Hi, and welcome to all for 2013. I hope the whirlwind known as 2012 deposited everyone on the doorstep of this new year in good shape. Mildly frazzled perhaps, but whole of mind, body and spirit, ready to start turning the blank pages of these new twelve months, with all the unknowns and things hoped for. I remain blessed, I feel, in that I start another year with a camera in hand. Three days of shooting this week. Four next. So it goes. It will not always be thus, so I treasure the moments behind the lens with increasing fervor. I joke about the passing of time and frames with my buddy Bill down at the National Geographic. Another year for him living inside the land of the yellow border, indeed, a place where the wild things roam. Me, being a freelance content provider, I’m just the occasional interloper, trouble maker and, dare I say, problem solver. Though it’s completely open to fair questioning as to whether I’ve created more problems than I’ve solved. Best not to dwell on such matters.
Best, really, just to keep moving. 2013 beckons like a siren, and yawns like a chasm to be crossed, all at once. Inviting, drenched in possibility, but fearsome all the same. Once again, clench your teeth (among other things) and slide out onto the tightrope known as freelancing. Maybe, someday, I’ll try my hand at something more certain, like my dad, who actually had a job, and whose briefcase, like some sort of shield, bears the scuffs and marks of doing business. Or Annie’s dad, who was a telephone company lineman, and a foreman, and a volunteer firefighter. Joe McNally and Tommy Cahill. A pair of Irishmen who almost certainly would have liked each other, and shared more than a few boilermakers, but died too young, and improbably, ended up buried within fifty yards of one another. The respective totems of their estimable lives hang side by side in the hall of our house.
Maybe someday I’ll give up this nutty freelance thing, but I kinda doubt it. Being comfortable with not knowing what you’re doing next week or next month for the last 35 years makes one unprepared for the trappings of certainty and routine of schedule. I’ll keep you posted.
I knew I wanted to photograph Raul Samarillo Sanchez from the first moment we were introduced. A formidably talented sculptor, he had given me a gift of his work. How to repay? Go to his workplace and make a picture. I inquired about his time. He said to come on over.
You get a sense of people, really. I knew his studio would be as interesting as he is.
Three basic things, rules, perhaps, or, more accurately, admonitions, run through my head when I venture to a place like this.
1) Try not to fuck this up.
2) Shutter speed is my friend.
3) Make the flash look like it’s supposed to be there.
And, as always, work fast. The place had a couple big windows, but light was fading fast, and rolling away from that side of the building. I had to favor the natural direction of the light, but augment it with flash. First thing to do was to figure composition. Rule of thirds, tried and true, worked in this instance. I put Raul on camera left, and then started to orchestrate the wonderfully charismatic mess of the sculptor’s workplace. (Also, to be understood–I would still be there, making pictures, if I could. There’s an array of visual potential in this place. I chose one slice, and worked on it for a while. I would love to be there in the morning, and watch him work, throughout the day. Hopefully, next time.)
The fading sunlight created a nice splash in the far corner of the studio, but alas, that was about to leave for the day, so I replaced it with Quadra unit, ramped up to full power at 400ws, and fitted with a warming gel. This was angled so that it reached to the back and right of the studio, and provided a little raw illumination, roughly akin to hard, late sun. It picked up the details of the place, the finished and half finished work, as well as the tools, dust, and just general stuff one accumulates during a talented life.
This was fairly early on in the proceedings, shot at 16mm, which is a pretty wide view. I needed to get tighter, sharper, and, as you can see, I was having problems with the right hand of the Lord. I needed to push my subject left in the frame, but the far edges of that particular zoom for me was a no fly zone. I ended up shooting the D800 fitted with a 24-120 zoom, and of course stayed at the wide end of that optic. Below is a lighting diagram of sorts. As you can see, behind Raul is a large shelf, or loft, which means the wall back there was in total darkness. A Justin Clamp, an SB-9oo running on SU-4 (manual slave operation) with a full CTO gel filled this in a touch, and its presence is made logical by the work lamp that already exists back there. Up front, I used a tri-flash with three SB 900 units (though, truth be told, as I remember now, it was a mix of 900 and 910’s) firing through a Lastolite Skylite Panel, the 3×6. I swear by this panel, honestly. It’s a beautiful diffuser, configured in the shape of a window, so when you place it in front of virtually any light source, it looks like (doh!) a soft window light. Sometimes, it takes a while for me to figure this stuff out.
The game plan for a location like this, for me, is a well traveled road. Observe the existing quality of light–even the scraps of it can inform where to put the flashes. Then, forget about the light for a bit and find the picture. Get the frame. If the frame works, and has power and logic, so will your lighting. Then, make the light look like it’s appropriate to the scene. Raul is an old world, traditional sculptor, so it’s advisable to leave the ring light in the trunk, and go for softer, artisanal quality of light to match the scene and the craftsmanship at hand. Find the right combo of shutter speed and f-stop. The shutter speed is like adjusting a Levolor blind. You crack it open just wide enough to admit enough ambient light into the room so that your flash doesn’t look overly flashed. In other words, you “bleed” daylight into the scene, but not too much, or you lose the control your flash gives you over the scene. The game of ratios–what exists, and what you layer over what exists–continues. Also, try to make use of what’s there. The work lamp on JC is helpful. The finals on the finals were D800, 1/20th at f8. The sizable f-stop here is important. You want to see the details. They tell the story of his life.
And, once you have it lit, don’t give up on it too soon. Find something else, like, his hands.
And of course, try not to, well, you know…..more tk….