Fright Nights at Thorpe Park

Thorpe_Fright_Circus-41THE RINGMASTER © DANIEL LEWIS 2015

I just love these kinds of shoots. LOVE THEM!  It’s a chance to go crazy with ideas and creativity in a way you don’t always get to do on more conventional, serious subjects, like portraiture or regular commercial photography.  It’s a dream job really because you are able to create images that are bold, and the people entrusting you give you the freedom to express yourself however you want according to their needs.  To top it off you know they are really going to blitz the images into the public consciousness with a strong marketing campaign, which makes you doubly determined to make them look the best they can.

Following on from last year’s successful shoot Thorpe Park were on the phone to me in August asking me to return and shoot some promotional images for their latest Fright Night season, which takes place throughout the Autumn.  Last year’s shoot was one of my most memorable jobs from recent years, in which I’d been tasked with making these characters as scary as possible.  This year brought with it a new horror theme…

The Circus.

People often express to me their irrational fear of clowns.  I’ve never really understood it to be honest.  Perhaps it’s because I was late to Stephen King’s ‘IT’ – I only watched it for the first time a few years ago.  It seems that most people saw it when they were children, probably leaving an emotional scar early on.  I’ve always just found clowns slightly weird, more sad than scary.

One of the aspects I love on these types of shoots is the problem solving, which on this occasion was tricky to adapt to and master.

The people at Thorpe Park had set up this beautifully arranged circus scene section which was supposed to act as a section outside the Big Top as they call it – the circus tent itself.  The width of this wall was about maybe 12-15 feet across.  So it was a small room, which was actually an old maze being refurbished to accommodate this new experience.  It had a permanent metal vice in the middle of the room which meant I could only physically stand from one side or the other of the room, not in the centre, which of course presented problems for me.  It also meant that technically in terms of camera use I’d only be able to utilise wider angle lenses because there wasn’t enough space to get back to shoot on longer focal lengths.  I ended up having to shoot the entire day with 35mm & 50mm lenses, where normally I’d be wanting to use an 85mm or even a 70-200mm in order to knock the background slightly out of focus.

They’d hung up a pinstripe sheet on the wall, dangling festoon lights across it and arranging the floor with hay.  Lighting the scene in multiple ways to illustrate different characters and scenes would be a challenge with such limited space.  The tone needed to be sinister so I firstly had to have a fair amount of shadow on their faces but also spill enough light into the frame to keep the tent illuminated behind them.  All the while trying to balance this with not spilling shadow onto the wall because that would look technically bad.  It was a very fine balance to maintain throughout the day.  But I have to say I’m delighted with the results.  I think they really are quite disturbing images and exactly what the client was after.

I think my favourite picture is perhaps a toss up between the Ringmaster (above) and the close in screaming girl.  I was really happy with those because they were both shot on exactly the same spot in that small room yet you’d never know it.  In that sense, it’s mission accomplished, because the whole point was to make the room multi-faceted and I think I achieved that.  When you work through technical problems like this on a shoot, with lighting, time constraints and spacial limitation, coming out the other side with good results really makes it all the more enjoyable to look back on in time.  The fact that these images will be seen by thousands of people too, adding to their sense of excitement and suspense makes it even more satisfying.

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