Portraits with Comedian Henry Cho

The first time I heard Henry Cho I was driving to a photoshoot in Nashville listening to Pandora. I became a fan instantly of his humor about living in the south. So a little over two years later when I learned he was going to be just a few hours away from me doing a show I contacted him and asked if I could take his portrait. It took several emails and a whole lot of scheduling and rescheduling but we finally were able to lock down a date and time.

So on the Friday before Christmas I drove up to meet Henry at a comedy club where we was performing that night. I arrived at the club almost two hours early. I had no idea of what I would find in terms of space and background so I wanted to scout out the location and figure out how I would make it work. Henry was to arrive about thirty minutes before his time to go out on stage, which would give me roughly about twenty minutes to create as many different sets as possible.

Once I got back stage I looked around and decided on three locations plus I had brought a black art board from the art supply that I could attach to a light stand to create a solid background for a head shot. I had gone hoping the back stage would have some cool things like unused stage lights, theater props, robes, etc.. What I found was it was full of junk. Chairs were stacked in one area over my head, there was a small make-up table area with trash scattered about and a storage room full of stuff. I have often told new photographers a good portrait photographer can make a picture in any situation and in any environment. Now that theory was being put to the test. I decided to test each location with my son who was assisting me that day even though it was mostly because he wanted to meet Henry. This allowed me to know what I would do in each location before Henry even had arrived. I made a notation of the distance of the lights and their settings so that only minor adjustments would need to be made.

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The first location was a small waiting area just off the stage behind the curtain. There as a small couch here with a table and lamp. I placed a beauty dish to the right and a wedged a silver reflector behind some things leaning against the wall to camera left to add some fill. To illuminate the lamp I placed a small strobe on a lightstand just out of camera frame and aimed it into the top of the lamp shade. When Henry arrived all that was left was to place a small strobe in a small softbox held by my son as a boom over his head to give a small hair light. Behind Henry was an add for a brand of beer. I knew Henry promotes a family friendly comedy act so in postproduction I removed the add to make it a plain wall.

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The second location was a small stairwell. Here I just asked my son to hold the same small flash in the softbox as a boom over Henry as he set on the stairs and I let the background of the stairs go black. I decided because of the small space to zoom in tight with my lens and get a real tight headshot, anything wider and the lens caused a distortion I didn’t like. By allowing the background to go black I lost the poke-a-dot carpet that covered the staircase to shadow.

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The third location I selected was by the backstage door which is also where all the fuse and electrical boxes were. I lit the scene by using a beauty dish as a key light and a small strobe reflecting off the wall behind him to separate him from the background. I knew if I shot with a shallow depth of field that the background would become blurry and at most I might have to edit out some small distracting elements. Finally in this same location I attached my black art board to a light stand with a clamp and zoomed in tight for a headshot.

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For safety and space reason I had to just make a note of where the lights would go when Henry arrived so that no one accidently tripped on any light stand. Henry arrived right on time and after a brief introduction we got to work. Typically I tell stupid jokes to get natural laughs and smiles from my subjects, but now I’m working with a professional and successful comedian so I tried to keep my “jokes” to a minimum. Besides with the noise coming from the stage of the performers currently out there made hearing each other was difficult.  It was a whirlwind session, we would get Henry into position adjust the lights to him to get the shadows the way I wanted and shoot a few quick frames. Then as we prepped for the next spot I let Henry do his thing in the green room. When the next set was ready he came out and again we shot several quick frames. Twenty minutes later I was thanking Henry for the opportunity and packing gear.

I had about three hour drive ahead of me so I didn’t stay for the show but Henry was the one of the nicest guys I ever met. The thing that impressed me the most was how he encouraged the other comedians there. He had no sense of having to prove anything but rather just do his best and help the others do theirs. I would have loved to had more time to do larger sets and wardrobe changes but that the way it is sometimes, people are busy and you only get a few moments of their time. I was and am very grateful for the short time I got that night.

Also as this will be my last posting for 2014 I hope you have blessed and happy New Year. See you in 2015!

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