I do a pretty fair amount of work for a PR agency here in town that happened to be involved in the whole project and it seems that the CowParade has much use for good photography. One thing they need is for someone to show up during the cow "round up" and photograph each one of the cows from six different angles. The cows need to be shot on white seamless paper so they can be "dropped out" to white and used in catalogs, collateral pieces promoting the Austin CowParade and also for use by the friendly electronic media. I got encouraged/volunteered to become an "in kind" sponsor which means I did lots of photographs in exchange for "recognition" on the signs and other collateral. I also got "invited" the VIP Preview Party but I was going to be there anyway since I agree to shoot the event photos.......
I usually dread shooting 92 inch long cows that weigh over 100 pounds on locations away from my studio and this was no exception. When you shoot at a venue like a city coliseum, a music hall or other venue that specializes in live entertainment you always have to deal with people who don't understand what photographers need or how the projects need to be set up to work well for everyone. For instance, the cows are a maximum of 92 inches long and regular (what I can get my hands on quick) seamless background paper is about 108 inches long so, if you want to get white all around your cow you'll need to be able to stand back about forty or fifty feet from the set and shoot with a long lens. In this case I used a 70-200mm f4L zoom on a Canon 60D. With the cow about three feet in front of the actual white seamless I could get the biggest cow just right, with a couple of inches of white safety on either end. But the first thought of event planners it to put you in the smallest space they can imagine a human and a cow in simultaneously. You have to deal with that aspect in your very first conversation.
But the best spot in the Long Center in Austin just happened to be in the Auditorium Lobby. It was wide enough to accomodate four Elinchrom monolights with umbrellas, the seamless backdrop and an almost unlimited option for backing up to get less in (makes sense to me). And when you want to shoot in a public, potentially high traffic spot like that you almost always end up having a very tense discussion with the security and safety people at the venue who (foolishly) believe that protecting human life is more important than our photographic projects...... It usually ends up with some sort of compromise that makes everyone feel a little used and abused and tosses a tinge of turmoil into what is usually already a costly and chaotic situation....
But NOT THIS TIME!!!! St. Pinhole', the patron saint of location photographers, took pity on me and supplied me with a guardian angel. His name was Bill, and this is what he looks like:
Bill is an avid photographer and........get this.....he's a loyal reader of the Visual Science Lab Blog. He had my back all day long. If I wanted space, I got space. If I wanted people locked out he could easily handle that too. And the icing on the cake was this: Assistant Amy and I arrived and parked the car where we were supposed to for unloading and went off to look for either our client or our contact on location. We ran into Bill. I walked over and introduced myself as "the photographer who's supposed to shoot a bunch of cows..." Bill said, "Yes, I know who you are. You are Kirk Tuck and you've written four books about photography." My assistant rolled her eyes because she knew my ego would now be out of control for the rest of the day. And then he added, "Just let me know what you need and we'll get it done." And he did. It was magic and his good energy made the whole shoot work on a really positive level. If he's reading this I want to say, "Thank you!" It made my day. And yes, that's a Black Rapid strap over his shoulder and at the end of it is a Nikon with a cool lens. And he knows how to use it.
Amy and I padded our estimate of set up time to deal with any sort of delay in getting access so we started the morning ahead of the curve. We put up our seamless background paper and taped down the front edge with white gaffer's tape. We used two front lights and two side lights, all in umbrellas. The side lights were feathered toward the background on either side. Worked great. And while we're at it here's a little review of the Elinchrom D-Lite 4's. They weigh about 1/3 of what my old Profoto Monolights did and put out a bit more power. The 1/10th stop level controls are perfect for the way I like to shoot. They have two different ways to anchor umbrellas so I can mix 7mm shaft umbrellas and 8mm shaft umbrellas all day long. They worked five hours straight without so much as a misfire. I used on ancient Wein infra-red trigger on my camera and just used the slave cells on the lights to fire them. The only issue we had was the errant artist or patron who would walk up with a nasty point and shoot and shoot their cow with nasty in camera flash and trigger our flashes as well. Happened only a couple times and since we had a static lighting set up with had time to check every shot in review.
Plus they look cool. And they aren't covered with annoying "Bee Art."
So, we photographed 50 cows and we photographed six angles on every cow. Amy supervised our volunteer team of cow movers. We had one crew of people who brought in the cow, positioned it for us and then moved it for each variation. When I finished with each cow the second team would come in and "escort" it out to the giant front porch overlooking downtown Austin where a public showing would take place in the evening. After a short time we had the whole process down to a rhythmic ballet.
Some cows needed a bit of special attention. Little modifications of lighting to keep them looking their best. All the cows were patient and mellow. And the volunteers were light-hearted and hard working.
I was delighted when my client's intern brought me just what I wanted for lunch: A P. Terry's double cheeseburger on a whole wheat bun all the stuff on it. An order of P. Terry's canola oil cooked french fries and a Dublin Dr. Pepper (the one's made with cane sugar instead of the high fructose stuff....). It was still hot when I bit into it but then it was 105 degrees outside. I guess we could have always quickly reheated it on the hood of a black car......
Once the cows were all "put out to pasture" I was able to capture some of my favorites with the herd looking on and the city gleaming in the background. It was a wonderful confluence of art and charity and the event continues as the cows are strategically placed all over the city. What a nice way to greet the Fall. (wishful thinking..)
When we finished shooting the cows Amy broke down the set while I got the car and brought it back around to the loading area. We packed up and left the venue around 3:00PM. I came home, took a short nap with my dog and then packed up for the evening's shoot. I'd be shooting sponsors at a party in honor of the cows and the general public walking thru the exterior space, coming eye to eye with cool art, and anything else I could capture. For this I changed cameras. I packed a Canon 1Dmk2n with the 20mm Canon, the 35 and 50mm Zeiss ZE lenses and the Olympus XZ-1. Also took along a Canon flash and a Rogue flexible bounce card. (I love this product-----the large one).
I had a blast and shot most of the evening stuff with the little Olympus. It works really, really well. See if you can tell what was shot with what.
When the event is over for everyone else it never is for the photographer and the event staff. The PR agency people and their volunteers went off into the night to start installing the cows all over the city. I heard they finished around 4:30 this morning. I headed back to the office to download 300 cow raw files, 500 event files and some "art shots" for myself. My deadline for delivery was Monday but I knew that was too good to be true. The calls started coming in early. Magazines wanted to use some of the shots but their deadline was tomorrow. Could they have a "modest" selection of the "best" shots sometime this afternoon? Ah, the leisurely life they must think I lead. (I was up early, swam and on today's high tech location by 9). But wee got them what they needed.....
It's always fun. Just remember the three "H's". Hydrate. Hibernate and H-backup all your stuff.
Big celebration on Saturday. I'm getting my ultra "green" Bodhi Bikes electric bike at 10:30 in the morning. I can hardly wait. I'll be riding that bad boy to swim practice on Sunday. I'll be the envy of the pack....varoom.