Bil Zelman Shapes His Light; He Adds And Subtracts Light For Added Dimension Page 2

However, Zelman will still shoot film where suitable. “I love shooting film.” The cameras he prefers for analog capture include the Fuji GX680, the Bronica SQ-Ai, a Rolleiflex TLR, and various Nikon SLRs, as well as 4x5. Films he normally works with are Kodak’s Tri-X and Plus-X, Ilford’s Delta 3200, and “my go-to for color is Kodak Portra NC films.” He shuns the VC (Vivid Color) neg films because he feels that they produce ruddy tones in faces.

Client: Blackstone Winery
“We needed the shot to look as natural as possible,” Bil Zelman recalls. “It turned out that the available light in the room wasn’t enough to get the shot—too dim and dreary.” In keeping with his trademark lighting approach with people, which is to shoot the shadow side, Zelman employed a number of Speedotron heads, aiming them into the ceiling strategically but in such a way that the wraparound light came largely from behind the subject, illuminating the background for the needed separation. White silks provided fill lighting from the front. By the way, there was a dog wrangler in the room to direct the animal. Camera/lens: Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III and a 50mm lens. (Agency: Amazon Advertising.)

“I tend to shoot film less with fast-paced commercial assignments and more when I’m shooting musicians, where I have longer lead times,” Zelman notes. “In fact, it’s rare that I do a commercial assignment where the creative team doesn’t insist on leaving the shoot that day with all the JPEGs on a thumb drive so that they can start reviewing the images on the flight back.” Toward this end, Zelman has a digital tech on set just to manage the digital files during the shoot.

Lighting Beyond Ambient
“I keep a small amount of lighting—small meaning 10,000 ws and 500 lbs of grip gear—that I pack into a cargo van when not flying. For some jobs that feels like a lot, but for most of my jobs it feels like very little.” The key, he points out, is not to use all that light for its own sake but to employ more lights and more power packs at lower output to drive the pace of the shoot through faster recycling. His lights include Dynalite and Speedotron’s Black Line. “When we travel, we usually rent Profoto.”

Client: Taylor Guitars
Bil Zelman still shoots film. For this shot of the band Story of the Year, he had Ektachrome 100 cross-processed in C-41 chemistry, and then color-balanced the image back to neutral. “So it ended up with this really rich tonality. I don’t know how I would have gotten that with a digital camera,” he remarks. This was shot at the L.A. Convention Center, with five minutes to complete the shot. “In a shoot like this I typically have two or three assistants and an art director there with me.” He continues: “I did what I usually do, and that is to find an area in the shade away from Southern California sunlight, because this was the middle of the day. So we went under a stairwell.” The combination of an Elinchrom Octabank (adapted to a Speedotron power pack) and black cloth provided the needed lighting for this f/2.8 exposure. Camera/lens: Nikon F5 and an 85mm f/1.4 lens. (Agency: MiresBall.)

He continues: “I don’t use softboxes very much. However, I do use an Elinchrom Octabank quite a bit.” More important perhaps is the entourage of black cloths and white silks that he brings to a shoot to help shape existing light and any added lighting. He may, for example, aim several umbrella lights through a 12x12-foot silk (suspended inside a frame) to provide the needed atmosphere. Each strobe head is driven by a separate power pack for faster recycling. He may also employ Mola beauty dishes ( “Those are pricey but really gorgeous light shapers.”

Client: Shure Headphones Division
Bil Zelman photographed this model on assignment, building a set with metal walls. Sensing her rock-and-roll vibe, Zelman spun her around and grabbed this spontaneous moment. Stopping down to f/11 was important, considering that he wasn’t even looking through his Canon EOS 5D Mark II when he made the exposure. The lighting came entirely from a Profoto ring flash rewired to fit his Speedotron power pack. Light reflecting off the metal panels enhanced the shot. (Agency: MiresBall.)

Zelman also has a full set of hot lights—Mole-Richardsons and Arris (; “I use the hot lights when I want to beef up the ambient light or when dragging the shutter (with relatively long exposures) so I don’t get that frozen look.” He’ll also employ hot lights when backlighting smoke or with a fog machine. “You can see if you need more smoke in the room and where shadows are falling.” These hot lights came to the fore on a magazine assignment. One shot involved creating a dramatic scene of a young woman caught in the rain. Zelman hired a rain truck and, because of a tight budget, produced the shot in his driveway. Dragging the shutter helped him capture the backlit rain as streaks.