Sep 15

Shadows, smoke and Guinness are good for you…. shooting ‘The Weir’ for ETT

It’s not every day your client says ‘take photos like a Caravaggio painting’: looking at the brief and shoot for poster imagery on ETT‘s production of ‘The Weir‘ out on tour now.

The Weir final poster

It’s not every day you’re asked to mimic the shadowy style of Old Masters like Caravaggio or Rembrandt for an advertising shoot, but that’s exactly what happened with this Guinness-infused brief from the good folk at English Touring Theatre and marketing aces Joe Public PR,  in one of my favourite ever commissions.

Ghost in the Pub

The Weir Concept - Group Shot

The Weir Concept – Group Shot, by Malcolm Reid

The reference points…

Conor McPherson’s Irish folktale and ghost story-infused play was an Olivier Award-winner on debut back in the 90s, and Robbie Kings at Joe P, together with designer Malcolm Reid at Dragonfly Graphic Design, produced an atmospheric, horror-tinged, back-room pub brief to fit the vision of ETT and director Adele Thomas (see opposite). Which is the point where I joined the team…

ETT is one of the UK’s largest and most significant touring theatre producers, with an ACE-funded programme playing venues across the country, so the roll out of each production’s advertising & marketing campaign is a sophisticated mission that has to satisfy multiple theatres and engage a broad audience nationwide.

Guinness is good for a shoot

These efforts also often have to begin well in advance of the show actually being cast, so while working closely with Robbie, ETT producer Jeremy Woodhouse and Malcolm to co-ordinate set, set dressing and props, I was planning the right lighting state, but also getting involved in casting a crew of characterful ‘Irish-looking’ actor-models to people the world of the shoot.

In truth, asking ‘would you like to sit and be paid to drink Guinness while I photograph you’ made that part relatively easy…

But the detail involved in the collective preparation was quite something: from making sure the Guinness glasses would have the right tidemark of foam to look like they’d been nursed over hours, to putting together the right costumes, to sourcing the right kind of haze to catch the studio lights, to fabricating a pub set out of painted canvas backdrops from Hapaca Studios.

Smoke n’ Shadows

It was all worth it on the on the day of the shoot, once the lighting was tested, and I’d ensured the glasses had just the right kind of accent light – it probably looks a little like my assistant Thomas Schlordt and ETT Assistant producer Bridie Donaghy have mild drink problems –  the careful prep ensured we could focus on catching the range of emotionally varied individual and group shots that gave ETT and Joe Public plenty of options.

For the technically minded, a single white-lined 70″ gridded beauty dish was the key light, with a deep Elinchrom umbrella at very, very low power providing glasses catchlight

With retouch on the poster by Malcolm, and in the images below by Taylor Light Company, it all added up to one of my favourite shoots of all time, though the smell of stale Guinness did take quite some time to disperse…

The Finished Images

David Fielder – single shot

Final group shot, pre-poster composition

Watch The Weir on tour this autumn.


Check out my film & theatre poster work at www.michaelwharleyphoto.com

MW 15/09/2017

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