
The ceiling was way too high to bounce the light, and one B800 clearly wouldn't cut it. This is why overpreparing is good- I had a second strobe with me. I set one up on each side, aimed for the horizon, and hoped for the best.
The best was good enough, as the image came out crisp. Koplik had a warm demeanor, clearly a pro at this sort of thing, and within two minutes it was done. We even had a chance to chat a little about music.