May the fourth be with you

May 1st, 2015

Today is first of May and that means you all will have been excited to flipp over to a new month on your NZ Craft Beer Calendar and see the Golding’s crew in all their Star Wars-loving glory, right?

An alternative version of the calendar shot.

If you don’t know about the craft beer calendar, I’ll bring you up to speed. Vague thoughts of producing a calendar of my photos has crossed my mind in past years, usually at the time of the year when you are thinking about buying a new calendar, which is always too late to actually produce one. September would be the latest I would consider starting to organise a calendar for the following year, and that would be using photos I already have rather than taking new ones. Last year on October 25th, the night after the first day of the Pacific Beer Expo, I received an email from friend and fellow beer-lover, Megan.

“So, at PBE today, a couple of us had the idea of a craft beer calendar, with the proceeds to go to a charity, probably Sexual Abuse Prevention Network. (They do work with Wgtn bars to identify and limit sexual assault.)

How would you feel about shooting it? We want to get it done so people can buy it for xmas. Thoughts?”

A wild idea for a good cause. I respond, “That’s a great idea. My only concern would be the short timeframe.”

Of course I had underestimated the production skills of Megan and Jess. Wrangling brewers, bar people, and photographers for photos shoots, handling the PledgeMe campaign, rustling sponsors, organising printers, and keeping Golding’s in business all at once is no easy task. I am in awe of their commitment and perseverance.

Originally I was hoping to use some of my existing photos to ease the load of making 12 photos in a month. But then bars and brewers started jumping on board with great crazy ideas. Photographers in other cities offered to help out. English photographer Nicci Peet, who had been travelling around New Zealand photographing women brewers for her Caught on the Hop project, volunteered to help out while she was here in Wellington. This all meant we could have thirteen new photos just for the calendar. People are awesome.

The shoots ranged from the stressful (most of them), the hilarious (again, most of them), heart-breaking (the loss of some beer from a barrel that fell from a fork lift while arranging a pleasant backdrop at Panhead), to the downright terrifying (photographing Taika Waititi, Cori Gonzalez-Macuer, and Stuart Rutherford from What We Do in the Shadows at Tuatara). The ideas seemed to grow more and more outlandish as the month went on as people heard what other bars and breweries had done for their. I expect they will be even more outlandish this year (and I hope they’re all making plans already, hint, hint).

May – Golding’s Free Dive

Each month that one of my photos appeared in the calendar I had intended to write a bit about the story behind the shoot. Obviously we are now into the fifth month of the year and I have missed two of my photos, January and February. I’ll tell you about those in my next installment. This month we’ll look at the shoot for May at Golding’s Free Dive.

In one way the shoot was a doddle. Sean Golding, bar owner, manager, and creator of the bar’s whole aesthetic, is also a great art director, drawing on his experience as a minion in Peter Jackson’s movie empire. Sean had pitched me the concept as Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper with a Star Wars theme. Sounded good. When I arrived on the morning of November 25th it seemed even better. Trestle tables were set up, laden with beer, food (Massimo, the owner of Pizza Pomodoro, was taking part and supplying pizza), and beer. Sean had organised costumes for everyone and had printed out several copies of The Last Supper to use as reference. We tweaked the position of the tables to get the Beer is Love mural in the background and get the perspective right (one of the key features of the original painting is that all of the lines of perspective converge on Jesus’ head, drawing your eyes to him). I found the perfect shooting position. The Golding’s crew perfected their gestures and looks. Steve supplied incredible Chewbacca impersonations.

Then little things started going wrong. The light took some tweaking. Curtains and blinds were closed, flash power adjusted. I pushed the ISO a bit too high to compensate for the low light. In some shots the light sabre had turned itself off. The background could have been a bit darker than the foreground so the people would be more defined. Tom wore the storm trooper helmet in some shots, hiding his beautiful face.

This led lot of things being fixed in post. I removed a shadow from Owen’s face by grafting on a nose from another photo. The Millennium Falcon was also transferred from another photo. The most obvious problem were very uneven tablecloths. Somehow I missed this during the shoot but it was immediately obvious once the photos were on my computer screen. Praise be for Photoshop’s content-aware fill. I spent longer working on this photo than all of the other photos I took for the calendar put together, learning a lot about the capabilities of Photoshop along the way. The end result was worth it and I’ve learnt a few lessons. Next year I’ll use the force and get it right in-camera.

Spot the difference:

From this Sunday, Golding’s celebrate Star Wars Week (including May the Fourth). I hear seven beers with a Star Wars theme have been created especially. Get along there. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Thanks from Golding’s and the NZ Beer Calendar crew, Megan and Jess, to everyone who bought or supported the calendar.

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