on location

A recent assignment involved shooting a variety of portraits for a large industrial client to produce posters for a safety campaign. This involved travel to a number of remote hydro generating stations around the country to shoot environmental portraits of the various accomplished individuals.

Packing expensive camera and lighting equipment for flight is always a challenge. You're going on location, what will you be faced with, what will you need and what should you take? These are the recurring questions. The instinct is always to take as much as you can and be prepared for anything, however arriving at the check in counter with 10 trunks reminiscent of a 1920's steamship cruise to Vladivostok, will not win you any favours with the sweet, charming check in lady. Shrinking airline baggage allowances are now bordering on the ridiculous, I mean I doubt whether George Castanza could fit his infamous wallet into that ever shrinking luggage, size tester, thingy. The trick is pack light, pack tight. Take only essentials and plan to keep lighting basic.

We still take back up camera bodies and lenses, all mission critical equipment has to have a back up or alternative. All gear is securely packed in Lightware cases, while cameras go in a Thinktag bag with us into the aircraft. We never check our camera equipment for two reasons. One, too many times I have watched helplessly as some baggage handling gorilla tosses my metal camera case onto a cart or belt regardless of the countless red fragile stickers plastered all over it and two, having the most essential part of my toolkit with me when I arrive avoids that sickening, sinking feeling of disbelief as you stand alone in the baggage hall with an empty carousel going round and round. If you have to, you can shoot most things without lights but nothing without a camera.

On arrival at our location we always do an initial scout, both creative and technical. We will usually have a shot list or "wish" list of shots we want to achieve in the time allowed. The scout helps us determine which shots we can do where and what technical restrictions we may be facing. I will always take a camera body with me on a scout to shoot some reference shots for the client or art director to see. Its important that they know what I am thinking and that I know I have interpreted their shot list correctly. Once we have mapped out our shoot day and touched base with all the shot subjects and area supervisors we are ready to roll.

Once we are at our chosen spot we will set up camera, tripod and computer cart. I always shoot tethered to a laptop and for this my sturdy camera cart doubles as a work bench to mount the laptop on. To me it is essential to shoot tethered for a variety of reasons, firstly I like to see what I am shooting, its sort of my digital polaroid and secondly it is vital that my client can see what I am shooting, if they are not happy, I need to know, no point in shooting dozens of frames that are not telling the right story. Shooting tethered also allows me to step back and rethink or work a shot further, which often leads me to an even better shot. Shooting tethered also allows me to colour balance and colour manage my shot on the spot. I can make corrective and creative filtration changes immediately.

While I refine my composition, my assistant will rough in lighting, hook up power and make sure all equipment is correctly and safely positioned. Nothing worse than having curious employees or your subject, fall over cables or stands. I like my set to be safe, organised and tidy.

Shooting in an industrial environment often requires many skills beyond those photographic. It can be very frustrating looking through the viewfinder wearing a cumbersome hard hat and safety glasses, restricting your vision and movement. Ever tried doing yoga with a salad bowl on your head. A huh! Loud ambient noise often makes it very difficult to communicate with your subject and excessive heat or cold takes its toll on equipment and crew. Subjects shyness or unwillingness to be photographed, degree of co-operation and availability, can often create a bigger challenge than the environmental ones. Production schedules and safety rules are very important considerations, you are a guest in someone's facility and have to respect all pertinent rules and codes of conduct. Patience and flexibility are key to getting the shot and keeping every one happy.

At the end of the day as you skip through the images on the laptop, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you rolled with the punches, met the challenges and came out on top with great shots.

toronto corporate photographer


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