event photographer london
The iTunes Festival Stage at The Roundhouse in London, produced for iTunes & Channel 4 by little ol’ me

September and October 2013 saw the iTunes Festival return to The Roundhouse in London, a gorgeous cylindrical brick building near Camden that used to be used to build and repair train engines, and now functions as a fantastic performing arts venue – I photographed rapper Little Simz performing there earlier this year.

To complement the iTunes Festival Channel 4 air a late-night show in the UK featuring performances and interviews, filmed in a backstage area. The iTunes set designers wanted to line the back of the set with a backlit photograph of the main stage – in the industry this is known as a ‘translight’. I know the production manager for the show and got the job!

The plan was to shoot at the end of the ‘get-in’, once the main set and lights were in and everything was hooked up. The lights would go up and we’d have 15 minutes to set up the camera, adjust the lighting, ensure the relevant people were happy, and get the shot. Fifteen minutes, it turns out, goes faster than you’d think!

Tick-tock…

The set designer, Bruce, and I got into position on the balcony dead centre and started making shots on my D700 using the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on a tripod. It looked fantastic to the human eye but the camera was having trouble: either the shadows were pitch black, or all the coloured lights were burning out to white. We didn’t have time to shoot and process an HDR, so I needed to make the lighting levels balance in-camera. That’s pretty easy when I’m working with a couple of strobes but re-lighting the entire iTunes Festival requires a little intervention! I needed the main stage levels down, and the rafters way up so the lighting director radioed down to the board operator, and we’d make another shot. Tick-tock…

Thirteen minutes of adjustments and approvals later we had everything where wanted it and a dozen variations in the can. We’d been fitting the whole scene in one frame but I just had a feeling I could make a fantastic panorama, not to mention the added level of detail a multi-shot panorama offers. The team were happy with what we’d shot but at the last moment I went with my gut and with the rigging team literally hanging in the rafters waiting for us to get done I said “Just give me 30 seconds!”, took the camera handheld and did two or three sweeps in portrait orientation. Fingers crossed!

The Man From iTunes, he say “Yes!”

Back downstairs under the eaves of the stage, huddled around Bruce’s collapsible table covered with blueprints, lighting plans and two MacBooks, we threw together a quick panorama using low-res JPGs and Photoshop’s Photo Merge tool, and I could tell instantly from Bruce’s face that we had a winner – the Roundhouse looked absolutely incredible, looming out of the darkness through a cascade of purple light beams. I quietly breathed a sigh of relief – I hadn’t screwed it up! ;)

After Photoshop does its panoramic magic
After Photoshop does its panoramic magic

The translight shot was reconstructed from my stills by the printers, so when I got home I did my own version of the panorama to use on my website. I had to remind myself of a few Photoshop tricks to make non-destructive editable vignettes, and you can read how I did that here: How to make an adjustable vignette in Photoshop.

Thanks for reading!