UPAA Blog 2022-23 #19 - 5/11/23 (photos and text by Michael Pierce)
Who are you?
My name is Michael Pierce and I’ve been the university photographer for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) for just over two years. Previously, I was a freelance photographer, a photographer at Clarkson Creative under Rich Clarkson, and two years as the lead photographer at one of the nation's largest laboratories.
How did you do that?
Nikon Z9, 14-30mm at 14mm, f8.0, 1/200
The set of portraits was shot through a tunnel that I constructed with a pack of 12 square mirrors and the small mirror from the wall of the studio. The longer wall mirror was used as the base to get a clearer reflection of the subject and the square mirrors were put together into “walls” using black gaff tape. I used a square to make sure the angles were good for the walls, but they were held in place by several cases of books I found in our office.
I used a large umbrella and beauty dish on either side of the subject for fill and rim lights. A bare flash was used behind the subject to light the blue background and the key-light was a speedlight fired into the mirrored tunnel.
What was this photo used for?
The photo was initially used for a news release and profile highlighting the student’s research and then onto different social channels. A photo from the set will also be used in an annual report for the college later this year.
Was there an inspiration for this shoot?
My inspiration was the type of research, Magic Squares, a type of math similar to sudoku puzzles that is typically done in 3x3 or 4x4 grids. I wanted to do something creative with it instead of a fallback option of a subject in front of chalkboard or projection of equations. I had a couple of ideas including a grid of mirrors on a table that only revealed part of the subject and trying to figure out how to photograph the subject in a grid, but in-camera.
What kind of help did you need?
I coaxed the writer of the story, Peter Ehrhard, to be my sit-in for the subject and to help me construct the panels of mirrors. I wasn't able to hold the tunnel square, put the books against it, and hold it in place alone.
What were the technical difficulties to overcome?
I tried a few different sized mirrors from a hobby shop but found they were too small for either of my ideas, but I could see that an infinite reflection idea might be possible.
The set of mirrors I ordered didn’t come in until just a few hours before the shoot and they were too large to do the simpler idea.
A larger challenge was lighting the subject’s face since they had to be almost inside the tunnel for the reflections to appear as intended. Luckily, a speedlight at the end of the tunnel didn’t look too much like an on-camera flash and created a unique catch-light!
Would you approach it differently if you had to do it again?
I would have built the whole tunnel and setup much closer to the seamless background in the studio. It was very hard to see as we were shooting, but we ended up being able to see the edges of the background and the stands in the reflections. I would have also boomed the light for the background over the subject because as he moved around it was visible in the fame, even though I couldn’t see it from where I was.
Did anything stand out to you during the shoot?
I was happy, and a little surprised, that something I had in my head that was a little far-fetched, came together as well and quickly as it did. I was also relieved that the subject was fully onboard with the idea and had fun with it. He didn’t know what he was walking into because I didn’t know if the idea was going to work or not.
Is there anything you’d like to add about this project?
We all probably have a similar feeling whenever we see an assignment or request come in for things like math, physics, or anything with “applied” in front of it. Depending on the subject and team around it, those things can turn into some of the most interesting photos or concepts.
I still get a lot of strange looks when I ask for obscure things for photos, but I’m starting to build some trust. While discussing a new story in a production meeting the other day I asked, “So, what’s our soybean budget?” and, without clarification, not everyone thought I was crazy!
If you have any questions or have a photo and story that you think would make a great featured next month, please contact David.Dick@cwu.edu.