Mipso Trio takes a torch to it.

Mipso Trio is/are some friends of mine. My band, the Dogwood Deddy, opened for them to a sold out crowd at the Local 506 last year. Recently, they approached me for some photos and I proposed an idea I had been marinating in my brain. We did a few standard band shots on a seamless backdrop, then went to work on the spooky composition I had in mind.

Sometimes, to set off a good idea, all you need is a prop. My old friend Lucas could base a whole movie off a prop. The prop in question for this shoot was an old guitar, found in a cornfield by my uncle Steve. It had been cracked and crushed somewhat, and perhaps if I was a master instrument maker I could have salvaged it. But I already have too many projects of that sort, and I figured it was worth a photo, so I took the components off that I could use, and set it aside with the intention on destroying it in a photographically compelling way. Brainstorming over beers with Jacob, Joseph and Wood one evening, I proposed the photo that would be the death of this guitar.

The shoot came together fast, and without assistants I had to prep heavily to make the shoot run efficiently. We were strapped for time, but considering the logistics of a flaming guitar, I knew it would be a small shooting window anyway. I prepped the area in the wooded portion of my backyard, and did a few test shots the weekend prior, testing light placement and whatnot. I cleared the ground at the fire site and built a small bunch of wood to burn. Not bragging, but I'm pretty good at building fires. I take pride in 'one-lighters.' Even so, I knew I'd be employing the help of the foolproof trail fire starter: Denatured Alcohol. It helps if you have no assistant to blow on the emerging flames... I also built a ready-to-go fire on the perimeter of the woods, with lots of old leaves and pine needles in a pile nearby, to use as a smoke machine for the background.

All that set up, I then erected a seamless backdrop and a light in my driveway. When the boys arrived, blessedly with an extra friend to help out, I took some seamless photos of them to use in flyers, promo materials, website stuff. Here's a raw photo from that setup, and an alternate flyer I made for them using one of those photos. Note the use of special props, in this case, my chickens :)

Once we felt that we had that in the bag, I herded the lot to my backyard. Had to move some lights, the ones I was using up front on the first shot, back as well. Everyone helped, and it went quickly. Good thing too, as daylight was dropping fast. We got into position, and I shot a few frames to test the lighting. Once I felt like it was good to go, I lit the smoke fire in the background and set our helper on that detail. I think she enjoyed it, I mean, it's fire after all. I had prepped the guitar by loading the inside with dry twigs and leaves, and now I doused it with some of that denatured alcohol. Nothing left to do but light it...


At this point, the smoke in the background just wasn't popping like I needed it to. It seemed to be thick, but in the photos it wasn't coming out. No matter, the guitar was burning so we had to move. I directed the band and shot quickly. The guitar was going up in a flash! It burned for maybe four minutes, and all the while we shot, me directing them, and they sweating from the heat in such close proximity. I had Jacob, the mandolin player, try a few poses with the mandolin, and then had him set it aside and act as if he was tossing it on the fire. I knew I would be compositing the final photo at this point, and while I do like to 'get it in camera,' I also knew we wouldn't be burning a mandolin this day, so I got the elements I figured I would need. After we had a few that I liked of all the foreground elements, I also had Jacob hold the mandolin in air to use in the composite.

Then, to get the background smoke I had pictured in my head, I whipped out the old standby, a South Carolina smoke bomb, and I had Joseph parade thru the woods spreading chemical smoke all about as I shot.

In the end I used a few of these smoke shots as the background and the best looks of each band member in front. I think with a true smoke machine, a big kit of actual high-end strobes (as opposed to my speedlights), three assistants, and a few spare guitars to burn, I could have gotten this shot in camera, without compositing. Not having those things, I had to rely on good ol' PSPP: PhotoShop Post Production. But the real kicker is that PS is a given these days, and I have to convince people that we ACTUALLY BURNED a GUITAR in this shot! I take pride in that fact.

Mipso Trio, as you can see in the flyers, is playing the Cat's Cradle this Saturday, the 14th. If you are local, stop on by and support!