Tuesday, June 30, 2009
So much going on lately that I haven't been able to sit still long enough to post, so here's what's been up:
First, my shoot with Andrea and the mannequin heads. I got a Facebook message from a high school friend saying she had a bunch of mannequin heads if I wanted them. Who could say no to two dozen heads with various hairstyles (they were used as practice heads for a stylist school)? Not me, that's for sure. Couldn't wait to use them in a shoot.
Enter Andrea Hoekzema, a makeup artist here in Grand Rapids, who I contacted after another shoot we were supposed to do fell through. She was a total pro, all the way through. In the interest of collaboration, I left it up to her what wardrobe would be. She brought several different choices and we came to a joint decision about her look. Once lights were set, she went into pose-off, and just kept popping and locking into different positions and I kept firing away at the shutter. She was great, and I look forward to working with her in the future, either as a model or as MUA.
Last week I headed to NYC to visit my friend (and fellow photog) Dan Gottesman for a one-day intensive (for real. we were exhausted when we got back to Brooklyn) workshop in Dobbs Ferry with none other than the inexhaustible Joe McNally.
But first, as soon as my plane landed, we headed to a burlesque/sideshow on Coney Island. Let me just say excellent way to start my time there.
The two greatest lessons I learned from Joe were:
1. it was of great benefit to me to see HOW he works, and interacts with the models, and to see the miscellaneous millions of pieces of equipment he uses. Much better than viewing them on B&H's website and guessing whether or not you're ordering the right thing.
2. With all the elaborate setups and multiple assistants, the big epiphany came when I realized every setup was a version (albeit in most cases a much bigger version) of what I already know how to do, and have used in the past. That is a liberating feeling because that means technology/equipment is not an impediment to image realization. I mean, you can only light the way Joe does if you roll with lots of Speedlights or Elinchrom Rangers, but even with almost unlimited choices at his disposal, most setups were 1 or 2 light solutions. If even Joe McNally gets it done with 3 or fewer lights, that confirms what we all know anyway: it's about vision, not equipment. Cameras don't make excellent pictures, photographers do. As Chase Jarvis says, the best camera is the one that's on you at the moment.
At one point in the workshop, he set us all loose with just 1 SB900. There was some squirming from some of my fellow attendees about that limitation, but I took it to mean Joe was driving the point home that one light is enough to make good pictures. If you can't make decent pictures with limited light, then having 75 lights isn't suddenly going to make you a better photographer.
As I looked back at my photos from the day, though, it was interesting that my favorites were available light shots that I stole in the moments between setups.
Back to Brooklyn, exhausted and not sure we could do it, Dan and I decided not to wuss-out and cancel a shoot we had scheduled for later that night. Our friend Michelle and our new friend Coco La Pearl agreed to model for us in a couple quick setups. Everyone was tired, and our models had to work in the morning, so we cut our half-dozen setups down to two.
Coco is also a burlesque performer, so we were thinking something along those lines. I thought "we're in Coco's very normal apartment; how about juxtaposing that with something more burlesque?" It would be very easy to make this into a "sexy" shoot, which if you're a member of Model Mayhem, is an overdone idea. Makes me (yikes!) never want to see another topless woman. What's the least sexy thing I can think of here? Cooking dinner. So I had Coco pick out one of her kinkier outfits and work the stove like June Cleaver. And I thought, in the interest of incongruity, Michelle should look as though she couldn't be less interested in what was going on.
Next we went out to the backyard. Never boring, it turns out Coco is also a fire-eater...a skill Michelle was interested in acquiring. So Dan and I took turns climbing an old TV antenna (dangerously close to all-too-live electrical wires) and documented tutor/student in action.
The fact that all that happened within 24 hours is why I love New York and will always be drawn back, at little or no provocation.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
After a slow couple of weeks, things have been heating up lately, which I love. Even on vacation, nothing makes me more tense than relaxing. My Zen Happy Place is when I'm working my ass off. So I've been in a great mood the last few weeks.
Last week I did a portrait session with Cari Draft, owner of EcoTrek Fitness. Interesting shoot, both easy because Cari is a good model, and challenging because once again I found myself out in the blazing sun on a cloudless day at exactly the wrong time. One of those days where I wished again that I had Joe McNally's 27 speedlight setup. But, having recently read The Hot Shoe Diaries, I was better prepared for this situation and the results were much more successful than they would have been had I not read the book.
Cari runs EcoTrek sessions by taking her groups for hikes on the beach or in the woods, pretty much anywhere, and stopping for impromptu workouts along the way. They all take resistance bands along with them, so they really stop anywhere there's a tree, light pole, gate, anything, wrap the resistance bands around said object and do resistance workouts on the spot.
So I figured we should shoot Cari in the woods, using the bands like she would normally. Photographically, the canopy of trees would knock back the light so it didn't matter that we were there in the bright mid-morning sun. Yes and no. While the trees did cut back the sun, the leaves also made for, IMO, a distracting background.
Enter the Hot Shoe Diaries.
I had always shot on full manual. And, not being one to read the owner's manual for equipment I own, my flashes were always on manual also. Which means if the flashes needed adjustment, I had to walk over to them and change it. Which also means lowering the stand they're on, making the adjustment, raising the stand, going back to shooting position...annoyingly cumbersome to both photographer and model.
After reading Joe's book, I tried his method. Camera on Aperture Priority, meter on Matrix mode, and SB800s in Remote mode. I only have 2 SBs so far, so I used the pop-up flash on my D300 as the commander. I dialed in -3 EV for the exposure, and set the flashes to +2 or +3 to compensate. This worked so well, I will almost never do it any other way again. The main light was Group A (+3) and the second one was Group B (+2) for rim light.
When I got home, I still felt like there should have been more separation between Subject and Background, so I spent some time in Photoshop knocking the background down another additional stop or so.
Added bonus: I can now cross "overpowering the mid-day sun" off my List of Intimidating Setups.
On the last pic in this series I tried another McNally trick: threw both SBs (diffuser domes on) through one umbrella. Still improving, but I'm happy with the results.
*Next post: upcoming shoot with the 2 dozen mannequin heads I picked up last weekend*
Was about to post, but got sidetracked with my RSS feed. Found this on the Fashion Photography Blog. Part 1 of what will apparently be a 3 part series, and it applies to everyone trying to do their own thing: