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Critic's CornerPhotographing Theatrical Makeup

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Steven G Webb
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Photographing Theatrical Makeup

Postby Steven G Webb » Sun Apr 03, 2016 2:33 am

I'm never sure what opportunity might come my way. Here's a unique one:
I may have a chance to make promotional photos and head shots of a small group of female impersonators. There is a night club nearby that features drag queens as part of their regular entertainment. The entertainers are a troupe of individual performers who appear not just at this venue but others as well. The club has a web presence and nearly each of the performer's personas do as well. Now, I'm no expert of drag queens nor gay bars. This place had a competition that went on during March and the winner became part of the regular lineup of talent for the club. A friend of a friend (and total stranger to me) was a contestant in this competition and I was invited to go see the performance. The transformations are incredible. Of course the amount of makeup is massive and is definitely for stage. The effect by and large is much, much better from a distance, as is all theatrical makeup. This isn't unlike Halloween makeup and where my challenge will begin.

I've seen photos both on the venue's web space and those of most of the entertainers. I've seen very little of it well done. Harsh light, small light sources, over powering output. When a performer has to paint the highlights for cheekbones and the darker tones for contours it doesn't help, in fact it destroys the illusion to shoot through the makeup. I'm confident in posing positioning and framing up the feminine form and from what I've seen these performers know more about looking like a female than most females. I'm not at all sure what lighting direction to take. My first inclination is to go with a very large low intensity fill and use a very short main light with a small source targeting the artificial cosmetic highlights and letting the painted shadows go.

Anyone have any advice?
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Ed Shapiro
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Re: Photographing Theatrical Makeup

Postby Ed Shapiro » Mon Apr 04, 2016 8:41 pm

Hey, Steven!

A very long time ago, I was called in the photograph members of the "Jewel Bix Review" which, at the time, was a top-notch drag show- I mean those guys really looked like gals, of course with lots of makeup and carefully planned stage lighting and effects. At the end of the show, after the last production number, the performers would reveal themselves- it was hard to believe!

Problem was, even with high-quality makeup art, the camera saw things differently, suffice it to say there were "cracks in the makeup"! So...my tactic was to firstly use soft light sources, back in the day, rather large umbrellas. For the closeups, I went with mild soft focus- a Zeiss (Hasselblad) Softar#1 in front of the lens! For full-length shots and groups I shot with and without the Softar in place. The clients opted for the slightly softer look and the slight (fringe) secondary image caused by the diffusion added more "glitter" to some of the costumes.

If you find a similar problem, nowadays, the use of a PhotoShop plugin called "Professional Portrait", which can be purchased and downloaded online- the price is reasonable and it makes for easy retouching of the aforementioned issues.

That's my experience with drag shows- I did that company for 6 years in a row and then had to go into the service- never did one again! I wonder if the are still around- I have to Google them!

Goold luck with the assignment!

Ed

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Steven G Webb
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Re: Photographing Theatrical Makeup

Postby Steven G Webb » Mon Apr 04, 2016 8:52 pm

Ed Shapiro wrote:Hey, Steven!

A very long time ago, I was called in the photograph members of the "Jewel Bix Review" which, at the time, was a top-notch drag show- I mean those guys really looked like gals, of course with lots of makeup and carefully planned stage lighting and effects. At the end of the show, after the last production number, the performers would reveal themselves- it was hard to believe!

Problem was, even with high-quality makeup art, the camera saw things differently, suffice it to say there were "cracks in the makeup"! So...my tactic was to firstly use soft light sources, back in the day, rather large umbrellas. For the closeups, I went with mild soft focus- a Zeiss (Hasselblad) Softar#1 in front of the lens! For full-length shots and groups I shot with and without the Softar in place. The clients opted for the slightly softer look and the slight (fringe) secondary image caused by the diffusion added more "glitter" to some of the costumes.

If you find a similar problem, nowadays, the use of a PhotoShop plugin called "Professional Portrait", which can be purchased and downloaded online- the price is reasonable and it makes for easy retouching of the aforementioned issues.

That's my experience with drag shows- I did that company for 6 years in a row and then had to go into the service- never did one again! I wonder if the are still around- I have to Google them!

Goold luck with the assignment!

Ed


Thank you Ed. It's always a joy to get a response from you as I've always appreciated your considerable skill and experience. I'd never guessed in a million years that you would be the first to reply to a question about drag queens. I'll got with your suggestions. I'm thinking a big fill of just enough intensity to bring up the cosmetically applied shadows, then a smaller short light for the main. The best I can make of it, the less lit (both in real estate and intensity) the better. I might try employing both some old fashioned diffusion as well as soft focus in the retouching software.
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