I have never really been the type to enjoy the month long break over the holidays. I find more shoots and projects to create after a week of resting. Nothing was different about this past break. I was inspired by a photographer by the name of Ryan Hughes from Toronto, Canada. He had teamed up with a very large-scale production company called The Big Freeze. For the Golden Globe Award show, his company created 360 degree images of the stars and their wardrobes. They achieved this by connecting over 100 cameras in a circle that surrounded various models. Ryan also shot ballet and krump dancers with 48 cameras and The Big Freeze. After the shoot, he brought in an amazing production team and created two videos with effects.
After analyzing the logistics of lighting and camera placement, I approached Catherine Palladino from the Cage/Cave, the rental center for photography and video equipment, about an inventory list. Once I had informed her of my idea to reproduce this shoot in a manner that is unique to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, she was on board. While designing the light layouts and camera placement diagrams I also discussed the project with Cristina Kalpa. Our initial brainstorming and planning revealed what would be our first issue: how to trigger twelve cameras and strobes simultaneously.
This project really relied on the fact that the school had no way to synchronize twelve cameras without renting equipment from somewhere else. While the planning process and my correspondence with Cristina and Catherine continued, it became apparent that we would be needing more assistants. After this was accomplished, we were able to lay out a game plan.
We brought in two dance companies, The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and the Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet Company, both located in Pittsburgh. Since we wanted a variety in the style of dance represented, I called upon friends of mine whose specialties are hip-hop, krump, and b-boy dancing. We then arranged time slots for the dancers to be present during the shoot. By breaking these styles up we could give a break to the assistants and make any necessary changes in the lighting and camera set-up.
As this was one of my largest productions I have put together, I wanted to document the entire process, so Catherine asked Elliot Acevedo to provide video and still photography documentation. Since we were bringing in so many people who don’t attend The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, we needed an assistant to check in the guests with the security of the school, get model releases signed via iPad release app, and then situated in a studio adjacent to our studio that we were shooting in. I brought in Anthony Powers, my younger brother, as that assistant and placed him in charged him of social media updates and U-stream broadcasting. We had my laptop with a USB webcam raised on a light stand for viewers to watch across the country. Over 200 viewers spanning across Pittsburgh, New York, Michigan and Vermont tuned in to the live broadcast.
During the shoot we had 6 cameras on a 10s delay timer with the one beside on normal. The cameras were set up in a circular pattern like a clock with all the cameras facing toward a pre-determined center. I would count down and the group would trigger the delayed cameras then move to the regular cameras and wait for the delay to open the shutter. Our shutters were set at 2 seconds, which allowed a window for the dancers to get into pose. I would then manually trigger the five strobes on three power-packs by Pocket-Wizard in my hand. All of the assistants were asked to wear black to reduce being captured by the cameras across from them. The process was not a massive production as Ryan Hughes had, however we didn’t want it to be. We wanted to prove that AIP students could do projects that are not required by faculty but instead are from the student body trying to push the limits within their equipment means.
In the end, eight dancers performed amazing work and the shoot was a great success. The final product will be a video of the rotations of the dancers. Each rotation is 12 images and requires a bit of post-processing. We are making one final video of the project once the images are all edited.
This project has meant a lot to me. It has shown this student body that we are capable of many things if we just reach out and ask for help. There is nothing wrong with asking other majors for help and asking fellow photographers to assist on your shoots. I watched a very large budgeted shoot happen and I wanted to reproduce the process and make something our own at AIP. By using what we had available to us, I laid our plans from details of the lighting diagrams and layout to the model time slots and brought everything together. I spent 70 hours on planning before picking up a single camera on this project and I can honestly say it has been a humbling process.
On a final note, I would truly like to thank Catherine Palladino and Cristina Kalpa. Their insights helped me complete the shoot and their support got me through my most frustrating and flustered moments. I would also like to thank Andy English for permitting us to shoot this project within the school, and Greg Blackman for stopping in during the shoot and responding to multiple emails during his vacation.
The student body as a whole is capable of so many things, if we just reach out. Feel free to consult with faculty, talk to friends and classmates. Large projects like this will open more doors than you could believe.-Nate Powers
Project Team Members:
Lead Photographer / Project Director - Nate Powers
1st Asssistant / Camera Operator - Catherine Palladino
2nd Assistant / Camera Operator - Cristina Kalpa
Personal Assistant / Social Media – Anthony Powers
Camera Operators: Sean Conner, Laurana Aguilar, Nick Spanos, Emily Palmer, and Katie Hartzog
Video Production: Elliot Acevedo Freelance Videography
Music Provided by : Mike “Klassic” Kalombo
Guest Appearance: Greg Blackman (Faculty)
August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble:
Hip Hop Dancers:
Chris "Choze" Jaeger