Monday, May 13, 2013
Skylights with Corrie
I remember saying to my wife on Saturday night that I gave myself a 7 out of 10 for this performance.
I arrived at the location at at 1PM. The sun had already moved to its 1 o'clock position. My initial reaction to the house was, "This is a lot smaller than it appears in the pictures". Likely a result from all the wide-angle shots.
As we entered the "skyscape" designed by James Turrell, I remember thinking, "Now this is a lot bigger than I thought it would be!"
The property itself spans 4 different lots of land and requires a little bit of hiking to navigate if you are outside the main structure. The landscaping is lush and rain forest like and apparently has flora from something like 8 different climates. Elevation changes throughout the property is drastic since the entire property resides on the side of a hill. I spent a fair amount of time hiking up and down stairs throughout the day.
Our property manager/guide Dave was very hospitable. He helped us with whatever he could do to accommodate our shoot. There weren't any unforeseeable circumstances or surprises on that front.
But let's get specific.
Throughout the day I felt that the location was underwhelming. Perhaps it was the haze that obscured the view of downtown LA. Perhaps it was the immense amount of greenery throughout the property, making for difficult background management. Even the epic shot looking out the master bedroom contained a large palm-like tree on the right and another large tree to the left. Both were literally right outside the window and made for "not-so-nice" foreground objects.
Content-aware fill is good but certainly not a cure all.
Lighting throughout the house and property was very tricky. Saturday was a sunny day aside from the haze. The trees made for spotty directional sunshine peeping through the leaves in virtually all facets of the outdoor area. Indoors, nearly the entire house was obscured by trees so that there was little direct sunlight.
Some photographers are probably asking, "Isn't that perfect? Then it's all just ambient light? You don't even have to think"
Far from perfect.
First of all, it's rather dark and you're pushing ISOs that are usually reserved for later hours. Secondly you get a drab color cast from the sky throughout all your shoots. You know, that blue cast that the sky gives you. Except it's in all your pictures. It also means, no strong backlighting or strong front lighting or hard light or warm color casts. When I talk about "options", this is what I'm talking about. I like having options. But on Saturday, unless I was willing to bust out my strobe, I was limited to the type of looks that you would shoot with just ambient indoor lighting. Even a reflector was virtually useless because there were no areas that were directly in view of the sun. And you know you can't reflect ambient light because it's simply not strong enough.
And while the challenge was mostly due to lighting and background management, I found myself somewhat overwhelmed with the different motifs. Remember the transparency I talked about in the last post? Well, all that glass ain't easy to shoot. Many of them are double-paned and polarized and cause odd patterns to appear with the polarizer set to reduce reflections. Basically instead of seeing the reflections you're now battling this odd pattern from the polarization of the glass itself. Not sure if it was because it was tempered glass or tinted or what but there were polka dots in the glass.
Getting back to transparency. There were some cool angles that you could shoot where the reflections really worked. The pool offered some nice reflections at nearly perpendicular shooting angles. But glass is only cool when what's in the reflection is cool. Instead, it was a battle to deal with the reflections of the nearby trees and the spotty cityscape that was under direct sunlight. Thus for many shots I had to contend with rather busy backgrounds with dramatic dynamic range issues.
Lastly the challenge was working within a thematically consistent way of shooting. I wanted the images from the shoot to be not only aesthetically pleasing but also intellectually stimulating. Working with the wardrobe and the broad brushstroke motifs on the property was something I had to reconcile. Often I found myself shooting very wide and capturing lots that the property had to offer. I felt that shooting tight crops of the models (e.g. half-body shots) to be a complete waste of time. Boring. Intellectually dumb. On rare occasions tighter crops worked if there was something in the wardrobe that required that kind of attention to microscopic detail or if there was something in the foreground like a reflection. Otherwise the location required wider angles to include architectural, stylistic, and thematic elements that made this location famous.
If I sound frustrated, it's I was frustrated. It was a mental battle that I was waging throughout the shoot. I had high expectations. And though I always have high expectations, it's more acute with greater production value shoots such as this. The good things that happened were that I used almost all the equipment I brought. I didn't have any catastrophic failures or fatal user errors. Most of the shots were well-exposed. Perhaps I could have used a little more "freedom" and less "structure" but the structure created good foundations to create some solid shots. I didn't have any problems with the styling or the makeup or the models or the models' abilities.
So really everything went pretty much according to plan. It was the interpretation of the vision given the situational variables that presented the greatest challenge. How to execute the vision given the location's motifs and how to get them to all work in unison given the styling, makeup, modeling, photography and retouching.
I'm still going through all the pictures. So far I'm rather pleased with the results. And that's surprising given how I felt after the shoot. But not surprising given that I am my worst critic.