This Photo Shoot Took Two Years to Plan… Here’s Why:

I had an idea two years ago, where I built a blanket fort in the woods and dressed people in pretty clothing and made the space all misty/dreamy. But, I didn’t have the means to complete my vision, which included lots of pillows, sheets, string lights, a generator and a fog machine.

Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff for one shoot. Not to mention pricey. I’m not rich, so I had to purchase these items over a long period of time.

So, for the past two years I’ve been hoarding slowly collecting the things I needed for the shoot. I learned how to use studio lights, which gave me a way to photograph the scene in the dark successfully, and I became a better photographer overall. I was ready to finally do this thing.

Since I’m working on my dream series, I figured the beautiful scene I imagined would be a good fit. But, a few weeks before the shoot, I had a cool idea: gas masks.

Surrealism is oftentimes executed like this:

one object + another object that doesn’t make sense with the first object = surrealism.

(It’s a teensy bit more complicated than that, but you get the jist.)

I’ve been waiting two years to execute my idea, and last night I was finally able to bring my vision to life.

This shoot was super fun and the results were unexpected. I had the pleasure of shooting with three lovely young ladies who I had never met before, and I had help from a photojournalism student who shadowed me for this shoot. Plus, my boyfriend was there too, and being helpful is part of his job description.

The finished product wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, as I had a fog machine. But, when plugged into the generator, the lights would shut off. I had to make a choice, so I chose the lights. Plus, by the time we started shooting, the lights were turning off and on and eventually shut off completely. The generator called it quits, then my light kit called it quits, and then we finally called it quits.

I was going for creepy, and I definitely created that feeling with the harsh, straight-on flash (which was also positioned on the ground firing on about a 45 degree angle,) which created the flashlight-under-the-chin look. Y’know, like when you’re eight and telling spooky stories? Am I explaining this right?

Oh, did I mention the whole thing took almost seven hours?

Thank goodness for Caroline and her large car. I warned her I had a lot of stuff, but seeing it all in one place even surprised me. Setting it all up was even more of a task. It was super duper freaking cold a little chilly, and we had to take a break at one point because we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes.

Also, don’t let my sweater fool you: I had eight layers on under it.

Or, you can let it fool you and imagine me to have cold-resistant super powers. Your choice.

After hours of setting up, we did the shoot, and celebrated by sitting in Caroline’s warm house drinking hot cocoa and eating warm pizza. It was a wonderful, yet exhausting, shoot.

It feels good to achieve something you worked on for a long time. Try it sometime, but try not to do it at the end of November in the northern part of the world. It’s a bit rough.

Happy Shooting!

Advice on Surviving a World that I Actually Know Nothing About

I have some second-hand advice to share with you. My first piece of advice, which is the most important, is to be prepared to explain what kind of work you do. Practice it. Write it down. Get it plastered on a bulletin board- that way, you can tell people about the kind of pictures you make, whether you are discussing it with friends or if you’re asked out of the blue by a well-known and highly-regarded photographer whom you respect and all you have to say is, “Uhm. I make like, sets-installations and I kind of just stick my model in them.”

Not speaking from experience at all, but in this hypothetical scenario, something like, “My work is pretty conceptual and deals with the tableau and sometimes I experiment with the concept of ephemeral narratives,” would be much better than the answer mentioned in the above paragraph. But not like I know or anything.

~SEGUE~

This weekend (Thursday-Saturday,) a well reputed photographer who graduated from MSU came to give an artist talk and a couple of classes on retouching and photographer/model relationship. He also was doing a shoot, for the benefit of us photography students and theatre students. He’s photographed many celebrities and other important people, assisted David LaChapelle and Norman Jean Roy, and his understanding of light is super intense. His visit has been planned for a while now, and about three-ish weeks ago two others and I were asked to assist this shoot. So, we assisted.

We did inventory of the equipment MSU owns, picked out what the photographer requested, and packed it all up and unloaded it for the shoot. It was, actually, awesome. Probably because it’s never this chill in the real photography world. So don’t take this as truth– it’s all toned down significantly in my situation. SIGNIFICANTLY. Keep in mind that this industry is hard. It can be cruel, it can make you cry, it will tear you apart and then eat the pieces of you that remain and chew those up and spit you out. My experience was the equivalent of a kiddie pool. The real industry is like a shark tank and you, the diver, don’t get a cage to be safe and sound in. Take it seriously.

But, yeah. I missed the studio equipment.

I snapped these images super quick because I had never done anything like this before, and it was exciting for me. It makes me want to know what it’s really like to be a photo assistant for a big shoot. Probably more heavy lifting.

We shot at a big performance hall on campus, backstage. Some theatre students came in to model for him, who were all really friendly and funny. Watching him engage his models and talk to them was something I was taking mental notes on like mad. Sometimes when I shoot, I try to talk to my subject, but when I don’t know the person that well I don’t know what to say or how much to say or ask.

But he has such a good feel for people it was all natural. He asked questions and would snap away when the model was telling him about whatever. He got a lot of great expressions and energy that way, and it also made the subject more comfortable and easier to work with. Something I liked was how he would take the camera out of his face every now and then to have a conversation with whoever he was shooting. It was great how personal he was, and I’m going to try and practice that. I won’t be able to photograph my friends forever, so I need to get comfortable with photographing strangers.

Some tips from him on being a good assistant:

  • “The assistants who make it are the ones who shut up and do their work.”
  • “No one should know you’re there.”
  • “Assume you know nothing.”
  • don’t wear flamboyant clothing
  • have common sense
  • be prepared to work for free for a long time

One thing he said has been nagging me though, because he’s not wrong, which is probably why I keep mulling it over: there aren’t many female photo assistants. Most photo assistants are strong men who are capable of lifting and carrying heavy equipment, sometimes even up stairs. There ARE female assistants, but I’m guessing they are strong enough to do the job without hurting themselves. So, ladies, if you want it badly enough, time to get some muscles.

Some things I learned while assisting him on a shoot:

  • Bring tape. Bring lots of tape.
  • Be focused. A little mistake can cost a lot, including safety.
  • Watch where you are walking, because cords.
  • When handling equipment, have spacial awareness. Again, safety.
  • Think ahead.
  • You are responsible for the logistics. Did the models sign their releases? It’s up to you, not the photographer, to make sure.
  • Have nothing to do and the set isn’t ready yet? Then you actually don’t have nothing to do. Go find something to do, like tape a cord down or something.

So, basically, HAVE COMMON SENSE.

I admittedly made a couple mistakes this morning on the shoot, like not knowing anything about one of the new pocket wizards and being unable to get the right sync cord fast enough (I had a moment where my brain was like I’M NOT GONNA WORK YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN BYE.) Also, don’t share outlets, if it’s possible. Each piece of equipment should have its own power outlet. And, if you’re using stands with twist section locks, make sure those bad boys are screwed in TIGHT. Aim for having to use a wrench to undo it, just to be sure.

I had a really great last three days and I learned so much. I’m keeping his stories and my experience tucked away in my mind, because this information is inevitably going to be useful. He said something along the lines of “Every time I do a shoot I learn something new.”

I’m big on learning. I never want to stop- and as it turns out, I guess I never will.

Happy Shooting (and Assisting!)

Also; I never said the photographers name because reasons and uncertainty and my own personal paranoia, but I’ll just casually leave this here and not say anything whatsoever about it: yay vagueness!

Gotta Love Light

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the studio lately, and not even for classwork. I just want to play and experiment with all the lighting equipment! Rachel modeled for me again today, and this time I went a little color-crazy.

Super fun.

I set up seven lights (my patience feels tried just remembering it…) and I had to run around pressing the “test” button on the lights. This was a long exposure, at 20 seconds. Every time I pressed “test,” Rachel would step to the side and strike another pose. I’m sure watching me run around the studio was entertaining.

I didn’t get to do the experiments I originally set the lights up for, and that’s because I thought I would need friends to assist me in pressing the test buttons, since I was using so many lights (and there is no way I could do all of the flashes in two seconds…) But, now I’m reading up on these sorts of pictures, and I have a plan. So, it’s going to happen, hopefully next week!

Last week I took some more traditional photos of my boyfriend, for his professional website. They’re a stark contrast to the other portraits I’ve done in the studio, but I wanted to share anyway. Besides, I think he’s really cute.

He’s a musician… can you tell?

In other news, today my studio lighting class and I took head-shots for some theater majors! It was a good test to see how I work with someone I don’t know/am not comfortable with, and it went surprisingly well. Believe it or not, people aren’t all that scary. I had a lot of fun, and the pictures my classmates and I took were GORGEOUS. Hopefully I can get some copies to share with you guys.

A lot of lessons learned today… I can’t wait to see what the rest of this week will bring!

Studio Portrait Experiments

I’m SO giddy right now! Like, so giddy and happy and excited it feels like I drank a million cups of coffee.

I spent four hours in the studio. My friend Rachel modeled for me again (since she’s gorgeous and can model her butt off,) and she let me cover her face in unconventional materials and clothe her in weird clothes. So that was fun. But you know what made it even more fun?

GETTING AWESOME PICTURES THAT’S WHAT.

We were able to get two experiments in today. I had a lot more, but I was being so picky, we ran out of time. The first one I did was ambient light vs. flash. I had Rachel in a highly reflective dress. My goal was to do some light painting with the tiny reflections of light that were bouncing off of the dress. I’d say it went well.

I was inspired by the photographer Oleg Tityaev. His mastery of lighting is so motivating to me, and I have even more respect for him now that I’ve tried to do some of the effects he does. It’s hard to get it just right.

How did I do this? You need a strobe and a continuous light. When the strobe goes off, it doesn’t matter the shutter speed, the scene that you are photographing in that 1/1000th (or whatever it is) of a second will be frozen. Everything after that, though, is not. The continuous light is still being recorded by the camera. So, if you’re not using a tripod and you’re shooting with a slow shutter (I kept switched between 1 and 2 seconds,) interesting things can happen. Have your model move around, you can move around, zoom your lens in and out… Just play with it and have fun!

Here’s the tutorial I used to get started, if you are interested in trying something like this out: http://fstoppers.com/shooting-with-mixed-studio-lighting

I can’t wait to practice this technique more so I can get good at it like these photographers!

For the second experiment, I played with low-key lighting and the flash sync speed on my camera (which is 1/250th of a second.) I was shooting at 1/320th of a second, which caused the shutter to appear in my photos. I did this on purpose, and it really added to the mood of the photographs. I also took some without the flash sync speed all funky, and I like how those turned out as well.

I honestly cannot wait to get back into the studio. I admit these past few months have been boring in there, just setting up still lifes and trying to learn the basic principles of studio lighting… but now I get to be creative and take pictures of people (my favorite!)

These next couple of weeks should be awesome for photography. I’ll be on spring break, and I get to take one of the portable studio lighting kits home with me. Then, after break, I have more experiments to do in the studio.

There are more good things to come!

Early Semester Mishaps

I’m in two photography classes this semester, one of them being studio & location lighting. This weekend I worked in the studio for the first time, to complete an assignment.

And man, you have to think about so much when you’re in there.

Perhaps the well-seasoned photographers reading this are laughing and nodding at my above comment, but man, I was so stressed! I was trying not to break anything, trying to set everything up correctly, having to move lamps every four seconds, getting frustrated that I set up a wrong exposure since I know my equivalent exposures… But all was well, until my battery died. And I forgot my charger.

This was Saturday night, after I had just finished replacing a black backdrop with a white one and was getting ready to shoot a white cube against a white background… and it died. And my hopes and dreams died with it as I put everything away, since my shooting was over (and now I’m buying an extra battery and I put my charger in my bag…)

When I returned Sunday, I re-set everything up, finished, tore it down, and continued on to another part of my assignment. About halfway through that one, I realized my white balance was on the wrong setting, and all my previous pictures had an orange-ish cast.

My hopes and dreams died again.

So, I changed my white balance and carried on, taking note of my mistake for next time, since I didn’t have the time to go back and re-do the previous assignment (I had only three hours in the studio and I was running out of time.)

And that was my mishap in the studio. White balance- I’ll never forget it again, trust me. I did get a little bit of a reward at the end though, where I got to set up a creative still life using Styrofoam and objects of my choice.

The studio is so frustrating to me, because I don’t know anything! During every class I jot down things that my professor says that I have no idea about, and I go home and I research and research and research until I can talk about those things comfortably. This class is going to be a huge challenge for me, and not because I don’t know how to use anything. It’s going to teach me that my knowledge is not yet complete, and I have so¬† much more to learn, and that’s okay. Nothing to beat myself up over.

Live and learn.