Rarely run the same pic twice in a row, but publishing the below last week reminded me of one of those perilous moments we all have in the field, when the job hangs in the balance, and you are on location, and the sun’s not up yet, and the location looks like garbage, and the sky is black and featureless, and you don’t have a single clue as to what to do. The crew is looking to you to announce a great visual direction, or bark stirring orders that will lead to heroic photography and you just hope it starts raining so you have an excuse to go back to the hotel and put the covers over your head.
There’s a popular new ad campaign out there for Apartments.com, featuring Jeff Goldblum as a silky voiced TV huckster selling you the idea of the moment. “Change your apartment. Change the world.”
In the realm of location photography, you are dealing with your own smallish version of the world, trying to make whatever particular slice of the globe you find yourself standing on attractive, stunning, interesting, vibrant, or at the very least, modestly pleasing. When it’s not going well, which happens a truly stunning amount, you have to have the gumption to gulp hard, stop everything, announce that what you’re seeing on the LCD is the equivalent of a horrible movie or a really unfunny cartoon, and start over.
“Change your lens, change the world.”
The gift of a different lens is a different perspective on the scene, and, potentially, fresh wind in your visual sails.
Here’s where the photo above started.
I shot the above, and then moved in closer. I was foundering on the rocks of poor decision making and uncertainty, and was operating with zero clarity of thought, which is a prized location possession. I mean, I was damn close to the Cliffs of Insanity.
The instructional subset here, of course, is straight out of the book of Jay Maisel—“And, yea, the photographer saw that it was not good, and heard a voice in his head saying, ‘Move yer ass!” (That’s actually Jay’s voice, and it has a New York accent.)
Stop. Walk away, and walk around. Shooting really wide? Try shooting really long. That was my situation for the above. I was in close, desperately trying to include unnecessary information, getting tricky, and I didn’t need to. Thankfully, I’ve had a fair bit of sad experience with the “this is not working” category. I stopped. Pulled chocks. Walked away. Tried long glass, and Boom! I had a picture.
Now, in the new spot, I was literally shouting distance from the crew and the model. I didn’t need to change the lighting. That was simplicity itself. One Profoto B4, fitted with a beauty dish, and a warm gelled B1 as a backlight, assisting the sun and defining the windswept cape. At camera, I shot a D810, a Nikkor 600 f4, and slung the whole thing on a heavy duty Gitzo tripod.
I’ve said it before, paraphrasing Russell Crowe in Master and Commander–“What a fascinating modern age we live in.” Back in the old days of lenses, this much glass, through the dust and heat of the desert, manually focused, would have been an iffy chore, and the chrome result would have certainly reflected the limitations of the technology of that time. Perhaps I would have lost a touch of detail and contrast, for instance. But here, with dead bang accurate AF, the resolution of the D810, and the sleekness, clarity and coatings of the optics brought to bear, I’m shooting my model from literally across the equivalent of a football pitch and I can still see her pores. It’s nuts. I mean, I’m happy about it, but the tools are crazy good, bordering on preposterous.
Which in turn means it’s a wonderful time to be a photog. You can confidently take a chance, turn on a dime, step onto the tightrope of a job and not just shuffle across in conservative fashion. You can stop midway and do a trick. Try a somersault, pictorially speaking. Look at the job in another way.
And, again, as we all have experienced, once you nail that one good photo, it puts swagger in your stride. You are through the gate and no longer fearful of the job. And it’s important, given the psychology of location work, that you nail that first foray with a camera. It sets the tone for the day, reassures the crew they’re not working for a loser or an idiot, makes the models anxious for you to shoot them some more…all that flows freely once you’ve shot your first successful pic.
Confidence of the crew is important, as any location effort is done with a team of people. Billie Muller, an incredibly talented shooter in her own right, was our field producer on this job. Styling by Anna Castan Tomas, hair by Monique Lagnerious. Makeup was done wonderfully by Katie Cousins. And our expressive models, who worked their way through a 3am call and the heat of the day were Jenna and Elena, of Wilhemina Dubai.
So, trust yourself to switch it up. Trust the gear. And, you know, move yer ass!