10.12.2014

Packing for three shoots without the chance of coming back to the studio to shuffle gear.


Every once in a while the scheduling demons conspire to make life difficult. A classic case is the one I'll deal with tomorrow. I am working with one of my favorite assistants and I'm not making many brownie points with her by asking that she be at the studio door at 5:45 in the morning. I hate getting up that early but here's the way it all turned out. I have one client who booked me to shoot portraits of a board of directors in Johnson City, Texas. They wanted to get the photographic work done before the board goes into their session at 9:30 am. 

We're shooting at a remote location and just to make it challenging we're doing seven environmental portraits outside, starting at 7:45 am. We'll photograph each person outside and then lead them into the interior location where we'll also shoot their conventional portraits against gray seamless paper.
Sunrise is at 7:31 so 7:45 is pretty much a start time mandated by nature....

When we get to the location Amy and I will set up the background and Elinchrom moonlights in our interior location, test and measure everything and then head outside to find an appropriate location close by for the environmental stuff. We'll be using three lights and several reflector panels for the interior shots and we'll use two heads plugged into the Elinchrom Ranger RX AS system for the exterior location. The two heads will have diffused beauty dishes on them. I like to use big beauty dishes outside because they are less effected by winds.

The interior set up will require five light stands and a set of background stands. The location gets its own tripod and camera so we don't make mistakes by trying to constantly adjust one camera between the two locations (which will have totally different exposure and color balance parameters). Much easier and safer to just bring along two tripods and two camera systems, set them for their dedicated environments and be done with it. 

The exterior location requires three heavy duty light stands, a Chimera panel with subtractive (black) surface and three big sandbags. I never want to set up a stand in an exterior location without firmly anchoring it to the ground. I would rather have gravity as an ally instead of a foe. Go sandbags!

We'll be going back and forth from one set up to the other for each board member. We staged it this way so that each person could come at their appointed time and not have to wait for me or wait between the interior and exterior sets. 

Once we finish with our last individual portraits we'll have five or ten minutes to reset for a group shot of all seven people in an exterior location. At that point we release the clients back into the wild and start high speed re-packing maneuvers, break everything down and get it back into the Honda CRV in some semblance of order.  Essentially we'll have produced two shoots in the space of about two hours in Johnson City. I hope we are as efficient as I think we can be....  Because.....

We hope into the car and rocket back up through Austin and on to Round Rock, Texas. Our goal is to be at the next client's location by 11:15am or 11:30 at the latest. Once we're there we'll load in and set up a totally different feeling light set up with a long roll of white seamless paper and several big light blockers. Once this is set up and tested we'll send a test image to an art director in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area who will lead me through any aesthetic or technical changes we need to make to the lighting design. 

After we get approval we'll spend the rest of Monday and all day Tuesday making portraits of 96 people. Then we pack down again and head back to Austin to unload in the studio and start creating web galleries for each of our clients. 

So, how do I keep organized for essentially three different lighting set ups on three different locations? I actually sit down with a piece of paper for each shoot and sketch out the basic lighting diagram I'll be using. It's a lot like the lighting diagrams that we've done for my lighting books but with more details. In fact I try to draw everything I think I'll be using. This helps jog my memory about clamps, connectors, baby light stands and other stuff. Once I've done my diagram I picture myself setting up each piece in the diagram. If I'm setting up a background I need to remember the stands and crossbar but also some clamps to keep the paper from unraveling. I might also need white tape to tape the leading edge of the background to the floor. 

When I envision myself setting up a background light I envision the small stand, the actual light, which reflector I need for the spot grid I'll be using and even the cord, junction box and extension I'll need. When I look at the quick line drawing of the subject it reminds me to bring clothespins to pin baggy outfits and a make up case to kill some shine.

In case of exterior diagrams seeing the "picture" in advance reminds me to bring along the light stand with the one adjustable leg so I can get the stand straight on sloping ground. I am also reminded to bring along a flash light since a good part of our set up will be outside before sunrise...

The diagrams help. On the other side of each sheet of paper I do a check list of gear and I check it off as I pile the gear near the door. Believe me, it helps. I can remember everything I need for one set up but three or four set-ups with different lights and different cameras is a whole different animal. 

One thing I'm trying out today is putting tags on each stand bag with an inventory of what is in each of the stand bags and rolling stand cases. That way Amy can find stuff quicker and repack in a way that will help us on the next location. Am I overthinking all this? Well, I'd say if you've ever found yourself on a remote location unable to shoot because you over looked one small and inexpensive (but critical) item you'd know my answer. 

Diagramming your shots also helps you to focus on what you're trying to get from each one. There's nothing worse than showing up and winging a shoot only to discover after the fact that your impromptu genius doesn't stand up to the more leisurely scrutiny of post production. And there's no way to fix most stuff after the fact no matter how good you fancy yourself to be in PhotoShop. 

Now we'll see if we can get all this stuff into the vehicle...



A small by-law of Murphy's Law: If you don't bring a posing stool the place you end up will only have bulky, high backed leather chairs which will be no damn good for making portraits.

After these two shoots I'll get back to work on the sequel to The Lisbon Portfolio. 


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10 comments:

cfw said...

Better be careful. People might get the idea that photographers actually have to work for a living.

Jacques Gratton Photographe said...

You are so generous to share all this with the community. Much appreciated Kirk!

Leslie Mak said...

That's very impressive. Sounds like a lot of hard work, but I can tell (from reading between the lines) that you love it. It'd be nice to see at least one of your environmental portraits :-)

Anonymous said...

Wow. Making a living as a photographer seems like more intense work than most people think.
Thanks for sharing.

thequietphotographer said...

It seems a good plan! And in many case good planning is one of the keys to success! I like your style!
robert

Dave said...

You seriously need a Sherpa for this expedition :)

Seriously though, I thought I was doing well in getting one light and power pack downtown for a portrait, let alone this amount of stuff.

Gato said...

Reminds me I need to find a new location posing stool. Mine has gone missing. :-)

I always enjoy these preparation and planning posts. A lot of people (including some photographers) don't realize how much behind-the-scenes work goes into doing it well.

Steve Mack said...

McGillicuddy's Commentary on Murphy's Law:

Murphy was an optimist.

With best regards, Stephen

Kirk Tuck said...

Hey Dave, I had a very reliable Sherpa in the person of Amy Smith. She's one of the best assistants I've worked with in years. We survived the day with no lasting wounds.

theaterculture said...

I once briefly dated a Human Factors Analyst for a large group of hospitals, whose (extremely highly paid...) job it was to design procedures and protocols for healthcare delivery that would minimize errors. The golden triangle of H.F. in technical processes, according to her, is D.P.C.: Diagramming, Previsualization, Checklist. Basically exactly what you describe as your prep process.

I dunno if you've ever read any of the literature on H.F. (the technical stuff I found boring, but Donald O. Norman on human-centered design is really interesting), but you've pretty much arrived at it. When multiple highly-competent people independently end up with the same ideas, that seems to me like it makes them worth paying attention to...