As Star Wars: The Last Jedi barreled towards a jaw-dropping $450 million opening weekend haul, media coverage has reached its usual blanket intensity. As the canon has expanded, so has the number of characters integral to the storytelling, and therefore shooting a cast photo has become quite a feat. If you’ve ever tried photographing large groups (or attended a wedding), you know that something as simple as positioning and pose can make a huge difference in transforming an image from a yearbook photo into a masterpiece – plus the time to set up the shot can be mindnumbingly long. Let’s take a look at the contenders!
Annie Leibovitz is no stranger to the group shot, having been tapped many times to create massive photos for Vanity Fair. For Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Leibovitz placed 21 actors along with George Lucas in the shop of a soundstage. A partial blue background helps to clean up the image and provide a little pop. The lighting is soft and directional (left of camera) and provides a pretty even illumination across the frame. But Leibovitz is known to heavily composite and retouch her image, which begs the question, “How many frames made up this photo?”
Jesse Dittmar was tapped by The New York Times to create a cast photo during one of the movie’s press junkets. Dittmar describes in detail how the shot was construct in an interview with PDN. Exceeding the editorial budget, Dittmar spent a bit of his own money to construct a set and used 2 octabanks for his keylights, plus additional octas at the edges of the frame to handle the drop off.
PDN writes, “When the writer finished interviewing, Dittmar actually had 10 minutes with the cast….Using a Canon 5D Mark IV with a 24-70 lens, Dittmar shot a total of 42 frames.”
Speculation immediately started about the curious space in the center of the frame, and Dittmar would neither confirm nor deny that it was meant as homage to Carrie Fischer, who passed away last December.
The most obvious difference is that the characters are not in costume. Dittmar seems to use a wider lens than Leibovitz, which means less compression of the subjects (perhaps both an artistic choice as well as practical one given that his image only has 11 people). Adam Driver, for example, seems much larger than Oscar Isaac despite only being a few feet away.
Because the NYT has strict editorial rules concerning its photography, Dittmar wasn’t allowed to composite different shots to build the final image. Getting 11 press-weary actors to look at the camera and not blink at the same time is challenging to say the least.
Verdict: Dittmar. Jesse’s image is more creative (he built a set!) and I have a ton of respect for the fact that he couldn’t composite the image. Of course, the image feels more contemporary since it was shot recently, but it also has a more authentic and real feeling than Leibovitz’s image.