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Pinball Heroes: How I Previsualized and Realized a Photograph

When I heard that Photofocus was renting the Pinball Hall of Fame for a party, my mind started going crazy with ideas. The plan was to host a party during Photoshop World in Las Vegas and invite Photofocus readers to join us for a live shoot with models and borrowable cameras from LensRentals.com. The party was a blast, and you’ve already seen some of the pictures posted here on the blog. I had a particular plan in mind, however, and I’ll show you how I made it come to life, and maybe my method will help you realize a vision you’ve had in mind.

Previsualization

I recently watched a documentary about breaking all time high scores on Donkey Kong called “A Fistful of Quarters”, so my mind was pretty fresh with some of the culture of the arcade world. I started imagining some fun twists on the apparently introverted arcade culture, and I looked online to get a sense of what the building would be like inside. One image that really stuck in my mind was from the perspective of the pinball game and had our gorgeous model playing with an intense look on her face because she is about to beat the high score, and she’s surrounded by other gamers who are watching intently–some who can’t believe it, one who is the reigning champ, one who is falling in love with the girl of his dreams, etc. I drew a picture on my iPad of the idea to help me solidify the camera angles and start considering where the lights would need to be.

Levi_Sim_Pinball_Previsualize-1
I drew this with my finger on my iPad. A drawing doesn’t need to be fancy to get the ideas across. I used Adobe Illustrator Draw to make the drawing.

Drawing a picture not only helps me solidify my plan, but I can also show it to other people to help them understand. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I used a free app called Adobe Illustrator Draw. As I drew the picture I was pretty sure I’d want to use a wide-angle lens in order to have a really strong sense of foreshortening to feel more engaged with the action, and I knew I’d need a light coming from the pinball machine to light everyone up–I’m a stickler about light, and I wanted something soft with the right color.

Execute the Vision

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Lumix GH4, 7-14mm f/4 lens, f/4, 1/80s, ISO 800.

…but the night was still young! Now that I had a picture, and I knew we could make it work, it was time to expand it and do it again.

Expand the Vision

The best part about working with a bunch of other people is that they help me refine my plans and make changes on the fly. the picture above was pretty good–the expressions were awesome. However, the background was a bit lackluster. We can barely see any machines back there, and the wall is a dead-end. So, we went to a different aisle with a richer background and got set to do it again.

Levi_Sim_Pinball_Previsualize-1-2

Technical Stuff

I mentioned that I wanted a wide angle lens to really involve the viewer in the picture. Stuff that’s close to a wide angle lens feels really close, and stuff that’s just a little farther feels much farther–this is called foreshortening, and it’s a fun artistic tool. I used the Lumix 7-14mm lens on my Lumix GH4, which gives a similar field of view as a 14-28mm on a full frame camera.

Another really helpful tool in pulling this off quickly is using the app for my camera. In the picture above, Ron Pepper is using my 7-14mm lens on his Olympus EM-1 and the app for that camera to compose the picture and adjust the exposure settings. It’s so much easier and faster to do it this way than to try and look through the viewfinder.

Ron and I used Ron’s tough little tripod from Really Right stuff, but next time I do this I’ll be setup on the Platypod Pro.

I love a soft light for this kind of thing, so I knew I needed a big light. It also needed to originate from the back of the pinball machine so that it looks like the machine is the source of the light, re-emphasizing that we’re looking through the machine’s eyes out at the world. I could have used strobes with a strip box to make this work, but strobes are difficult to use with multiple shooters. The day before I went to Vegas, I picked up a new set of continuous LED lighting from my local store, Pro Photo Supply, which is incredibly good. The light is a four-foot long bank with three LED tubes that can be dialed up and down for both brightness and color. The color goes from a warm tungsten 3200 degrees up to a daylight similar 5600. It’s made by Dracast, and I love it. It’s light enough that I flew it to Vegas in my light stand case!

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The light is attached to a boom arm on a c-stand. We shot a few pictures in this position and later moved the stand so it wouldn’t be in the picture anymore.

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Lumix GH4, 7-14mm f/4 lens, f/4.5, 1/60s, ISO 800.

What’s the Most Important Thing?

Whenever you previsualize a picture, it’s important to ask yourself what the most important thing is, to yourself or to your client. This question saves a lot of trouble and helps make sure that changes onsite remain true to the original vision. For this shoot, the light was important to me, and the lens choice, and the little story about the beautiful girl beating the high score…but the fact is, I was shooting at a party so the most important thing was to have fun.

Since the lights were all set, and I was controlling my camera remotely with the app, I made a whole lotta pictures quickly with lots of different people. It was a blast! The more people laughed and cheered, the more people came over to check it out and make a picture, too.

Conclusion

Previsualizing a picture can help get you ready to shoot and help guide everything you do as you prepare. I recommend drawing a picture so others can catch your vision and help you expand and create even more compelling pictures. Things will change as you shoot, and there’s a danger of losing your vision. It’s ok to change things completely, but come prepared knowing what the very most important thing about your vision is, and don’t let that go, no matter the changes. Somehow, fun is always at the top of my important things list ;)

I hope we’ll see you at the next Photofocus party, or at one of the many photowalks and workshops we’re working on this quarter. Here are the rest of the pictures we made at the Pinball Hall of Fame.

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