I’m starting to think there actually is something to my weather jones. I’m in Cape Town, South Africa, and there is wind and weather here. It’s gotten to the point a local photog messaged me on Twitter, asking me plaintively to leave. I think he might have been serious. But, the silver lining in all those scudding, dark clouds up there is of course the soft light, which is forgiving and wonderful. These young ladies in the Langa Township passed the wet, cold day in conversation, which I was able to observe in simple fashion. It may sound nonsensical, but I have always felt a wonderful quietude and simplicity to observing light on a somber, rainy day. (We start tomorrow, here in Cape Town, by the way. All day seminar, all small flash, at the Cape Town Convention Center. Here’s the link.)
I’ve had a bunch of rainy day shoots of late. Shooting with one camera and no lights today, I harked back to a recent, soggy shoot in Beijing, which was not simple, and did not start quietly. The Chinese are wonderfully gregarious people, and even though my lack of expertise in Mandarin precludes me from joining the conversation, I do enjoy witnessing the energy of it. For instance, loading the gear into the van in the mist of the morning at the hotel always seemed to spark lengthy and lively debate amongst the assistant, the bellman, my interpreter, and honestly, whoever else seemed to be around. Having seen this movie, I generally watched from afar and did not do any loading, because I have learned that whatever I picked up I invariably put down in the wrong place.
This behavior, I think, supersedes culture and gets to the heart of being male. If it can be packed, stacked, loaded, or barbecued, every guy out there feels he can do it better than the next.
Off to the Summer Palace, driving through the rain and the mist. The folks who have organized this terrific shoot naturally fretted about the results, and wanted Beijing to look good at all moments. Thus the weather, which bothered me not at all, was a disappointment. One of the individuals who accompanied us was terribly upset about the rain, and the traffic, and other things, and she lamented this so fiercely, and incessantly, in a staccato, vocal drumbeat, that being in the van all of a sudden felt like being in an intense hailstorm. I mean, I had twenty or so folks on my hands, bad weather, the prospect of setting up lights on a wet boat on a lake, and I was trying to think my way into the job, and the distressed frequency and pitch of this lady’s voice made it feel like my fillings were going to spontaneously drop out of my molars.
I turned to Li, my incredibly decent and energetic interpreter, fixed him with a stare and told him to tell her to stop talking. His looked at me with a measure of alarm, but he did it.
And that was that. Score one for Joe on the international relations front.
The assistants and I are got along great, however. Ke and Yang helped me out tremendously, though the start of that week was a touch on the rough side, for sure. We couldn’t communicate, and they knew precisely zip about lights and stands. There were some adventures, like putting the top end of a c-stand riser into the turtle base, with predictably unstable results, and the unfortunate intersection of my head with a set weight (my fault, really) but we got through it.
Ke (hanging onto the light, above) became a happening dude, and got on top of clamps, speed lights, and the conduct of the super boom. We had a monosyllabic relationship, but he’s a really decent, hard working guy, and now that our week was done, he will be a boon to any visiting photog. Yang is great at pushing the equipment cart, and then retreats to texting. I’m was thinking of telling him if he wants to make it in this business, he’s gotta get a less insistent girlfriend, but I don’t know him that well, that would have been overly familiar on my part.
The Summer Palace, where the Empress Dowager Cixi reigned supreme, is a magnificent, sprawling place, and very close to the heart of all that is China. In the am, arrangements were made for about a 50’ boat, thankfully with a roof, that became our shooting platform. It was a good way of getting around the huge estate, and accessing views of the temples and bridges, out there in the mist.
The models were all troopers, in the cold and wet, as were the designers, shepherding their ornately precious gowns across wet decks and lightly pelting rain. The gowns from Bo Tao, Rose Studios, and NE Tiger were routinely amazing.
I tried a beauty dish for a while, but no go. The quality of the light was too sharp a feel to drop into the ghostly wash of the cool ambient daylight. So, improbably, we went with a 59” Octa, tightened down on the super boom, and then roped off to the bow of the boat. I told the boat driver to go very easy on the gas, and just glide the craft along the still water, otherwise our soft box might go sleeping with da fishes.
We also experimented with small flash boomed off the boat by the intrepid Ke. One SB-910, for instance, into a 24″ Lastolite Ezybox.
And later, on land, with a big, soft, shoot thru umbrella, here placed off to camera left and outside the long hall. It simply acts as a really big fill flash, just opening some detail, and barely perceptible, relative to an available light pic.
That rainy day involved a couple of vans, about 20 people, permits, lights, stands, hair, makeup, models and a boat. So far, here in Cape Town, the clouds have prompted a more simple approach. Available door light, and beer with the guys.