When Summit Entertainment tapped me to shoot the Movie Poster for Step Up All In I was super excited. Combining professional dancers who can pull off moves I didn’t think humanly possible, a water tank, and good creative direction from the agency had this shoot set up to be the perfect storm of photo awesomeness. Add a lot of gear, fast sync speeds and this photo tech head was in heaven.
Every time I have worked with dancers in the past they took direction exceptionally well. The phenomenal cast of dancers cast for this movie did not need my direction at all. I simply let them know where their mark was, what mood we were looking for and let them do what they do best as seen in this behind the scenes video:
We shot on a standard white seamless dry set and then onto the fun water tank set complete with fountains. We worked hard to ensure the water was warm enough for the talent to jump in without freezing. Fortunately the talent never balked and once in we almost couldn’t get them out.
The energy from the dancers was endless. The amazing thing is that every single image of them used on the movie poster is almost identical to the in camera capture.
Seeing the dancers respond with the same enthusiasm fueled me to want to make better pictures. Freezing these moves became the challenge. Without freezing the action of dance moves, photos just look like a blurred mess. We utilized two different techniques on two different camera systems.
On the dry set, we used a Phase One DF+ with leaf shutter lenses to take advantage of the 1/1600th of a second sync speed and ultra sharp Schneider lenses. But as you can see in the video, we also used a Canon 1Dx to put the 11fps shutter to work.
To make the strobes keep up I selected Profoto 8A power packs with their ultra fast recycle times and short flash duration. When powered down to 3.7 power, the Profoto delivers it’s shortest flash duration which is essential to freezing dynamic action. At this power it also allows the pack to recycle in excess of 10 times per second. Since this is such a low power, I needed to bump up my ISO to 250.
I find that to be a good balance between speed and pixel sharpness without degradation. Because these photos will be printed huge on billboards around the world, you can’t creep too much higher on the ISO and expect the image to hold up.
Doing a dry and wet set offered challenges but with some precaution like multiple mats over electrical cords, heavy mill plastic covering strobes and foamcore containing splashes it turned out to be a photographer’s dream…or at least this photographer’s dream.
Spraying/splashing/throwing liquids on a photo set turned my entire crew into 8 year old smiling children. Seeing the pure joy on people’s faces when spraying each other with a garden hose truly set the tone of the shoot, and maintaining that energy allowed us to capture magic on the talent’s faces.
In the BTS you really get an idea what most of my sets look like. We bring a lot of gear to pre light multiple sets as time with celebrity talent or athletes is extremely limited. Besides taking good pictures you have to be able to handle talent on set and keep a pace that has them engaged throughout. I often say I am better at managing people than taking pictures.
About the author: Monte Isom is a sports and entertainment photographer based in New York City. He will be teaching a workshop in May 2015 about things he has learned about managing talent, freezing dynamic action with strobes, and marketing yourself to ad agencies. You can visit his website here.