Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Downtown Alley Shoot

Ok, it's been a while since my last post. Guilty as charged. I've been shooting off and on throughout the summer, but haven't been inclined to put anything up on here. This particular shoot was the most ambitious and involved shoot I've done since getting back to serious photography and I'm rather proud of how things worked out.

It was a small crew, but it was an actual crew that came together for this shoot. I was working primarily with two concepts: the first being an attractive young women dressed like she was going out for a night of fun in a big city contrasted against a gritty back alley environment, the second being images of a female assassin. After weeks of going back and forth with an accompished Duluth model by e-mails and phone calls, I finally got a commitment for a Friday shoot. I got the word on a Monday night which essentially left me only three days to pull everything together. Everything being arranging for extra help, getting a makeup artist on board and figuring out some locations.

Quite frankly, it was a nerve wracking experience, but I managed to get everything lined up. My friend Julie, from my sled dog racing past, agreed to help out as an assistant. She made it clear that she knows nothing about being an assistant on a photo shoot and it really isn't her thing, but she'd be willing to help out. Thank god for friends like her. It helps that she lives just outside of Duluth and it wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience for her. I found a makeup artist on located just north of the Twin Cities. After talking with her a couple times on the phone she agreed to drive up to Duluth for the shoot as long as I would pay for her gas. Even though I didn't have a specific location in mind when it came time for the shoot, I figured I would be able to pull a rabbit out of my hat and find something that would work. In those few days leading up to the deadline Bree, the model, kept me on the edge of my seat by not returning e-mails or phone calls. I wasn't sure if she was still on board or not. Thursday night at about 10:00 when I was thinking I didn't have a model and the shoot was off, she called and nonchalantly said, "So, what's up?"

Friday morning I got off work at 11:00, stopped in Grand Marais long enough to change into some clean clothes, pointed my truck in the direction of Duluth and stomped on it. My little crew and I were scheduled to meet at a Starbucks at 3:30 and my plan was to get into town soon enough ahead of time to at least find my first shoot location. During the two and a half hour drive and watching an increasingly cloudy sky that threatened rain at any moment, my mood jumped back and forth between nervous excitement and stark terror. In the end it actually did rain at one point, but by the time I got to Duluth the rain was gone and was replaced by a gray sky that would work in my favor in lighting my shots.

Once in Duluth the first order of business was finding a downtown alley that would allow me to turn the concepts in my head into finished images. It turned out to be remarkably easy. An alley between Superior Street and 1st Street was accessable with decent parking close by, looked like it would provide the required gritty, grungy and hard look I was after and in short order I was on my way to a Starbuck's to meet up with the rest of the bunch. Julie and the makeup artist, Jodi arrived right on time and about ten minutes later Bree arrived. We went over a few details, chit chatted for a bit and then headed back downtown with Julie leading.

While I picked out the spot for the first shot and with Julie's help set up my flashes, Jodi and Bree settled themselves on a stack of old shipping pallets and got into the makeup process. Some 30 to 40 minutes later, my model stepped onto the makeshift set looking dazzling. I realized I was dealing with a somewhat different animal when I snapped several test shots to finalize my lighting and Bree immediately snapped into as many different poses without me saying a word. Unlike most of the models I've worked with up to this point, Bree has been in front of the camera quite a bit, has worked in New York and in fashion photography lingo, knows how to "work the camera." It took a while for us to get in sync with each other, but once we did I appreciated her experience and confidence.

We basically did two main wardrobe changes and several different looks by merely moving from one side of the alley to the other. One thing I noticed and was thankful for was how smoothly everything went. I've been around Julie quite a bit over the years and knew what I was getting with her helping out. Jodi did a great job on the makeup, had a fun sense of humor and made some shot suggestions along the way without being pushy or intrusive. Not only was Bree gorgeous and sexy as hell, she was also very easy to work with throughout the shoot, was a trooper and at times exhibited a bit of a goofy personality. The air was cool that afternoon and at one point as I was framing a shot I noticed her lower lip quivering from the cold. If I hadn't seen that I never would have known she was fighting to stay warm. Most commercial photo shoots are a team effort and even though this was totally a portfolio building event, it could have easily been a real gig.

By the time we wrapped the alley part of the shoot it was getting later than I had intended. Julie was getting a bit antsy to get home to her family, so I cut her lose with a big thank you and then headed to a Mexican restaurant with Bree and Jodi for some much needed dinner. The rain that had threatened earlier in the day finally rolled in, eliminating anymore outside work and leaving the rest of the shoot in question. An earlier suggestion from Julie led us to a multi-level parking ramp that looked promising, until we noticed the security cameras. That particular parking facility is tied in with one of the Duluth hospitals and the thought of Bree waving a very realistic looking BB gun around and attracting the attention of security guards stopped me in my tracks and made me consider canning the rest of the shoot. Luckily Jodi stepped up and gently pressured me to "just go for it." Her attitude was that we'd be set up and done before anyone noticed. It was a good move on her part.

Slipping into guerilla warfare mode, I pulled out a single Vivitar flash with a small shoot through umbrella and put Jodi to work holding it. It was a very stripped down compromise to what I had wanted to do and while shooting I wasn't feeling very positive about what I was getting. In this particular case it's a very good example of keeping at it in less than ideal situations, because when I went to work on those shots in photoshop and made the transfer to black and white I realized I had some gems. That stark, grittiness I was looking for came out beautifully and looking through the shots it was obvious that Bree could really rock the look.

In the end, it was a quite a day, a process, grueling at times, nervewracking, exciting, a great learning experience, totally worthwhile and I can't wait to do it again.


Anonymous said...

great commentary on what it takes to get a quality shoot. thanks for taking to time to share with what goes on behind the scenes. v.

woodrat said...

Fantastic b&w shot of the model with her heat. Can't wait to see more of your work in this area.