Twisted Shakespeare – Macbeth

The evolution of an idea… In this article, I’ll take you through my most recent photo shoot “Twisted Shakespeare – Macbeth.” I’ll include how we arrived to the concept, the gear I took, the camera settings I used, and how I lit the scene.

The Birth of the Concept

I started by putting out a call like I usually do. I wanted two models. This set was originally going to be a simple witches for Halloween themed shoot, but I wanted to utilise traditional horror tropes instead of “fun” Halloween witches. I ended up with three models who were all keen to work on the shoot and who were available.

After getting my group of witches together and talking about the direction of the shoot, we began to explore traditional horror movie looks for costuming. Jennifer mentioned that she really like the blacked out eyes motif that exists in a lot of contemporary horror, so we started by playing with eyes and relevant effects. With three models playing the witches, I now had to update my concept more. We began to play around with threes, beginning with the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” theme that I really liked the idea of applying to what are traditionally considered to be evil characters. During this conversation, we came to the conclusion that echoing some of the themes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth would be interesting and immediately contacted Aiden. We sold it to him as a “Macbeth meets the three Witches” concept, and he was happy to join. Jacqui also began to experiment with makeup and SFX at this point, and ended up being both model and makeup artist for the shoot. Meanwhile, Sarah had the idea of bringing in the skeleton animals as familiars, and made the connections between them and the witches—the raven for the witch without eyes (drawing from Game of Thrones), the rat for the witch with the stitched-up mouth (playing on the “rat someone out” phrase), and the cat for the witch with no ears (playing on the heightened hearing sense of cats). From there we added the radio and hearing horn for the deaf witch, the skulls and ball-and-chain for the mute witch, and prop eyeballs for the blind witch. A friend showed up the morning before with the beautiful cast-iron cauldron for us to use as well.

How It Was Shot

Since we were on location and not in the studio where I am most comfortable, I had less options than I usually would when it comes to lighting. I had access to a generator and knew I wanted to include fog, so this left me with one other outlet for power. I didn’t have access to a laptop, so I wouldn’t be able to shoot tethered. In the end, I decided on one powered light in an octabox, a speedlite with coloured gels, and fog. It was set to be overcast with light showers on the day, so I wanted to keep my light limited and soft in order to not add in any unwanted harsh shadows.

I packed my car with the following:
– Canon 5D mk iii
– Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG
– Flash (Canon 600EX-RT)
– Flash Trigger (Yongnuo YN-E3-RT)
– Rosco CalColor Flash Gels
– Rosco Beauty Pack Flash Gels
– Generator
– Fog Machine (Aldi Z-400)
– 30in Octabox
– 128w 5500k light
– Diffusion umbrella
– Stands
– Cables

I had the camera set to f/8.0, 100 Shutter, 640 ISO (because I wanted a little bit of grain for that filmic horror feel), and set my white balance to 4000k to help cool the shots down.

With the props put in place and the camera settings fixed, I began to work through the sequence. We started with Aiden as Macbeth with a single light (speedlite with umbrella to modify) as shown here:

Macbeth Lighting Diagram

With a soft, diffused light hitting just the model, the light fell off quickly, which helped to push our background towards darkness. You may also notice that there is a fog machine present in that lighting diagram—that’s because when we returned to this setup at the end of the set, I also used fog. You will see that soon.

I then moved on to shooting the witches together. With my white balance at 4000k, the fog took on a very nice but subtle blue tint. I loaded a cinegel #4990 (Calcolor 90—Lavender) onto the flash, and the resulting colour, blended with the blue in the smoke, looked great. Because there were trees, I used them to help block the purple light from hitting the camera and cause horrible flare or silhouetting the models. Instead, I pushed fog behind the trees and let the speedlite interact with the fog. To keep the scene nicely lit, I used the 128w bulb modified with the octabox. The result was a subtle fill light, but it made a lot of difference, especially in editing:

Three Witches Lighting Diagram

From here, we just played with the story a little. I let my models put forward ideas, and helped them to find their poses and ensured that props were in relevant positions. I was really happy with how well we worked as a team, and I think the resulting images speak for themselves – there was a lot of love and energy poured into them.

When we returned to shooting Aiden at the end of the sequence, I included the fog machine:

Ethereal Macbeth

There is also a slight difference in camera setting here. Because I used fog across the model, I wanted less grain, and so I brought the ISO to 100 and increased intensity of the light by turning up the power of the speedlite by two and 2/3 stops. This made the background fall into darkness even quicker.

If you’d like to check out the work of everyone involved, you can follow these links:
Myself – Xeniox Photography
Aiden – Nightwing’s Fury Cosplay
Jennifer – Cataclysm Cosplay
Jacqui – Jaclyn May Cosplay
Sarah – DovahQuinn

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