Archive for the ‘In The Field’ Category
Just finished shooting another Epson ad for their “Finish Strong” campaign. This one was inspired by the portrait work of Corinne Alavekios, a wonderful shooter, based near Seattle, who embraces the continuous cloud cover and soft light of the Pacific Northwest as a motif for her beautiful, luminous pictures of young women and brides.
The conundrum, or essential difficulty of shooting these is you have to get used to a change up in your thinking. The hopefully dynamic, wonderful shot you create for an ad campaign runs quite small, while the production, BTS shot, or, as it’s referred to on the set, “the shot of the shot,” dominates the real estate of the ad. I shot both ends of this last year for Epson, and got to work with the incredible Anti-Gravity performers, who are a group I’ve had a relationship with for about 20 years now.
But then, having knocked out that relatively complex shot, which ran small, we had to shoot a production shot of doing the shot, which ran huge. This was handled by our own, intrepid Drew Gurian. We shot the ad pic, and then re-staged and blocked out an arrangement for the production image. It being an ad, all the pieces had to fit, puzzle-like, into the art director’s layout, sized and designed for a spread, and a vertical presentation.
For this one, we had responsibility only for the production picture, and left the “shot” up to the magic of Corinne and her team. She writes about our day in the river here, in her blog.
Of course, as always, there were things to solve about this shot as well. As you can see, it was a “fluid” situation. The eye of the exposure needle I had to thread was to light the foreground just a touch, to pull in the details of the sky, but not make that foreground area look too “flashed.” Not a job for small flash! This was big flash all the way, using an Elinchrom Ranger, triggered with Pocket Wizards. The light source was a 74″ Octa Indirect soft box, hoisted on a high roller stand and stabilized with waterproof sandbags. The bigness, and soft quality of the Octa gave me a prayer of matching the overall soft quality of the cloudy day.
And of course, the usual production details abounded. Corinne chose the location, and handled the talent, the hair, makeup and wardrobe, all configured to match her ongoing style of portrait work. (Corinne chose the young ladies well! They were out there in that river in frilly gowns for hours on end. I swear they were direct descendants of Lewis and Clark. Tough Pacific Northwest girls!) On our end, Lynn in our studio had to figure out how to get a dock built. Harder than it sounds. It had to accommodate three people, obviously not sink, be relatively stable in the current, but at the same time be mobile enough rotate into various directions of light and background. It also had to be suitably worn and weathered to look like it had been around since the days of the sailing ships.
Lynn worked her magic and of course found Perfect Docks, in Lake Stevens, Washington. Frank Sovich did an amazing job creating an artistically terrific 600lb. dock for the young ladies to step onto and for us to push around in the muck of the river. And of course there were myriad other details, such as food, RV, travel, permits and insurance. I’m a big fan of guerilla style, just go do it film making, but when you have a crew of 15 people, and a dock and an RV and an Octa on a highboy in the river, you ain’t exactly low profile. This type of thing has to be done by the book.
It was also fun once again working for Epson and the folks from M&C Saatchi. Stephen Reidmiller was terrific as the art director, maintaining a sense of the ad and the placement of the elements even though he was looking at comps in what occasionally was almost chest deep water. And of course we had the redoubtable Mike Grippi out there with us. He hauled the lights, pushed the dock and, at the end of the day, hoisted Corinne for a celebratory shot. He was Flashbus crew, out of Ridgefield, Ct. but now has re-located to Portland, Oregon. Glad he’s out there, as he just jumped in a car and headed up to help us out.
Then of course there were the waders. We all spent a good four or five hours on a cool, cloudy day in a river that at times felt like it was being directly fed by a glacier. Dano Steinhardt of Epson, as usual, was the maestro of events, keeping all of us moving forward and holding steady to idea of the ad, even as the dock was drifting, and the light was changing, and the rain was threatening and everything from our toes to our, well, uh, the, uh, rest of us had gone numb in the river water. The waders really saved us, and of course, everybody took a pair home at the end of the day. Dano, well, he maybe should have left his on location. See below.
Gene is a good guy, and a good shooter who works at Adorama. He was about to get married, last week, at City Hall in downtown Manhattan. He mentioned to his colleague, Annie, my wife, that he kinda, sorta, needed somebody to take some pictures. Annie made a call.
How could you not shoot a joyous few hours like this? Gene’s bride, Olivia, was radiant and beautiful. Gene himself was so over the top in love I coulda used his bald pate as a Group B kicker light. Sharing this day with them was a great way to start the year. (I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve never gotten off of school schedule. August is always dog days, a reprieve and recharge period. September means back at it.)
The day started early at an East Side hotel. Olivia donned her veil (very proud she had found it for $5) and pulled herself together while Gene clutched the marriage license and engaged in deep breathing exercises. Rings? Check! ID’s? Check! Metro card? Check!
And off we went to the subway.
If New York City were a human body, the subway system would be the veins. They nourish the city by ushering people on a mission to every nook and neighborhood. On a subway car, you hear everything from Swahili to French to German to Farsi to English—the unique, mixed jargon of the underground. Very international, which is to say, quite local, given the fact of New York.
Gene, from Ohio, and Olivia, from Zimbabwe, fit right in, and given their attire, and the fact they had a photog in tow, were warmly received on the six train to City Hall and the courts. As block after block zipped by overhead, the congratulations flowed, and good spirits filled the car. It was such a treat as a shooter. Instead of being greeted with the usual mix of subway suspicion and indifference, punctuated by the occasional growl of annoyance at a flash pop interrupting the morning look at Page Six, I was an honored guest. People suggested shots, and had no problem with me squeezing into a crevice on a bench to get an angle.
We flew to City Hall. And found some light along the way.
Once inside, I found myself in an effervescent swirl of happy humanity, all of them there to simply declare their love of someone. This wasn’t atheist, or Christian, or Jewish, or Buddhist. It didn’t have a color, or a preference. It wasn’t about where you were from. It was about where you were about to go with the person you had just declared your love for.
Now, it’s still a government bureaucracy. You have to stand in lines, take a number, report to windows, have documents checked, and pay a fee. But, given the mission of the folks on those lines, there was none of the irritated clock watching and tense conversations that often occur when the public faces off against an overworked bunch of folks behind a counter. Think of a deliriously happy version of the DMV.
At a civil service like this, with literally hundreds of people waiting to give each other their first married kiss, the ceremonies are short and sweet. You walk in single, and three or four minutes later, you’re married. You walk out to the cheers and clapping of total strangers, who bid you good luck, and then walk in to try their own in a whole new chapter of their lives.
I thank Gene and Olivia for the invite to their wedding day. And Annie, who made the call. She snapped this Iphone shot of Gene last week. I’m sure today, he’s back at his station at Adorama, doing his thing, which he does quite well.
Being part of their nuptials was a great way to start the fall, a breath of cool air to blow out the sogginess of a long summer in the big city. It was also a powerful antidote to our current, roiling season of discontent and politics, announced daily in tiresome headlines that fairly reek of nastiness, exclusion and blame mongering. It was a wonderful, emotional reminder that when you find your beloved, your life becomes automatically good.
For the technically minded, the pix were all shot on Nikon D4 cameras, with ISO ratings ranging from 200 to 1600. A little bit of hot shoe flash was mixed in here and there. On the bridge we used a shoot through umbrella, with two SB900 units firing through it, maxed out, given the harsh sunlight. A lot of frames were shot with available light, and I pretty much, for the backgrounds, just let New York be New York. Lenses were 24-70, 70-200 and a 35 f1.4. Post was super basic–a bit of burning and dodging and contrast. Couple got sharpened a touch. Couple others had some NIK lighten/darken center. Other than that, these are JPEGS out of the camera. Gene and Olivia, with their expression of love set against the vibrant mess of NYC, are as real and durable as the concrete they walked that day.
May the road rise up to meet you both…..more tk….
The New York Times just did a piece on the grabbing and grappling that goes on under the surface during the very tough sport of water polo. It’s rough down there. Water polo athletes are amazing aerobic machines, constantly jockeying for position, levering their bodies high out of the water for shots, and fighting through opposing blockers and grabbers. The submerged WWE matches that occur are all just part of the game to the players. But, all that underwater strategizing was one of the reasons I once took the entire 2000 version of the U.S. women’s water polo below the surface for a portrait. It was a hoot.
I’ve got a huge, huge American flag I’ve used at the behest of Sports Illustrated, LIFE and National Geographic many times. So, I simply took the flag and put it in the pool, and let the team get creative. The above ran as a two page spread in SI.
Lighting this type of scene is simple in terms of structure, but daunting in terms of volume. To do this, I laid down a 20′x20′ silk on a frame right over the water. How you do this is to sand bag the hell out of the frame corners resting on the deck, and then tie rope to the far corners. Those ropes run up to high rollers, again thoroughly sand bagged. You basically construct a primitive pulley system and just gently lower this huge diffuser down to where it is inches about the water line. Then you pump six 2400ws units through it. I used Speedotrons out of the SI bank of gear for this. Underwater, you trigger the whole mess with a flash running off of your underwater camera. That lights up a slave eye that is dangling at water’s edge. That, in turn, fires all the packs. Trust me, all those huge packs are safety roped and backed off the water. It would not be a good headline…”Sports Illustrated Photographer Electrocutes Entire US Water Polo Team.”
Shot the pix with a Nikon RS camera, an underwater SLR that they, sadly, no longer make. I loved that camera, despite its tendency to flood. Great array of lenses, and for an underwater rig, eminently focus-able and handy. I’d wait underwater with two or three bodies, and the water polo ladies would confer up top about what to try, and then just all jump in. It was awesome, kind of like being depth charged with beautiful, athletic women. Below is my favorite frame of the take, albeit not really a storytelling, publishable image. A shot like this just goes away in the rush to publish a weekly, but it has a certain randomness I’ve always enjoyed.
Hey gang….this was a pretty popular blog from last year, so running it again, in time for the Fourth. On my way to Canada (on Canada Day!) for a One Light Two Light Tour stop in Vancouver, one of my favorite cities. Have a great Fourth, and stay safe everyone!
Summer’s here! Time to shoot some fireworks. Below is a small instructional essay from the Life Guide to Digital Photography. I’ve shot some of the biggest fireworks displays in history, so I just kind of dove back into those to remember things I did right and things I did wrong. And things I didn’t think of at the time, or should’ve remembered to do.
Everybody loves to shoot fireworks. It has lots of connotations—holiday, patriotism, hot dogs, weekend, kids, family. Time to relax. Time to shoot some pictures.
Okay, make a checklist. Camera. Wide angle zoom. Telephoto zoom. Flash cards. Cable release. Spare camera battery. Tripod. Headlamp, and hand held flashlight. Watch with timer function. Black card. (More on that later.)
That’s pretty much the photo kit. What else to think of? Rain gear, both for cameras and you. You can get fancy rain gear designed for cameras and lenses, or just use plastic bags and baggies. Couple of bungee cords to keep the bags on the camera if the wind starts whipping about. Water and power bars—you’ll be out there a while. Bug repellent. Comfortable clothing and shoes. The car might be quite a ways away, and you’ll be walking a fair piece. Advil. (Advil is always on my equipment list.)
Anything to do beforehand? You bet. Scout the location. Best to know what you are getting into, where they shoot the fireworks from, what the background will be like. How big will the display be? How long will it go for? Most fireworks displays are well over in a half hour or less, and if you are stumbling around in the crowd looking for a spot and trying to setup in the dark, you’ll just be starting to make decent exposures as they light up the sky with the crescendo and say goodnight till next year.
That’s right, next year. Most big shoot ‘em ups are yearly events. Argh, the pressure!
So scout. Get your spot. Get there early. I mean early. Like, be the first car in the parking lot. Pack a soft cooler sling bag, throw an icepack in there, and know that in that bag is your sustenance till maybe late at night. For jobs like this, my Ipod and earphones are a must. Maybe a collapsible chair, and a small waterproof tarp. Think your way into this. What could go wrong? It’s a photo shoot, so the answer to that is, just about everything. Try to ensure success by envisioning the shot and the potential problems in making the shot before you walk out the door.
Like, do you need a permit to put your tripod down? Did you have to call the town about this adventure? Most likely not, but in this post 911 world, photographers are often treated as being just this side of a recidivist offender, so it might be worth a phone call.
Okay, prepped and ready. Time to frame up the shot, which is a bit trickier than you might think. First off, when I shoot fireworks, I always get my frame, plus about 20%. I can always tighten up, but I want to give those fireworks room to play up there in the heavens. Frame too tight, you’ll have tracer lines of color going right out of the upper part of your picture, creating lines of interest that will pull your viewer’s eye right out with them.
So give them room to breathe and determine whether the shot is horizontal or vertical. Remember that most fireworks pix, if they are just of the explosions in the sky, are, at the end of the day, an exercise in color, nothing more. Even something as splashy as a pyrotechnic display needs context. So perhaps you can frame up with the object that is being celebrated, such as the Statue of Liberty. Or use the semi-silhouetted crowd as a foreground element. Or boats and bridges out in the water, with the water acting as a giant reflector board filled with color.
The variations that may occur with your framing are the reason to have at least a couple lenses with you. As mentioned above, two reasonable zooms, one wide and one telephoto, should do you fine.
Metering? Yikes, how do you meter a fast moving rocket moving through the black sky? The answer is, you don’t, really. This is a situation to shut off a bunch of the auto this and that on the camera, and go manual. Also, make sure to turn the flash off. Some cameras will read the darkness in in certain modes and activate that puppy. Ever see the opening of an Olympics, where thousands of people are using point and shoots, and their flashes are going off like crazy? Know what they’re lighting? The shoulder of the person in front of them. Fireworks, unless you are trying a radically different approach, are generally a no flash zone.
Okay, now set up manual. Fireworks are brighter than you might think, so you don’t need to open the lens really wide, which is a bit counter-intuitive, I know, ‘cause it’s dark. But my experience with fireworks wide open is that you drain the color out of them. They’ll just register as a white streak. Be careful. You can over-expose fireworks quite easily.
F8 is a reasonable starting point. Some photogs I know go even lower on the aperture scale, down to f11 or even f16. Over time, you will find which settings work for you. (I used to take notes at the end of a fireworks job, just to keep myself tuned up for next year. No real need for that anymore, as the metadata tells you what works and what doesn’t.)
Set the shutter to bulb. This mode keeps the shutter open as long as the release button is pushed. But you are not physically pushing that button are you?! No! This is absolutely a job for a cable release. Nowadays, most cable releases are simply electric cables which jack into the camera and activate the shutter. When you punch the button on the cable release the shutter is at your command, and will stay open as long as you want. And, very significantly, the button you are pushing is not on the camera or the tripod. With lengthy exposures, even the slightest jiggle or vibration is the enemy.
This is important, because at f8, the shutter will be open for a while, meaning anywhere from four to 10-15 seconds. (Remember if you have a foreground element in the picture, such as a monument, you have to make sure that lit up monument is exposed properly. In many ways, that foreground object will determine the length of your exposure.)
Again, due to the brightness of fireworks, you can work at a reasonable or even low ISO. Something in the neighborhood of 100 or 200 will do fine. The faster your ISO, the shorter your shutter speeds, which will deprive you of recording those wonderful tracers of light into the sky.
Some shooters time the launch of the rockets and open their shutter accordingly, keeping it open for, say, 8-10 seconds, then closing down. This ensures that they will record the path of the pyrotechnic into the night sky, and it’s explosion. This is a fine approach. Give it a try.
Others use a black card. A black card is just that, a black card. Nothing mysterious or fancy. It can be a piece of black cardboard, or foam core board. Or it can just be an index card covered with black tape. (Be sure it is not shiny tape. That might pick up slivers of light and reflect it back into the lens. Use a matte black type of photo tape, often called gaffer tape.)
This way, you can keep your shutter open for very lengthy periods of time, and record multiple starbursts. You open the shutter, and shoot one explosion, then cover the lens with the card, and wait for the next. You can experiment with this trick, and produce really terrific results by layering multiple fireworks into one picture.
(Also, say, you have the Brooklyn Bridge as an architectural element in the foreground, and the proper exposure for it is f8 at 10 seconds. This limits your fireworks shooting range, right? Gotta get the bridge right, so the exposure is a done deal. But, with the black card, if you are quick enough, you can uncover just the upper portion of the sky, while blocking the area of the lens which is recording the bridge. This is dicey. You have to move the card quickly, hovering it around where the bridge ends and the sky begins. If you have ever made a black and white print in the darkroom, think of this as burning and dodging right at the camera lens. Can’t keep the card static or it will create a hard line of obvious exposure change. It has to hover, quickly jiggling around that sky bridge borderline. If you pull this off right, you can keep your lens open for several batches of fireworks, extending over 20-30 seconds, filling the sky with color. But—this is an experiment! Back yourself up by shooting some “straight” frames.)
At the beginnings of the digital rage, this technique was a bit problematic, because seriously lengthy exposures produced a lot of digital noise. The longer the shutter is open, the longer the chip is “on” building up heat with every passing second. That sensor heat would really fray away at the quality of the digital file you would be trying to produce. Bad news. Long time exposures were the Achilles heel of early digital cameras. Predictably, advances in digital camera technology have smoothed out a lot of those problems, but it is wise to experiment with your particular model and see what its’ tolerances are. As you might suspect, the higher end models handle long exposure well, while the more basic cameras will have limitations. Get to know what your camera is capable of. In many current cameras, you can turn on a function called “long exposure noise reduction.” Hugely helpful.
Other bits and pieces: Don’t shoot all night long at one exposure. (If you are on bulb, you definitely won’t anyway.) But this is an occasion for bracketing, and shooting as many frames as possible. Also, shoot right away when they start! Fireworks displays can build up a lot of smoke over a series of explosions, and if you are smack in the wind pattern that blows that smoke towards your lens, you can end up thinking you’re shooting a war zone. So shoot immediately, and fast.
Have a good 4th of July. Try some of this out, and have a hot dog on me. More tk….
Been off blog duty a bit lately, given travel and assignments. Finishing up here in the Pacific Northwest today, where I have continued my career long exploration of why expensive electronics and large bodies of water don’t mix well. Did a bit of street shooting in NYC over the last week, experimenting with the D800/D800E. Interesting learning curve. My muscle memory is so wrapped around D1, D2, D3, D4 that the differences in this camera, ergonomically, are small but significant.
Shot really my first official job with the camera yesterday, standing in an icy river all day, pushing and pulling around ladders, tripods, and a hi roller stand with a 74″ Octa with a Ranger flash in it. Yikes. Glad I didn’t drop anything. But, the client specifically wanted the hi res of the new 800 camera, so that’s what we went with, naturally. Life as a shooter remains interesting. Always new stuff to learn.