Up on the side of a mountain in Virginia.
November and freezing cold. A sleet storm just firing up.
A slick, one lane road in the middle of no where, starting to ice up and
me trying to get good portraits and still make a flight at an airport
three hours away.....
I did a lot of domestic travel last Fall. All of it for work. Very few of the photographs were made in big cities, near airports, near nice restaurants; hell, most weren't anywhere near a wall plug or a decent hotel. But it was fun nonetheless. Problem solving on the fly.
The photographs just above and just below were done at about 7500 feet of elevation in weather that was starting to turn nasty. I'd hit the airport in Charlotte, NC about three and a half hours before, grabbed a Camry rental car and hauled ass up the through the Smokey Mountains. I needed to met up with a large crew of people who were stringing high voltage transmission wires through the mountains.
Thank goodness for cellphones and GPS. I just made our rendezvous and followed a crew up the side of a mountain at the end of a small caravan of white, crew cab, pick-up trucks. When we got to the near the top I started scouting for a good location. I knew the client, back in Knoxville, would want to see some "product" in the background so I found a spot that showed transmission lines and pylons going off into the distance. By the time we got organized it was sleeting. We found a window screen in frame in the bed of one of the trucks and used it to keep sleet from hitting the portrait subject's face. I put my Godox flashes in a plastic bag, on top of a light stand and the guys who were waiting to be photographed took turns holding the light stand so it wouldn't get blown off the side of a cliff.
The wind picked up and the temperatures were dropping into the 20's. Somehow we got everyone just before the crew chief got a call that a potential blizzard might be cutting through the passes. He took one look at my rental car and advised me to make a quick retreat if I was going to have a chance at making my next connection back in Charlotte. I headed back another three and half hours watching the gray get darker and darker in my rear view mirror.
Sometimes luck is with you and you stumble into an idyllic setting just about the same time you also have twelve guys who need to be photographed. That was the case when I was photographing the construction leads in a remote location in North Carolina. We were on the site of a dam project which required a bit of travel on unmarked, unpaved roads. We drove through some pretty countryside and the into an open spot when we descended into a scene that was just gorgeous. A lake, with mountains in the background and a bridge out to the middle of the lake.
I took advantage of the early morning light, a small flash and a Panasonic G9 with a Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm lens to create the two images just below. At first I cropped lighter since that's become, more or less, a style with me. I generally like tight portrait compositions better than loose ones. But as I played around with composition in this setting I just had more and more desire to go wide and to really see the space.
The two shots just below were in the same location but I had a different reaction. I changed angles in case the images were used at some time in the same publication but I never liked the tall grass in the frame. I finally went with a tight crop and it seemed just right to me. Same G9 and Pana/Leica 12-60mm.
The image just below was taken on a steaming hot Summer days just outside the Florida Everglades. Again, we wanted to show "product" along with our portrait so we found a suitable location which showed transmission lines going off into infinity. I moved my portrait subject into the shadow of some thick trees to block direct sunlight and then came back in a created a main light with a Godox AD200 flash in a white 20 by 30 inch softbox set over to toward the left of the frame. I tried lower shots, tighter shots and more dramatically lit shots but this one, for me, captured the space, the outdoors-ness of location and the serious look of my guy. If you judiciously fill portraits and balance them with sun drenched backgrounds you are, in fact, increasing your dynamic range. I love it.
On all these trips I had three parameters to work within. I would need strong enough flash to overcome direct sun. I would need to use a diffuser to kill the contrast that would have been created with direct sun in the photos. I would need to be able to handle all the associated gear; getting it through airports and on and off shuttle buses, and into rental cars working completely solo. I chose two Godox AD200 flashes. One to use and one for back-up (which I did end up having to use...). Three light stands (one for the main light, one for the diffuser, one in case I needed a bit of back light, and one to hold the round diffuser over the top of my subject's heads in order to block direct sun. The lights, stands and my clothes (with a winter coat) all packed into a long Manfrotto roller case. My two Panasonic G9s, an assortment of batteries, radio triggers for the lights, and three lenses (8-18mm, Panasonic/Leica 12-60mm and the Olympus 12-100mm) all fit into a small, Think Tank backpack. One checked bag and one carry on bag. It couldn't be simpler.
I love shooting outside. It's always a challenge and I always like the play between almost out of focus backgrounds and the main subject. I'd hate for the gear to slow me down.