Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category
Here’s a handy thing about blogging. I wrote about Bo Jackson last week, and mentioned a bunch of our original material from that long ago take seemed to have vanished. I likened chromes to being like socks that sometimes just don’t make it back into the drawer. I talked about getting into a batting cage with him and feeling like a decoy duck at a carnival shooting gallery, but we had no slide from that encounter.
Lo and behold, our intrepid studio manager Lynn, contacted SI, just to check, and somehow a bunch of these images had gotten stuck in one of their drawers, inadvertently. Years had passed. Never thought about it. Got ‘em back. Happy about that. More tk…
I have never trusted lens shades. That doesn’t mean I don’t use them. I use them religiously. I just don’t trust ‘em. They are generally somewhat flimsy, plastic things, that, once in place, are an assist to your lens, to be sure, but the marriage to your lens is about as solid and lasting as a set of drunken wedding vows uttered at 3am on the Vegas strip. Read the rest of this entry »
Which remains one of my favorite places. Folks here have always been remarkably gracious and welcoming, and the city is beautiful. Tivoli is a toy-like dreamscape, a looking glass you can disappear into in the midst of the concrete trappings of the city, much in the way Central Park is at once a greensward and a safety valve in New York. When I lived in the city, during the lunatic, tumbling free fall that often constitutes a day of work there, I would find, suddenly, that I just had to go to the park. I often had the sense not so much of walking there. Rather, it was more like pulling a rip cord and getting abruptly snapped out of the tumble and thus into more of leisurely, wafting drift, so pleasant in and of itself you didn’t much care where you would alight.
Tivoli has the same feel for me. Plus, throw in the coffee, the pastry and the beer, and well, these folks got it going on.
One of the last times I was here was shooting for FedEx, and we scouted and shot in this kind of twofer arrangement that has come to be as Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmo, Sweden have forged closer ties. Separated only by a very cool looking bridge, there is a lot of back and forth between these two cities, in terms of people, commutation and culture.
I had, blessedly, a truly wonderful art director I was working for during these campaigns, and she literally pushed and prodded me to see differently. I’m a pretty lumpy traditionalist with a camera in hand, meaning I often observe certain rules of the road, like composing in thirds, focusing the camera, balancing and saturating the exposure for good color and the like. Kind of what you do when you grow up photographically as I did, shooting for mom and dad’s magazines, like LIFE, Nat Geo, and SI. I don’t get too many calls from Hip Hop Weekly. In fact, I don’t remember a single one.
But she encouraged me to break out a little bit, literally shoot from the hip, and handle the camera and the frame more casually than I had generally done. They wanted the look and feel of the pix to be more of a snap, a quick look at the brand, which was often not really overt in the picture.
It was fun, simply moving and shooting through the day, looking for light and trying to construct what would appear to be a chance encounter with those very familiar letters and colors on the packaging.
Of course, shooting in a city and culture that is very at ease with itself, and doesn’t ruffle or fuss about much, is wonderful, but does have its moments. We scouted a brand new subway hub in the city, looking for potential locations, and found some good angles we determined we’d come back to and shoot over the ensuing couple of days. The recently constructed metro stop we liked was perfect, with all sorts of silvery textures, a gleaming new emporium of commutation. Thing was, when we returned, one of the major areas we had in mind to shoot, was newly adorned with the below.
I remember looking up at this very sizable ad and doing a head tilt. I mean, this isn’t the kind of billboard you might see on good old Interstate 80 heading past Moline, fer chrissakes. As I’ve alluded to before on the blog, Europe is generally, wonderfully, much more blase’ and frank in their sensibilities about things of this nature than, say, a good deal of America. This particular ad roughly alludes to the fact that it was, at that moment, World Cup time, and the menfolk would be so ardently, utterly consumed by football that their female counterparts would be, at least temporarily, quite lonely, and thus left to, uh, their own devices.
Such are the vagaries of location work. We found another angle. More tk….
The weather is always with us as shooters, right? Unless we’re still life folks, and click away unhurriedly in a studio, to the strains of Bach or Brahms, safe from the howling elements. (I personally would rather try to shoot frames in the teeth of a hurricane than do still life, by the way. I suck at it so badly that I have great admiration for those who do it well. I’ve tried on occasion, with abysmal results. How can a thing give you more trouble than a person?)
My history with weather is a fractious one, indeed. Just ask my buds Alan Hess and Earnie Grafton in San Diego. I go there as often as I can, and whenever I do, I think Alan just starts nailing plywood boards over his windows. Earnie, a durable, talented, former military shooter who’s now with the San Diego Trib, has shot his way through a ton of shit conditions over the years just looks at me and shakes his head. I think he thinks that way back in Ireland. long ago, the local hag (Cailleach, in Gaelic) cursed my family tree with the rain. Earnie is sort of mystical about this himself, and every time I show up in SD, he tries to break the curse by the mutual imbibing of the holiest of waters–beer.
The curse was in full throat roar recently in Tampa, though, so the suds aren’t working. I was down there to shoot a video for Kelby Training on….well, I can’t even remember what we were going to do originally. I could say I was going to teach a class stemming from my latest book on PhotoShop, entitled, “The Layers of Hell,” but you would know that I am lying. Anyway, whatever we were going to do went rapidly away, and our hopes for a sunny Florida shoot went swilling down the sewers along with a whole bunch of Tampa topsoil. So, as you do on location, we rolled. Shot through the wind and the weather, sat in cars, tried to keep the cameras and the models dry, went inside, shot into the wee hours, sought cover, and cursed the rain. The result actually, was one of the more fun shoots I’ve ever had in Tampa, to be honest. Standing out there on a dock, getting pummeled by the backhanded breezes of an offshore hurricane does inspire some lunacy, and some ad hoc decision making in terms of what to shoot and how to shoot it. The Kelby folks, a generally solid group of relatively normal people, actually got a little dizzy themselves in the midst of the mayhem and went running off the deck into the deep end with the video below.
The elements are always with us as photogs, right? We gather our gear in the morning, squinting at the sky like some sort of Crocodile Dundee armed with cameras and glass, wondering what the clouds will conjure in the afternoon. Moose Peterson is actually quite amazing at this. He’ll gather a bunch of folks around him and say something like, “Well, the wind will pick up later and ricochet off that far canyon wall and drive the afternoon cumulus towards that cleft in the rock. The sunlight filtering through that cleft will give the clouds a nice shimmer. This will happen around 4:10 pm, so set your cameras on aperture priority at minus 1.3EV and go to continuous high as this phenomenon will only occur for about two minutes.” He says this type of thing with such authority that people just nod in response and start adjusting their machinery without ever cocking their head to the side and wondering aloud whether if that was the biggest bunch of bullshit they’d heard since the last presidential debate.
Of course, though, he is so damn good at this, he’s often right. I was standing next to him, and he told me the light would hit the waterfall just so, and everything would be alright. It did, and I got the only decent landscape picture I’ve ever shot.
My history with weather and the National Geographic is a sorry, almost punitive one. They sent me (just once) to the magnificent beaches of Cancun to observe Spring Break, that sun drenched celebration of tequila fueled hormones. I came back with this.
This was perhaps deemed, well, cheeky. So it was back to business as usual, and they sent me to Siberia, in February.
And I spent a dismal but necessary night in the local drunk tank, where the depression caused by the ongoing darkness gathers in sad, rough fashion. The drunks stumble out of the bars, and flop onto the icy walkways. Police patrols haul them in, restrain them, and let them sleep it off, lest they be stiff as a cord of wood in the morning, and just as dead.
On a more uplifting note, I did find my way into the ladies’ locker room in a mine, where the darkness problem is obviously exacerbated by the endeavor at hand, and watched as these shift workers bathed themselves in the salubrious wash of UV light, before heading home through the bleakness outside.
These Russian kids do the same thing at school, where the only evidence of the sun is painted on the walls, and they can perhaps dream of its warming rays and the resplendent promises of the rainbow.
Funny, I do the same kind of dreaming myself…..more tk….
Photogs, well, at least certain photogs, are legendary screamers, right? They get upset when things go wrong, and things always go wrong, so stories about on set grouchiness abound. We’ve all, I’m sure, heard about the prima donna shooter, male or female, who explodes on the set when the latte’s not the right temperature, or missing the nutmeg flakes on the hot foam. There are also the divas, the ones who look disdainfully about and tell the crew, “Give me God’s light!” and then retire to the location vehicle for, uh, extra-curricular activities. Then of course there are the unprepared, those who blow a gasket about stuff that should have been fixed and set before the airplane tickets were bought.
You have to pray for patience on most photo shoots and try not to reach, screaming, for the eject handle. One mildly amusing story came years ago from an assistant to a somewhat vociferous, overlarge photog, who got his comeuppance after badgering the location help for days on end. Seems his size made him a bit tippy, and he was in the waves, trying to get an over/under shot, with a housing. You’ve seen these pix, with the camera half out, half in the water. (They’re on the cover of, you know, Field and Stream all the time, with the hapless mackerel straining for the deep, and the triumphant fisherman, rod bowed like hairpin turn on the Pacific Coast Highway, fighting to board him. I always feel bad for the fish, and have consoled myself by figuring it’s gotta be mechanical, ‘cause I can’t figure out for the life of me how they do that stuff.)
Oh, well, back to the waves. This photog insisted to his assistants that they literally lash him to a dock piling to stabilize him and the camera. Which they did. When he finished the shot, he handed the camera up, and waited to be untied. Whereupon his beleaguered assistants waltzed away, down the pier, got themselves drinks with big umbrellas in them, and watched the tide come in. Turtle like, literally pinned to the piling like a butterfly specimen, he had no recourse but to wait to be released at their discretion. He didn’t scream so loudly after that.
I tend not to be a screamer. I suffer the slings and arrows of location photography with relative equanimity. That’s not me giving myself absolution, by the way. I’ve said and done stupid stuff, been a jerk-brained idiot, yelled at people, mostly myself, punched walls, sometimes with my head, literally bloodying myself out of rage and frustration. But, most of the time, I’m pretty calm. The bigger the problem, the calmer I get. Little stuff still can make me nuts. Big stuff, well, figuring that out gets too interesting to get mad about.
I was determined to do a re-shoot of a portrait for a friend I had messed up on. I blew a picture. Big news there, huh? But, you know, it’s not the ones you get that populate your dreams. It’s the ones you miss. Needless to say, my dreams are very full, and colorful. I’m actually glad I don’t remember most of them.
We were on location early on one of those amazing Montana mornings, where the sunrise is a piece of heaven you can actually shoot. Light drenched, with panoramic skies just rolling out an endless carpet of color, it could have made a country boy out of this city kid right then and there, at least momentarily.
Of course, I got shit. If I don’t anchor my frame with a human being, I am frequently lost. So I turned to my friend and fellow photog, Kevin Dobler, who’s a quintessential good guy, and a very fine shooter. This magnificent dawn occurred on the road outside his family’s ranch, which I know is a very special, emotional place for him. I offered to do his picture with the road and sky meeting in vast Montana distance. It was not a good effort. No fault of Kevin. Totally my fault back at the camera. I couldn’t get a feel for the frame, as sometimes happens. I finished bothering him with my clicking, and he was happy enough, but I wasn’t. In my head, as I often do, I made a check mark, looked at the land and the light, and thought, okay, next time I’ll get you.
The next time was about two years later, and I had been chewing on doing this again for a while. (I’m a real water under the bridge kind of guy.) I planned it out in my head. I was going to make a special effort, with an Elinchrom Ranger, a 74’ Octa, c-stand, the whole business. A full blown, big flash, one light character driven portrait of the man and the land.
Drew and I went through a checklist of gear the night before. But the next morning, when Drew, a really good shooter, and a formidably capable first assistant, came to me with that, you know, look, I knew something was awry. Out on that frozen road, he looked at me sheepishly, and said, well, we got the Ranger pack, we just don’t have the Ranger head.
Okay, then, at least we don’t need a sandbag for that big light, ‘cause that’s what that Ranger pack just became! Stay cool, and think. I wanted the big Octa feel of the light, and I wanted to shoot B&W. This particular morning was Montana on mute, not the riot of color of last time. How ‘bout merging big flash and small flash?
I had never put SB units inside the big Octa, but there’s always a first time. We quickly performed impromptu surgery on the guts of the Octa, gaffering, clamping, and otherwise festooning it’s speed ring and ribs with a total of four hot shoe flashes. I did quick math. At full power, they can put out roughly 60 watt seconds. Four would give me a pretty good push of light at max. I couldn’t shoot fast, or much, but, I could shoot. I had a couple SC-29 cords with me, so I could run another light off the camera and actually inside the Octa. That SB unit became both a flash and a commander.
Okay, all lights at manual 1/1 power. No TTL nuance, or letting the little darlings decide things all on their own. I dragged my shutter all the way to 1/20th, and wrangled (hey, I’m shooting in cow country) f13 out of the lights. A mix of ambient and flash to be sure, but with enough declarative flash pop to edge Kevin’s rugged face. I went to monochrome, and a 5:4 aspect ratio on my D3X, and shot with a 24-70, racked to 32 millimeters. I tried long lens but that didn’t work so well. The middle-ish wide angle aspects of this make the road feel like it goes forever, which in Montana, they do. Kevin is the anchor for the frame up front.
What did I lose doing it this way? Well, I lost about 700 or so watt seconds, which limited my flexibility, for sure. At 1/200th of a second (max flash sync speed for Nikon with a third party power pack) with the Ranger at full bore, I could have made that Montana country road look as dark as a Manhattan night club. But that wasn’t my intent. I had to do a more delicate dance with the ratios of ambient to flash, given the limited power supply, but that balance was where I was headed aesthetically, anyway. How do you know when you have the right mix in a situation like this?
You just know. Hate to be inconclusive, but this becomes a matter of taste. A good guideline is often to work your flash up to a value that is one stop over the ambient conditions. Thus when you expose for that flash value, you automatically have subdued the background somewhat. But that is a general, and generally breakable, rule out there in the world. Once you have the frame and the values dialed in, ballpark-wise, it becomes a matter of personal taste, and what is possible technically. Here, I had just enough flash to give the photo a look. And if I told you this was a Ranger head and pack inside that Octa instead of a bunch of ragtag small flashes, you’d believe me, ‘cause the look of that light is definitely smooth, like you would expect out of a 74” source.
Misses don’t have to be forever. Keep a rolodex of failures in your head. (I’ve got an unfortunately large rolodex!) They inform your conduct in the field, always. And sometimes, you can go back and fix ‘em, even just a little. And try to think, not scream.