A dose of live standup comedy is something that I feel is necessary to a healthy world view. The combination of absurdity and honesty that you get from the comics on stage in front of you rather than the edited and curated version we get on tv is something special.
On this occasion I was asked down to photograph a show by Crown Jewels Comedy Club hosted by the Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch, London. Host and promoter, Matthew McAloone put on a stellar show and kept things running without a hitch. He had specifically asked me to capture some images of him smiling as it was apparently a rare occurrence for the stone-faced Irishman. We managed this fairly easily, but it was the lighting that I will talk about in more detail, particularly how I navigated the tricky circumstances.
The lineup of comedians was really great and each act put on a show worth remembering, while running from one end of the stage to the other meaning I had my work cut out for me tracking both their movement and the fast changing light conditions in the room. A fairly big room and a big stage for only one person to be on meant there was rarely a time where I could really dial in my settings, and the fact that the lighting used was incredibly harsh meant that the difference from light to shadow was massive. But the biggest issue to deal with was the coloured lighting used, a harsh combination of blue and violet tones meant that I would have to just get as close as possible in camera and deal with the corrections in Lightroom later. It was tough as even between the two shades the tones changed, but I managed to get some great results after the fact.
The harsh lighting meant that the effects I was able to achieve were far more dramatic in most cases than you would normally associate with standup comedy and also that I was working entirely manually, as my normal 'go-to' for these situations (Av mode) wasn't properly adjusting fast enough as the acts moved through the different lighting situations. So what I did was as quickly as possible establish my own parameters and move through them as I felt was necessary, aiming to avoid chimping (staring at the camera lcd) instead of following the show.
I was shooting on my Canon 5DmkIII through a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 OS, the stabilisation on the lens allowed me a bit more wriggle room on the shutter speed when trying to shoot in to the crowd which was in almost complete darkness. It also provided the reach I'd need to frame my shots properly without needing to get in from of the audience and break the atmosphere of the show. It's bad enough that at times during the quieter moments you could still hear the shutter clicking away in the darkness.
Overall the difficult circumstances meant that I was able to capture some images that you wouldn't immediately associate with a comedy show, but still serve as comic moments frozen in time. The example above shows John Meagher mid-story as he had the audience rolling yet the image shows him almost isolated in contemplation. The darkness of the deep stage enveloping him almost completely, it is the hint of a smile and the slight squint in his eyes just barely suggesting the tale of absurdity and fun being told.
The processing of the images would have been very easily done converting all to black and white tones and simply adjusting the balance of highlights and shadows from there as the heavy contrast of the stage at most times leant itself to that end. But it was in bringing out the more natural skin tones and colours that really made the images come to life, and made the extra effort of balancing out the heavy blues and violets worthwhile.
Here's an example of the before and after images, where I had to contend with both the quality and the colour intensity of the light playing havoc with the images in camera. I enjoyed the shoot and the comedians were on fine form, so the extra time needed to process the shots was well worth it. There were some brilliant results that I'm very happy with .
I hope this was a pleasant read and at some points there was some interest for any photographers, I will at times include more technical details and some behind the scenes style posts, but there will also be some like this where it's more just about the experience itself.
See you next time.