The other day I received a photo attached with a text message from Hollywood shooter Mike Kubeisy. He was on the set of NCIS LA photographing what they call “Afghani” mugshots of the stuntmen for the show. The message read,Do you understand what I did?. We often send messages like these to challenge each other to think outside the box. This simple challenge intrigued me so much I stopped eating lunch and analyzed the image carefully. It was an outdoor set up for a portrait head shot, but what was Mike really trying to tell me?
Camera “T” Marker
The first thing I noticed was a red Camera “T” Marker in front of the background. T Markers are great to show the talent where to stand. They are in the shape of a T for a reason. You tell the talent to to line their toes with the top horizontal line so they are centered with the vertical line of the T. Mike recently sent me a T Marker from Film Tools so I didn’t think that was the challenging part of the photo.
I looked closer at the image and thought okay, hes doing the shoot outside. He placed the background stand up against truck to prevent the wind from knocking it down. I once told Mike my sandbags didn’t hold during an outdoor shoot under an awning and my background fell. Thank god it was during setup with no one around. Was Mike mocking me? I wouldn’t put it past him but no, I don’t think that was it.
I noticed Mike used several A Clamps to hold the seamless paper in place. A Clamps are one of those accessories portrait photographers need. They are in the shape of an A and are used to clamp almost anything down. Ive often use a small A Clamp to tighten up a models outfit if its too large. Looking at the photo, I saw how Mike clamped the top and bottom of the paper so it wouldn’t unroll. Mike did something different. Instead of clamping a few A Clamps on the bottom of the paper to keep it tight, he used an extra pole on the bottom and wrapped paper around it. Using A Clamps, he fasten the pole to the frame. This was a great idea. The pole kept the paper tight and from flapping in the wind.
A few minutes later I called Mike and asked if I could share this tip. Mike said, Knucklehead, an affectionate name he calls me, Why do you think I sent it?. I laughed, went back to eating my lunch and drafted this article.
Outdoor Portrait Background Equipment
- Background stands with sandbags (Mike took the photo before he added sandbags)
- An extra pole
- Seamless paper (pick the right size and type for the portrait)
- A Clamps
- Camera T Marker