31  Dec
2014 Wrap Up

Thanks to everyone that helped make 2014 a great year!

Looking back, though, I see I didn’t make a single blog post or do anything on Facebook! So, there’s a resolution for me: more social media interaction. To that end, this will be my last blog post using WordPress. I have a new blogging platform that I’m excited about, and will be rolling that out soon.

So better late than never, here are just a few highlights from 2014!

Some headshots and portraits:

A few of the terrifying denizens of the McFarlloween haunted house:

I did promotional shots and covered the dress rehearsal for the UW’s University Opera production of “Beatrice et Benedict”

And of course, I continued my partnership with Fresco Opera Theatre. These are from “Opera SmackDown”:

One of my favorite parts of working with Fresco is when I get to do some design. Aside from making the posters, I also end up making various support materials for the shows. These shots were used as album covers for “Opera Unplugged.”

One last shot… this one is kind of special to me: this is my daughter at Old World Wisconsin. She got some dress up clothes and went out to work in the garden. This scene just unfolded with no direction from me, and I was able to capture this image. I thought this might be a great opportunity to try a new 21mm lens, and it was!
We ended up entering it in the Old World Wisconsin Foundation’s annual photo contest, where it won first place in the “People – color” category, and also “Best in Show.” It will be on display at Old World Wisconsin for the duration of their 2015 season.

Thanks for looking, and stay tuned for more frequent updates… :)

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: December 31, 2014, 6:44 pm | No Comments »

A few weeks ago, a friend from college contacted me through Facebook to see if I would be up for a session with her. She would wear a Cheesehead. With some cows.

My response was immediate: yes! Let’s make this happen!

So… backing up a bit. My friend from college is Jill Lover. She lives in LA, and was coming to Appleton to shoot a movie. She’s originally from Green Bay, and is actually a Packer fan. So… yeah. One foot in both worlds.

Speaking of feet, check this out:

Yeah, those are some niiice shoes. And yes, that is some bona fide cow poo. This shot is from early in the session – they were much worse by the end.

So… backing up a bit. Again. Jill and I decided to split the difference between Appleton and Madison to meet in Waupun. We’d meet up, go find some cows, and then see if we could take some pictures with them. Easy as pie, right?

Well, as it turns out, it was. I let Jill do the talking, for two reasons: she’s better at it than I am, and she’s much (much!) prettier than I am. It worked. Not only did we get permission at the first and only place we stopped, we got basically an all-access pass to these dairy cows. “You wanna go in there?” the farmer asked. Yes. Yes, we did.

Now, as I’ve covered in this blog before, I don’t much care about my clothes. I’ll lie down in the gravel to get the shot, NBD. Kneeling in manure? Sure, why not? But I wear crappy clothes. I would estimate that for 95% of the clothes I wear on a daily basis, my wife would be just as happy if, at the end of the day, I threw them in the trash instead of the hamper.

But for this concept, Jill was dressed. up. And that included the shoes. Which she—without a pause—walked right into the cow pasture in.

As it turned out, we didn’t even end up using any of the shots that showed the shoes. But that’s okay – the cows were just as happy to mess up her dress:

And once again, as this sequence proves, Jill was a great sport about it:

Cow eats dress.

It was great to reconnect with an old friend (who is every bit the down-to-earth person I remembered her being) in the real world (Facebook is great, but no substitute for the real thing). We had a blast doing a very silly session, and got some fun shots. With cows.

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: October 5, 2013, 8:48 pm | No Comments »

Now that the show is over, I can share some of the images we created for it!

My work generally begins with the poster. I started by making some logos, based on the same Real Housewives series that inspired the show’s name. Assuming that none of the housemates would be wearing Fresco’s signature Brunhilde helmet, I added a silhouette of a “Real Diva” and put the helmet on her. She also helps bring a splash of color to the logo.

There were fourteen cast members (which doesn’t even include Fresco’s Musical Director and pianist Jess Salek, who was on stage for the show). We decided to go with a series of posters again, with pairs of the cast interacting.

In order to have the most flexibility in creating the pairings, I shot each cast member from three angles—facing left, facing the camera, and facing right—on a pure-white background. This allowed us to just drop any given pairing together on the poster.

Shooting on white also made it easy to reuse the shots for other things, such as the programs and the billboard. I was pretty excited to have another Fresco billboard! I’s pretty close to our house, and it was fun for the whole family to see if we could spot the Real Divas on most trips out!

Each character had a Facebook page, so we also shot a few with non-white backgrounds for profile pics.

I also created some images and video for use in the show itself. Cherubino, played by the wonderful Allison Hull, was portrayed as a washed up one hit wonder with a look inspired by Justin Bieber. In order to show his glory days, we took a series of photos of the Biebs and Photoshopped Cherubino’s head onto them.

While we weren’t going for a truly seamless look—making it obvious that these were actually shots of Bieber was part of the joke—I did want to make them look at least vaguely believable. In order to do this, Frank held up his iPad with the source images and we matched the light and angle of each shot. Allison was a great sport!

For the Rolling Stone cover and Never Say Never, I ended up reconstructing large elements—some from scratch—rather than trying to reuse what was there.

I’ve been wanting to do a time-lapse of a Fresco set build ever since the Big Top show, but never made it happen until Real Divas. I had two cameras going for almost ten hours, capturing a frame every twenty seconds. I am in awe of how much work goes into the sets of these shows!

So… the set is built, the promos have been out… it’s time for the show! Here are a few of my favorite shots:

Of course, Fresco never sleeps… plans have been underway for the next show for a while! Here’s a teaser I made for the next show… can’t wait!

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: March 27, 2013, 9:26 am | No Comments »

31  Jul
Behind the scenes

Ever wonder what goes into one of these photos for Fresco? Come behind the scenes of “the shootout” to see a bit of the process!

The first thing we needed was a location. Frank suggested an abandoned feed mill here in Madison, and I agreed that it seemed like a great place. One day, I picked up Julia from school and we headed over to check it out.

There was a lot of graffiti, and on three sides of the building there was actually pavement… that wouldn’t do. On the last side we checked out, there was gravel – perfect! I snapped a few shots of Julia and did a quick sepia treatment to send to the Fresco team:

They liked it, so we were a go!

I knew that the singers would be wearing cowboy hats, and that I was going to have to do something to avoid losing Rachel’s amazing eyes to deep shadow. I wanted to keep things looking “real” and didn’t want to light any more than I needed to, so I brought a portable flash and put a craft foam snoot on it. The “snoot” is that long tube coming off the flash; it does pretty much what it looks like it would do: constrains the light to a small area.

In this shot, the light is too bright, but you can see where it was in relation to the fighters:

Once we got the light level worked out, it was time to get the positioning right. I wanted to catch Rachel’s hair flying out, and—since her costume had a skirt—I wanted to get that looking dynamic, too. We spent some time working out how she would spin, and how far down she would crouch, and went about setting the light’s height properly for that.

Here, you can see that the light is too high – this is one of the first shots with the motion added, and it’s still set to her standing height.

Just a note here: in order to get her face lit by a heavily snooted light—which has a very small, focused beam—Rachel had to spin and crouch consistently over and over again. And she did. She just nailed it. I am so lucky to work with such multi-talented people!

Here is the shot we ended up using:

Notice the different shooting angle here, compared to the shot with the lightstand in it. To get this angle, I am lying down in the gravel and shooting up at them. If you’ve ever wondered why I dress the way I do, this is it. 365 days a year, I wear crummy clothes just in case I may need to lie in gravel. Yup.

Ahem, so… still in Lightroom (the most kickass bit of photo software ever, not that I’m biased or anything…), I converted the image to the sepia treatment and added the vignette.

Then the image makes the trip over to Photoshop in order to get the weathered paper texture, and the muzzle flash added. Because I’m a massive nerd, I found a website of muzzle flashing from various guns and used an appropriate one based on the pistol she’s using. Because that kind of level of detail matters to absolutely no one, but that’s just how I roll, baby!

So – that’s how “the shootout” came together. I hope you enjoyed this little write-up, and I hope to see you at a performance of The Good, The Bad, and The Divas!

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: July 31, 2012, 9:17 pm | No Comments »

Here’s another batch of photos from Fresco Opera Theatre’s Big Top Opera show last week.

This includes a few behind the scenes shots, more from the show itself, and some more street performance shots.

What a fun show – I can’t wait to see what Fresco’s going to do next time!

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: October 9, 2011, 2:43 pm | No Comments »

Fresco Opera Theatre always puts on a good show. Always.

But this… wow. They’ve taken it not just to the next level, but probably three or four after that.

This is for real, people. The circus acts are amazing by themselves, AND you get to hear some world-class singing.

So if you don’t have tickets yet, GO GET SOME! And be sure to come early, because the entertainment actually starts on the street before the performance. There’s also a midway set up next to the performance space, with cotton candy, Cracker Jacks, fortune telling, and more!

Two shows left: 2:30 matinee—bring the kids!—and 7:30. Don’t miss this!

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: September 30, 2011, 10:52 pm | No Comments »

I’ve known Chris for years, but until this afternoon, had never actually met him in person, when the CGQ came to Madison to play in the Jazz on the Plaza series. Turned out not to actually be on the plaza, though: despite there not being a cloud anywhere in the sky, the concert was moved inside “in case of rain.” It was fun to hear these guys live, and of course, I shot some photos.

Posted by max, filed under prints, Uncategorized. Date: August 19, 2011, 11:39 pm | No Comments »

I love working with Fresco Opera Theatre. Love love love it. Their shows are always amazing in every way: great performances, great concepts, and—the cherry on top for a visual guy like me—great staging, costumes, and props.

I recently did my third promo shoot for their upcoming Big Top Opera show – mark your calendars for September 30th and two shows October 1st, tickets go on sale August 29th.

Each poster has raised the bar from the last one; they take the promos as seriously as the shows. Great concepts, great costumes, and I can’t say enough about the great models; Emily and Dom have spoiled me so much. Also, this time Fresco Board President Jeff Turk joins the fun!

And where do you shoot promos for a show called Fresco’s Big Top Opera? Circus World, of course! Circus World was the headquarters and wintering grounds of the Ringling Brothers circus in Baraboo, which is now operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society and on the National Register of Historic Places. I don’t know how they got clearance for us to shoot there, but I was seriously pumped.

We’ve been meaning to take the kids to Circus World for a while, so hey: fun scouting trip!

These aren’t photos of my adorable children. They’re very serious location scouting shots.

As I was packing my gear for the shoot, the question wasn’t so much, “should I bring [whatever] or leave it?” as much as it was, “should I put it in a case that I’ll carry in or leave it in the car in case I need it?” As I was putting all the “maybe” stuff in the car, I realized that even if a location shoot was just across town, I wouldn’t come home to grab stuff, so why would this be different? It really wasn’t, but I still brought everything but the kitchen sink. Just because.

When I got there, the rest of the crew was already there, getting into makeup and costumes. I normally try to shoot some of the behind the scenes stuff, but instead, I took off for our first location to get my gear set up and ready to go when they arrived.

I went across the river to the sideshow tent, which had a nice open spot and a random unicycle prop (I did make some scouting shots here, but they’re not interesting enough to post). We shot here until we worked the possibilities pretty thoroughly.

As it turned out, by that time the Kids’ Interactive Circus was over and we could shoot in their ring, which was in the Ringlingville Elephant House. (see? those were scouting shots.)

We packed up and moved to the Elephant House. While I was getting set up, Mel shot a nice set of candids—posted on Fresco’s Facebook page; go “like” them—that show more of the Elephant House.

The kids were really excited that we shot here – they loved seeing the familiar backdrops and props.

I don’t normally do a ton of post-processing, and I usually don’t blog about it. But this time, I really wanted to give these shots a look that would call to mind circus posters.

My favorite part about Circus World is the huge gallery of vintage circus posters. Many of them are crudely drawn, and virtually all of them are just dripping with hyperbole, but some of them are just gorgeous. They’re simultaneously bold and delicate, and many of the ones that really draw me in have these amazing, almost photorealistic paintings blended right in with simple line drawings.

I had already suggested that look a little in the lighting, but I wanted to really turn it up, and set out to give these shots that same kind of bold yet faded color palette, and combine that delicate photo/painting look. For good measure, I also “aged” them a bit.

I usually do all my post in Lightroom, but I actually fired up Photoshop for these. It was fun to get out of my comfort zone a bit.

I’m always sad to lose the detail when scaling images down for better online viewing, and this time, scaling them down really loses a lot of the poster effect. Here are some details:

Em based her makeup on a specific poster, so I tried to make her look as much like that poster as I could.

Em’s elegant hands. I didn’t have to direct her to do this; she just brings it in every shot.

Check out that costume!

This is going to be a great show – I’m really looking forward to it!

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: July 24, 2011, 4:52 pm | No Comments »

I shot the Dueling Divas II dress rehearsal tonight, and—as always—it’s a great show.

Come on down to the Barrymore tomorrow night, and hear some amazing opera in a totally non-stuffy setting. It’ll be a blast!

More info: Fresco Opera Theatre

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: March 18, 2011, 10:32 pm | No Comments »

The internet is a great way to share photos with people, but the amount of detail that gets lost really bums me out sometimes.

A print can convey so much more than the screen can, so I made some crops (and black and white conversions) of the We Are Wisconsin photos I posted. Even these aren’t as detailed as I’d like, but at least you can get a little better sense of each person.

Posted by max, filed under Uncategorized. Date: February 28, 2011, 11:42 pm | No Comments »

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