Jason Comerford is a photographer that we have featured before for his Wedding photography. Based out of Puyallup, a small town out in Washington state, Comerford recently reached out to our request for creative sessions with this gem. “The couple, Kevin and Katie, met while larping (music to my ears, I love working with geeky couples) and wanted to do a Star Wars engagement photo session. This one’s been a particular dream of mine for a while” he notes in his submission email.
It is really easy to go too far or not go far enough with these sort of shoots, but we felt like this sample session from Jason was a perfect example of how to do a LARP session right.
Phoblographer: Your session featuring the Star Wars couple is great. What attracted you to this project and the idea of doing it?
Jason: For the last year or so, I’ve been really interested in combining light painting with portraiture. Aside from the sheer technical challenge of it, it just looks cool. But I think a little more deeply than that, it’s also a departure from what I spend most of my time doing. I shoot a lot of weddings, and those are largely documentary in nature; capturing moments as they happen. And to be sure, it’s enjoyable work that presents its own challenges. But when you combine any kind of light painting with portraiture, you start developing a very dynamic illustrative look. Done well, it’s this perfectly frozen moment in time that still shows you seconds (or even minutes!) of action. It’s the kind of thing you usually only see in comic book pages or other action-oriented illustration.
So take that thought, toss in some lightsabers, some beautifully made, custom Jedi robes, a willing couple, and you can start cookin’ up some really neat imagery. In this case, it’s not just throwing in light painting because it looks cool, you’re now pulling in lighting painting as a tool because it can be made thematically relevant to their shoot. The look and feel of lightsabers is one of the most iconic things about the Star Wars movies.
Phoblographer: So what was your plan when you went into the project? How did you have to adapt your plan as the shoot pressed on? What were some of the more challenging aspects of this shoot?
Jason: Okay, time to talk a bit about failure.
Our initial plan was to head out to a location that not only fit in with the well-worn look of the Star Wars universe, but also gave us a lot of darkness to work with. The idea was to combine that darkness with the appropriate long exposures and flash to get some lightsaber light trails and the Jedi who made them.
We almost immediately started running into problems, including low ceilings that restricted movement, and (despite it being a cloudy day) too-strong ambient light. When I finally got my camera and flash dialed into their proper settings for a dark background and long-enough exposure for action, we found that the Lightsabers just weren’t bright enough to show up properly. And if I brought up the exposure at all, then the ambient light overpowered our surroundings.
In short, we had 3 light sources that we had to balance, and really, we could only control one of them: Our strobes. The ambient light and the lightsabers had their own luminosity level and we couldn’t control either of them. While we got some stunning imagery, my light painting ideas didn’t quite work out how I had hoped.
(Also: If someone wants to produce variable luminosity lightsabers and market them to the photography community, there’s a tiny niche market there that would love you forever.)
Phoblographer: The couple came to you with the idea for this shoot? How did you work with them to develop the idea further and turn the concept into the shoot that you have shared with us?
Jason: During our initial meeting, we discovered a mutual interest in some kinda geeky topics, including Star Wars. Throw in the fact that they met LARPing and were comfortable with costumes, and it quickly became clear what we had an opportunity to do. My first thought was actually back to one of our wedding clients from a few years back, Ryan & Kesslan. Kesslan now runs a company providing custom made costumes and accessories, (Cinderella’s Mice, https://www.cinderellasmice.net/) and so we contacted her about designing some custom Jedi robes for Kevin & Katie. After that, we just started researching iconic, classic Star Wars art. Battle scene illustrations, past portraits from the movies, and so forth.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear and lighting for this session. How do you feel the lighting and the environments really helped to define the photos?
Jason: The setting we chose is an abandoned artillery fort on the coast. There’s a lot of texture, darkness, and narrow passageways; all sorts of things that you could do clever things with if you know how. We know that the Star Wars universe looks its best when it’s the well-worn world we saw in the first 3 movies, and finding a mostly concrete, aging structure out in the wilderness was a natural fit.
Our lighting for the day consisted of three Canon 600EX-RT and two Yongnuo 560EX-II speedlites. They were more than enough power for what we were doing and had the added bonus of being extremely mobile. Some of the passages we shot in are no more than few feet wide, and so being able to bounce a flash right on the camera proved very helpful. We had a set of diffusers with us, but didn’t end up using any of them for our final images.
The holographic Resistance logo and banner were made using a Pixelstick.
(And for those curious, we shot using Canon 6D bodies, a Sigma EF 35mm f1.4 Art, Tamron EF 24-70mm f2.8 VC, and Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS Mk. II)
Phoblographer: How did the couple react to the images?
Jason: They love them! “Blown Away” and “Awesome” might have been thrown around a few times. We got a few non-SW images, but I think the costumed shots really stole the show.
Phoblographer: How do you see your photography evolving in the near future? Will you incorporate more of these types of shoots going forward?
Jason: Y’know, we’ll see. I LOVE getting to pull together some difficult, illustrative style shots, but it’s not appropriate for every situation. We still shoot a lot of weddings, and while photographers love to show off their best planned wedding portraits, weddings mostly aren’t those portraits. They’re largely moments and relationships and minor details.
That said, this kind of work really appeals to me, and lately I find myself working with more and more professionals on their portraits. I love getting to illustrate a person’s profession whenever I can, as opposed to merely giving them a good headshot.
Phoblographer: What are some other fun LARP concepts you would like to see yourself take part in?
Jason: I’ve always wanted to work with more of Seattle’s cosplay community (I myself was a slightly tubby Jayne from Firefly at this year’s Emerald City Comic Con), but I suppose time will tell on that one. Those kinds of portraits are fun and necessary to exercising the ‘ol creativity, but weddings & families generally pay the bills better.