When the subject of this photo was asked to pose for a picture by photographer Kevin Steele, it obviously went right to his head — and hat. Almost to the rafters.
This stately Mad Hatter image is part of a series of 100-plus portraits of performers who were about to take part in the 2010 Summer Solstice Parade in Santa Barbara, Calif. Steele had covered the parade many times for its usual antic cast of elaborate floats, colorful artists and character costumes. "I love shooting people in motion, and love to create interesting environments around them and capture the emotion," he says.
Last year, however, Steele wanted to cover it with a new twist: Invite each of the characters to pose, in costume, for studio portraits, just before they were about to start the parade. "Their costumes and makeup would be fresh, and they would be excited and in character," Steele says. "It was bound to be a lot of fun, and I really wanted to focus on the individuals and let them shine."
The challenge was to set up a space that would be flexible enough to handle so many varied portraits in just four hours. "We didn't know how many people to expect," Steele says. "So the lighting had to be flexible and robust."
Most of the portraits were shot against the white backdrop within the open studio — until the Mad Hatter strolled by. "His hat was inches from the ceiling beams," Steele recalls. "I pulled back and he was framed perfectly. I love how it captures the set, from the lights to the spare C-stands, sweatshirts, and coffee cups."
He used Nikon D3 with 70-200 f/2.8 lens, as well as a five-foot Octa key light and two additional lights from Profoto to light the backdrop. "The one on the right is flagged, and the one on the left allows some rim light spill to light edges opposite the key," he says.
The Hatter image, now represented by Aurora Photos (auroraphotos.com), was published in a book sold in the Santa Barbara area to raise finds for the Summer Solstice Celebration. It was also part of a gallery show of large prints at the local Samy’s Camera, which had donated the grip and lighting during the day of the shoot.
A physics major in college, Steele had 15 years of engineering and marketing experience before he turned to photography for his living. He currently has a long list of commercial advertising and editorial assignments lined up that fit well with his style, he says. He is also beginning a project about commercial fishermen and urchin divers in the Santa Barbara area.
For more information on Steele’s work, visit kevsteele.com.