I’m starting to pick up on a trend that’s been happening to me recently. Clients who are willing to pay, plan, and ask, for my time a number of weeks or months in advance. Those asking for it, dirt cheap or free, usually ask the week they want to take the images. It’s not that I mind doing stuff for free. If it’s personal work that’s just for building my portfolio, or a major connection with tremendous exposure opportunity, I’m usually fine with accepting the fact that the gas I use going to a shoot will be bought with my day job’s earnings. The issue I do have is that the planning is usually rushed, a detail or two may be missed, or some major element of the shoot is unavailable, thus making the session more difficult. For example: getting stuck with horrible weather and being negated from using my preferred/suggested venue. This was the case for a shoot I had about a week ago in Kirkwood, Atlanta.
I got a text around Tuesday by a friend, (who we’ll call The Fixer, as he wishes to remain anonymous), asking if I’d be interested in doing a fashion shoot for a local up and coming designer. The shoot would be that Sunday, and it would be time for my portfolio (AKA: free). Sure, why not? I’d never done a fashion shoot before, and figured it would be great experience as the designer had been published in some larger Southeastern fashion magazines recently. Plus, it could be a connection to more designers, makeup artists/hair stylists, and models. In setting up the shoot, I suggested we use Pullman Yard, an abandoned train yard in Atlanta. I’ve shot at Pullman before and suggested it because it is, quite simply, gorgeous. It’s full of graffiti, old equipment, and gigantic cavernous spaces that just scream, “Take pictures here!” It’s not persay legal to shoot there, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of photographers, or even Hollywood, (they shot scenes from Fast and Furious and the second Hunger Games there) from using it. I figured the juxtaposition of high fashion with a gritty, urban, graffitied background would be awesome, and the designer, Lisa Kathleen Gatlin, loved the idea. I figured we’d get to the Yard at around 9AM, do make-up and all that jazz, and then find our entrance to begin shooting. I let The Fixer find all of our supporting cast.
If you’ve read this blog before, you know I like planning things. I’m reading a book (Quiet by Susan Cain) about introverts right now and it’s really funny/cool to know why I am the way I am. Looking back, I am so glad for my little introvert driven eccentricities because Sunday started off as a complete nightmare. When I woke up at 7AM without my phone buzzing, or my digital alarm clock glowing with green numbers, I became very suspicious. I reached over to turn on my reading lamp and nothing. “You’ve got to be kidding me…..” The power was out, and it was POURING rain outside with a temperature around 50° with 10+ mph winds. Thank goodness I’m a little paranoid because a waterproof headlamp came in real handy while taking a shower in the dark. I also had the good sense to pack up all my gear the previous evening. Just as I finished throwing on my rain jacket and reaching for my keys, the power came back on at 7:40AM. “Really?”
10 miles down I-75 South and I got a call from The Fixer. “Hey Mike, I’m running a bit late. My windshield wiper broke off my car this morning. I’m getting Lisa from Athens, and we’ll try to be there as fast as possible.”
8 minutes later The Fixer called me back, “Hey Mike, so that coffee shop isn’t going to let us setup there anymore. They think they’re gonna be out of space because everyone coming in from the rain. I’m gonna call around and see if I can find another place.”
“Okay, keep me posted.” At this point, my spidey-senses started tingling as I wondered what kind of day it would be if it was starting this poorly.
“Hey Mike, found another spot. You’re gonna be the first one there probably, so can you go in and get it ready? Ask for Keith.”
My introverted self is screaming internally, “NOOOOO!!!!!! Don’t make me do something responsible and meet random people out of the blue!”
What came out of my mouth instead was, “Sure, I’ll take care of it.”
Well I found the coffee shop, asked for Keith, and got the space. Thank goodness that went smoothly otherwise, I may have been a little wired for the rest of the afternoon.
Morgan DeWald, our Hair Stylist, showed up around 9:15AM. I’m pretty sure we spent more time staring at our phones, waiting for everyone else to show up, instead of talking. I felt so terrible about it! Morgan is brilliant though. A fantastic artist and super cool to boot. By the end of the day we were chatting a bit more and I got to pick up on how awesome she actually is. The model, Traci Weisberg, and her boyfriend showed up (after getting lost) at about 9:40AM, and Morgan got right to work on the model’s hair. Traci and I went to High School together, and I was so excited to work with her for this shoot. She’s incredibly energetic and super coachable. Her boyfriend, Jonathan Staves, is a photographer, but most of all a great guy. I gave Traci two thumbs up of approval when he offered to get us all coffee.
As an aside, I hate doing shoots with other photographers present because I feel like I’m being judged. Unfortunately, I know I do it when observing other photographers, and it’s really unnerving because I’m self-conscious like that. To the rest of the photographic community (and to myself), Get Over It. Your peers will forever be observing you and your work. Either dissolve under the made-up, rude critiques they’re shouting at you, or learn and grow from the comments they offer. They may not always be nice, but I bet something can be learned from them.
The Fixer and Lisa finally showed up at about 10:30AM with the dress. We all regaled each other with our morning commute stories as Morgan was about 80% done with Traci’s hair. The Fixer and I agreed that we should scout Pullman and decide where to get in before Traci was finished, just to help save some time. I told The Fixer to stay put and asked Jonathan to join me on the scouting party. I was not overly thrilled when we arrived at the Yard.
Pullman Yard has been standing for quite some time, however it is a large space of weathered lots and the growing City of Atlanta can’t waste space. Somebody recently decided to build up the area and the evidence was apparent. Pullman is still there, and that somebody has promised to leave parts of the Yard as a historical site for the future, but that Sunday I laid eyes on fresh NO TRESPASSING signs and clean construction equipment and tents. Since it was the weekend, I figured we could probably still sneak in and use the space, until I noticed the rent-a-cop sitting in a blue truck just outside the open gates. Well, I sure as hell wasn’t going to get into a fiasco of getting caught and then having to explain myself and 5 other people’s presence there, so I walked right up to the officer and enjoyed a rather short, and pointed conversation.
“Hello sir! How are you doing today?”
“Can I help you?”
“Oh, um, we were wondering if we could come take pictures here?”
“Okay, is there someone we can talk to for permission?”
“The Georgia Authority of [something or another]”
“Fantastic. Are they open today?”
“Closed today. They’ll be open tomorrow.”
“Okay great, thanks! Have a nice day”
Window rolls up.
I don’t blame him for being sour. He’d obviously been sitting in that truck for hours, what with the stack of open candy bar wrappers and empty Mountain Dew bottles strewn across the passenger seat. But really dude? That conversation transformed him into “rent-a-cop” instead of “officer” in all my story tellings.
When we got back to the coffee-shop-turned-hair-salon and presented the bad news, it was met with, surprisingly optimistic hope. The rain had started to finally dissipate, and The Fixer beamed with confidence that we would find something, somewhere. The plan became an attempt to try the Dekalb Farmer’s Market, then use the Krog Street Tunnel (another graffiti covered location), and then just use whatever we happened to find along our travels. Once Traci was in the dress, we headed over to the Farmer’s Market with high hopes, but doubt lingering.
5 steps into the Market exists a massive, hanging sign that reads, with icons, “No Photography in the Market.” Can we please catch a break? As we dejectedly walked back to our cars, we noticed that the opposite end of the parking lot was rather interesting looking. A mix of a gravel lot with striped or downed trees. The rain had stopped, and so we decided to try our luck. Finally, we hit pay-dirt! The scene was perfect. I stood Traci on a random cement block, isolated amongst the lot and trees. Jonathan acted as my sandbag for a reflective umbrella with a single YN-568 flash mounted on a lightstand (when shooting outdoors, always always always, place sandbags on your light stand). Once I had the lighting dialed in and started shooting, I knew the rest of the day was gonna be a cake-walk.
Lisa loved the images, Traci froze from the cold (it was a hoot watching The Fixer and Morgan adjust Traci’s hair during the shooting breaks while attempting to warm her up simultaneously), and I didn’t feel like a horrible photographer in front of Jonathan. For all my shots, I used my handy one-light setup to create drama by lighting the model and darkening the background. As the day went on, the images just got better. Krog Street Tunnel was fantastic, and the local streets surrounding it were a goldmine for more urban backgrounds. We even managed to convince a random passer-by to lend us his bulldog as a prop for some shots. This wasn’t the most hectic shoot I’ve ever been through, but it was the most terrifying. I’m so glad it turned out as well as it did. The images are okay in my mind. I couldn’t get the post-processing to push the images where I really wanted, and I wish I had used a hair light (a flash directed at the back of the model’s head) to help separate Traci’s dark brown hair from the mostly dark backgrounds. Although I definitely found areas where I need to improve, everything worked out in the end.. I’m just ecstatic we ended up with good images, and everyone walked away happy, despite the rough morning.