by Mathieu Lindquist
"To date this has been my most challenging shot. It is a photograph of a real Tesla coil in action for Nimbus Theatre, a company located in Minneapolis.
For each show they have a photo call where the actors run through the show and the director selects scenes for which they need photos for publicity and archival purposes as well as for the actors' portfolios. This photo came from a show called 'Tesla,' a company produced work about the life of Nikola Tesla. This was a shot that everyone really wanted to get and presented a few major technical challenges.
The theatre group had high expectations for the show's imagery. This was a real Tesla coil and produced lightning, lots of noise, and would even power the T-12 fluorescent lamps the actor was holding. During the show the coil is used twice to amazing effect; the cast and crew really wanted to capture its brilliance in a photograph.
The first major hurdle was that Tesla coils can damage nearby electronic devices (like digital cameras). This limited how close I could reasonably get to the stage.
Another problem was theatre lighting - which is usually dim and color gelled for special effects. For this scene, the theatre lighting was especially dim since the designer wanted the coil-generated lightning to stand out. I wanted to respect the lighting designer's color choices and had to account for that in my shooting. Although there was no audience for the photo call, we had to run through a two hour show in three hours and capture almost 90 specific shots along the way. Therefore, I only had a few minutes to capture this particular shot.
Another problem was that the theatre was very small. In order to be far enough away from the Tesla coil (to eliminate risk to my equipment) I had to position myself in the lobby and shoot through the theatre's double doors. This severely limited my point of view choices.
And to make matters worse, we could only fire the coil once or it would overheat during the performance, so no pressure there!
In the end, I set my Canon 7D and 24-105L on a tripod in the lobby, framed the shot at 32mm to shoot down the center aisle but not catch the handrails on the risers, preset the exposure (.5s, f/5.6, ISO 1600), and practiced the shot with the actors. When we were all ready we counted down and I took the picture.
I was happy with the result and we got what we wanted on the first and only take possible. I then adjusted levels and such in Lightroom. To date this has been my most challenging shot, combining significant danger to my equipment, a dark scene, actors, time constraints and meeting high expectations. The director was very pleased with the result as was I."
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