Friday, February 5, 2010

3 Day Location Shoot & Learning Experience

About 2 weeks ago I was contacted to see if I would be interested in helping out on a 3 day photo shoot with Zack Arias. My immediate thought was "Yes, absolutely!".  I don't have any actual images from this shoot. I took a couple shots with my iPhone throughout the 3 days, but none from Zack's actual shoot because it's his personal project and his to release when he chooses. Because, this a blog about photography, I'll sprinkle a couple images from the location I got on the iPhone. We did get to shoot on our own on day 2, but it deserve it's own post.
These were 3 long days and anyone who thinks that photographers have an easy job, should spend a day assisting. There was plenty of gear to move and setup. I also got to share this experience with some fellow photographers that also came out to help out.
We were on location at an old mansion, which provided for a lot of texture and areas to shoot. Some areas were off limits due to structural integrity and our own safety. Flashlights were needed to explore, especially late in the afternoon when the sun started to set.
I primarily got to work with Dan Depew, Zack's Studio Manager. Dan and I would setup gear based on what Zack's vision was for the shot. What's interesting is that some of the shots were shot in natural light., using a 12x12 silk to diffuse light coming from a window. We also used that same setup in another location using 2 Alien Bees 800 shooting through the silk. Zack posted some of these images on his blog.
I also got to see the Alien Bees Parabolic Light Modifier, which is really an 86 inch (7.1 feet) reflective umbrella. Which produces some gorgeous soft light. It can be adjusted to control the spread and focus of the light. What's surprising is that it's only $80. I don't have the space to use it and in any windy condition it's going to give you problems, but for that price, I want one.
Working on this shoot reminded me a lot of the days when I worked in television and working on commercial shoots.

One of the things I do when learning on the job, is simply to observe, try not to get in the way and be helpful and involved. There's a lot of work that went into this shoot before the first day. There was finding the location and then scouting for areas within the mansion and planning for the 3 days of shooting. There's the coordinating of models, talent, hair, makeup, wardrobe, stylist, rental gear and food. Once the day begins, there's a plan in place as to what's going to happen that day and where we're going to setup. Yeah, this isn't Photo 101, there's planning and logistics involved. Still think being a photographer is easy. Luckily Zack has help from his wife, Meghan; Business Manager, Sherri Innis and Studio Manager, Dan Depew. Fellow crew members included Robin Shetler, Megan Case, Luane Dietz, & Rhonda Dixon.
Zack had a vision of what he wanted to create and that's what makes a difference. I'll refer to this again later. I got to see him interact with models and dancers. Watched him give direction and communicate what he wanted to achieve, but also allowed the model to contribute.
There was a definite plan as to what was going to happen and where, especially on the last day. We knew what was being shot, where it was being shot, what props were being used, what lighting was being used and even which dress/shoes the model was going to wear in each shot.
Zack is known best for his OneLight Workshops and I expected lights and strobes to be used on every single shot. We setup lights and Zack would shoot a series of shots triggering lights. Then he would switch camera bodies, shoot with a different lens using ambient light only, occasionally using a reflector. This provided a completely different look and feel to his shots. I've learned to look for different angles (shoot high, shoot low) to create interesting images, but I hadn't considered shooting both ambient and strobes on the same shot. I've gotten into the habit of always using at least one light and I should challenge myself to shoot ambient as an alternative.

I got to see the kind of photography Zack wants to shoot and see a different approach that will advance his photographic career. Zack posted his thoughts on the 3rd day of shooting on his 365 blog project. I feel honored to have been part of this growth. Something that I will now take with me as I work to improve my own skills.

So what did I learn:
1. There's a difference to taking pictures and creating images.
   - Taking pictures is having little control over your environment and hopefully capturing a good image
   - Creating images means taking complete control over your environment (not just lighting) to produce the image you visualize

2. If I'm going to become a better photographer, I need to push myself to create the kind of images I want to shoot. I need to create the opportunity, even if it's at my own expense.

3. I should be looking for opportunities to shoot in natural light. Looking for different angles will help create interesting images, but looking for different lighting, even natural light, can make for interesting images as well. I feel like I've been relying on strobes too much.

4. When scouting a location, visualize what image I want to create and ask myself questions. How will I light it? What kind of props can I use? Is there a theme I want to create? Will I need help?

5. Lighting isn't all about adding additional lights and making it look like flashes/strobes were used. It's about balancing light to create a mood or theme. Do I want or need to over power the ambient? How can I use a strobe to compliment the ambient?

As a result of this experience, I'm working on my own little project. Small in comparison to what Zack accomplished. But I've already scouted a location and started visualizing the shots I want. So I'm in the planning stages and should shoot next week and fill you in on my own experience.

In the mean time, I still need to catch up and post images from our 2nd day, when we all got a chance to shoot and create our own images. Zack challenged us with a theme for the day and made a competition out of it. You can see the challenge here.

I had a great time during these 3 days and I feel lucky and honored to have been a part of it. It was hard work, but we also had some fun. It was a great crew and I hope I'm lucky enough to be part of something this special again.

Thank you Zack and the rest of the Used Film crew.

If you're looking for a portrait photographer in the Atlanta area, visit my portfolio.


Meghan said...

We couldn't have done it without you, Dave. Thanks so much for being so stinkin' cool. ;-) Thanks, too, for the kind words.

Zack Arias said...

Yep! Couldn't have done it without you Dave and congrats on winning the shootout challenge!