We do this every Summer. I accept a job that requires days and days of work outside and it generally comes to pass that whatever days we schedule end up being the hottest and most uncomfortable of the season. It's no different now except that tomorrow's misery is completely self-inflicted. The project I've been working on is about Texas Hill Country Wines and I wrapped up the main photo and video production a couple weekends ago, spent a few days doing post production, and delivered the job shortly after that. I spoke with the commissioning creative director this week and they are fully satisfied with what I delivered and let me know that the print brochure has already been designed, and digital ads are just waiting approval. So why am I writing about going back out into the heat and humidity of mid-August to shoot even more content?
The simple answer is that I had a great time photographing over the first five days, I met lots of really fun experts in the wine industry, and I didn't want the project (or at least my part of it) to be over. When I wrapped up I asked the president of the association to let me know if anything visually compelling was coming up and I let him know that I was interested in continuing to shoot as a personal project.
He got in touch with me last week to let me know that two of the wineries near Stonewall and Hye, Texas were planning to pick grapes soon. Probably on Monday. I asked him if it would be any different from our shoot two weekends ago and he told me that they would be using mechanical picking machines instead of doing this harvest by hand. He thought the machines going up and down the rows would be really cool and there would be other components to the harvest that would yield totally different photographs.
I'm not especially busy in the middle of August. Most of my corporate clients are juggling getting their kids ready to go back to school and now juggling their own re-entries to the physical workspace. I let our wine client know that they could count me in. We were all aiming for this Monday but the weather reports indicate that there's a better chance for morning rain that day so they've moved up the schedule to tomorrow. Sunday. Early. Really early. But I'm still in.
Since I'm shooting this particular episode on my own dime and for my own portfolio I'm packing an eccentric mix of cameras. I'm taking along the two Fuji X100Vs to use as the primary cameras. They make really wonderful images in strong light, have built-in, four stop ND filters and they are small and light. Perfect for chasing down heavy machinery as it maneuvers down the rows of plumb, ripe grapes. I wanted to circle back to those cameras after spending most of the actual, commissioned project shooting with bigger, full frame Leica and Panasonic cameras. My nod to total eccentricity comes with my selection of an alternate camera to also bring along.
That would be the Sigma fp with its bulky LCD finder/loupe on the back and the fat, sassy, Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 L mount lens on the front. I'm also bringing along an 82mm circular polarizing filter with the hope that we'll have some wonderful cloud formations that will come alive with a bit of polarizer madness.
That's it for the camera package. But I also did a hot wash of my last three days in the field and decided that I need to up my defenses against the bright sun, the heat and humidity. I got religion about sun damage after my favorite dermatology surgeon carved a chunk of squamous cell cancer off my face just in time for the holidays last Fall. Now I'm even more serious about the wide brimmed hats and sunscreen and I'm also renewing my belief that the best protection is to keep the sun off bare skin wherever possible. Interesting fact, people in general get a lot of sun damage on the backs of their hands. Several companies make gloves that feature special fabrics the provide SPF 50 UV protection but are also made to wick away moisture and is said to create an evaporative effect that keeps your hands feeling ten degrees cooler. There are no finger tips on them but the gloves cover almost everything else. I now have three pairs. I'll use them tomorrow no matter how dorky they look.
I'm wearing a long sleeve, ultra-cool, Sahara shirt from REI that will cover my forearms. The shirt is collared and that's a plus but I'll also wear a neck wrap made of the same moisture wicking and cooling cloth to keep the sun off my exposed neck. The hat tops off the top 50% of my outfit.
I wanted to wear long pants out in the field. It's better protection against stickers and thorns and pants are also available in thin, cooling fabrics with the same SPF protection as the gloves and shirt. All of my existing wardrobe of long trousers felt too heavy; to warm, so I picked up several pairs of these Sahara-fabric pants, also from REI (which is NOT a sponsor but should be....). These and a pair of well broken-in hiking boots complete the uniform and give me a fighting chance at avoiding any more sun damage. But staying reasonably cool...
Two more things need attention. The first is water. No problem there, I have a big cooler filled with filtered water going into the back of my SUV and it will always be close by. Close enough to mosey over and drink as much as I need. Also enough water to spray some on myself if I feel too hot.
The final thing that needs my attention is to make sure the cameras don't get too hot. Two of the three are black, as are the lens barrels, and they can heat up quickly in direct sun. I've attached white bandanas to each camera's strap and when I'm not shooting with a particular camera I can cover it and use Think Tank Red Whips (tiny bungee cords) to secure the cloth wrap. It's good to keep the electronics cool and even better to keep the cameras a comfortable temperature on my hands.
Heat management is important anywhere it's hot. I'm pretty well acclimated to the heat this Summer as I've been walking in it almost every afternoon. It's also the reason why I now only buy white cars and never cars with sun roofs. Keeping things as cool as possible makes the work easier for me.
The final point is eyewear. I just bought a new pair of prescription sunglasses. I won't shoot with them on because it complicates the visualization of the frame in the camera (and I can still adjust the camera finder diopters to perfection) but I will keep them on whenever I'm not shooting. Good sunglasses, with UV protection, are a prime preventative of cataracts in later life. I like my eyes and like seeing things clearly. I'll do whatever it takes to keep them in good condition for as long as I can.
So, another fun weekend day lost to a 5 a.m. wake up and a longish morning drive. I'd like to be in place when the sun starts peeking over the horizon. It seems to make for great images. I'm looking forward to potentially getting a bunch of great shots. But even if the weather doesn't cooperate there's something empowering about being outside with a camera in my hands that I can't explain. I'm just not very good at sitting still....
The rest of the family seems happy enough to stay out of the heat during the worst parts of the day. They also enjoy spending time on solitary projects. To each their own. But I'm happiest on location, with people, and with a camera in my hands.