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I wanted to take a second and talk a little bit about how I created a particular industrial image the other day while out on the water.

The final shot

The final shot

For some reason, I am really drawn to heavy industry. I love to photograph it. I love the colors, I love the scale, and I love the environment. It might be getting to go on huge ships, or hang out of helicopters, or maybe just getting to feel like a little kid around huge toys. I have no idea. All I know is I cant get enough! Industrial photography has taken me around the world, and I am thankful for every moment I’ve had doing it, and giddy with excitement at the prospect of every new job.

Some examples of past industrial work:

Damn in Quebec

Damn, Quebec, Canada

Train in Minnesota

Hauling by Rail, Minnesota

Chemical Transport Ship

Chemical Transport, Puerto Rico

Timber Operations, Newfoundland, Canada

Timber Operations, Newfoundland, Canada

So… What I like to do when I am shooting personal work is to give myself an assignment. I have found over the years, that when looking to add to ones portfolio, it rarely pays off to just wonder around without direction. When I have done this in the past, I more often than not come back with very lovely stuff, but its just not commercial. Pretty yes, but commercial no.

Framing the shot

Framing the shot

The main difference between the two is intent. I have found that when I set out intending to make a photograph, it always is much better than when I just stumble upon it. The reason for this is “problem solving.” My mentor Mike Weymouth is always beating this over my head. Photography is about solving problems, and the better we are at this, the better our images are. Good photography is a skill that must be practiced. Like any other skill, if you don’t keep it up, you get rusty. This is why it is good to constantly challenge yourself by setting up problems to solve. When Chris and I hit the water for a portfolio session, I had already given myself the assignment of capturing an iconic “hero” style image of the cranes in South Boston.

So, where do we begin? One word, pre-production!

1. Scout your location… Spend time exploring the place you will be shooting. Do it ahead of time either alone, or with a location scout. Get to know the subtle nuances of the place. Look for elements that you will either incorporate, or have to omit. The last thing you want is to realize your angle is shot because of a power line, or end up missing a cool feature because you just didn’t do your homework.

2. Permission… For the love of GOD, make sure you have permission to be where you are going to be. Research if you need a permit or not. Consider the new Homeland Security issues. Don’t assume that it will “be fine.” Remember Murphy’s Law. All it takes is one police officer or security guard and you will have your entire shoot shut down. I have been booted from National Parks, hounded by the TSA in airports, detained by State Troopers on the highway, and chased from power plants by guards with automatic rifles. Take the time, ahead of time. And after that… forget what I just said and remember that its often easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

3. Planning… Figure out where the sun is going to be. Bring a compass when you scout.  If by the water, note the tides for the area. Note times it takes to transit to and from the location, and take notes of any special gear you will need. You will be surprised at how many people forget to bring along something as simple as a flashlight to a late afternoon shoot that moves past sunset. The devil is in the details. The last thing you want to be doing is groping around in the dark trying to find all your expensive gear.

4. Develop systems, and stick to them… When you have a shoot that is going to take you to a remote place were you cant just run back to your studio, it is paramount that you bring everything you need with you the first time. I tend to suffer from forgetfulness from time to time.  I have found that the best way to combat this is to have concrete systems that are followed every time. This is most important when regarding your gear. Always pack it the SAME WAY! Also, DON’T BE LAZY when packing gear. When packing gear during, and at the end of a job, it is ALWAYS packed as if we were flying out the next day. This allows the bags to always be ready to go. When we leave for a shoot, we always know that they are complete, and ready for the shoot.

5. Watch out for a cloudy head… Try to go to bed at a reasonable time.  For some reason, I still have trouble with this. It is not uncommon for me to go to bed after midnight when I have have set a 3 am call for the production team.

6. Make it easy for yourself… Pack and fuel vehicles the night before. Get everything ready so you don’t have to think in the early morning when your head is not clear. If you are working with assistants, trade wake-up calls. I always have an agreed wake up time where I call the assistant, and he/she calls me. This is a backup system to make sure both of our lazy asses didn’t fall victim to zzzzzzz. (Back when I was assisting, I once overslept on a job working for Mike Weymouth. We ended up missing our flight, and had to fly to another city, rent a car, and drive 300 miles to the location. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.)

7. Make lists… Actually take the time to draw out the shoot. Sketch every piece of equipment you will need in the location you will use them. Draw each stand, pack, head, camera etc… Draw cables that attach each device. Draw sand bags, pocket wizards, batteries in flash units, super clamps on stands etc. EVERYTHING. Use it to pack, but more importantly, when you finally sit in the drivers seat on your way out the driveway, pull this sketch out and make sure it is all in the back of the truck. Believe me, this will save your ass!

For my pre-production, I hit the water two days prior for a location scout. I sat for a while exploring different angles making several photos in my mind. I watched the light, the water, and the traffic in the harbor. I noticed that the air traffic from Logan Airport took off right in the direction of the crane, enabling me to incorporate the jets into the shot. Often times it is little things like this that can make a good photo into a great one.
I made note of any security concerns, checked on the time it took me to drive from the location back to the boat ramp, then formulated a general plan for the morning I was going to shoot.

Map of the location

Map of the location

The shoot day… Nothing beats luck, and more often than not, luck is the key contributor to a great photograph. The morning we shot our photo, we were fortunate to have fantastic clouds in the sky. Also, we lucked out and the air traffic controllers were launching the jets down the exact runway I wanted in order for me to place an airplane in my shot.

How to shoot big things? I think the single most important trick to making great images of large scale subjects is the placement of the light. This is one of the 10 key lessons I like to teach when I get to teach. If you use this principle, you will never fail… Put the light behind big things. This will not only give you a sense of scale, but flood the frame with drama and add great tension. Also, don’t get confused by where the light is. If you are using artificial light like strobes, yes, it is very easy to in fact move the light. When you are shooting a large subject, and are using natural light. You cant move the light. So MOVE THE CAMERA! Place yourself in a position where the light is behind the subject. If its not, then MOVE! The way I try to have people remember this is by repeating…“shoot from the dark side!”

"Put light behind big things..."

"Put light behind big things..."

Now to the mechanics of the shot. I wanted to be as low as possible and use the vertical surface of the dock as a nice dark element in the foreground. To do this, we had checked the tide charts, and chosen a morning where the sunrise and low tide were pretty close together. We set the boat to the north west of the crane I wanted to photograph. This would give a dark shadow on all the surfaces facing the camera and allow nice contrast between these shadows and the sunlight that would be trimming the crane. This location would also let us incorporate the airplanes that were taking off from the airport across the channel, and allow the polarizer to work the best in order to make the clouds pop.

The final shot

The final shot

The final shot was made with the D3, using a 17-35mm, with a polarizer. In photoshop, I boosted a tiny bit of brightness and contrast, and burned a slight vignette on the edges of the frame.

There is no better excuse for getting out out on the water than under the guise of shooting some personal work.

00... Way way too early!!!!

Loading the truck at 03:00... Way way too early!!!!

Chris at the helm.  Thank GOD for coffee!!!

Chris at the helm. Thank GOD for coffee!!!

Today, I decided to get out into Boston Harbor in search of some new possibilities for my portfolio. We launched the boat in Hingham Harbor at 04:00 and ran the 8 miles out to the Graves in the dark. The water was perfectly smooth and the ride was great fun.

I wasn’t exactly sure of the image I was after, but I had some idea as I had been out to the lighthouse two days prior scouting. My objective for the day was to come back with two basic images. First, I wanted to shoot some cool panoramics incorporating the sunrise and the lighthouse. Secondly, I was after an industrial image inside the harbor by the airport. I will talk about that image in another post. Read the rest of this entry »

Silvia Express comming into Boston Harbor

Shot some cool new “industrial” photos today out in Boston Harbor.

We saw the pilot boat, and then the tugs head out of the harbor, so we knew a ship was soon to follow.

It was worth the wait, because when the Silvia Express steamed into the harbor, we were able to capture some of my favorite stuff… Gritty, contrasty, BW industrial photography.

There is just something amazing about shooting large objects to me. I just cant get enough. Especially when it involves being in cool crazy places like out on the water or hanging out of a helicopter.

This shot is my favorite from the selects. I did a tiny bit of dodging on the stern of the ship, but overall, the mood was pretty contrasty on its own. Just goes to show that you dont need beautiful light to get cool stuff.

I have been revisiting a lot of my older hi-ISO BW shots (3200) and have been messing around with the film grain setting in CS3. For the new web site, I have been scanning and adding a lot of the shots from my drive to Alaska. My intent was to try to recapture some of the grit I found when working with that medium.

The crazy part was that a squall was just about to blow in and drench us. About 10 min after this shot was taken, lightning started striking the city and we had to make a brake to the south so we wouldnt get fried.

Friend and mentor Lou Goodman on the Whaler

I Finally got my old studio mate out on the water for some fishing and a beer. Lou Goodman was one of my early mentors when I was moving from assisting into the photography business. I rented a 200sq foot office in his photo studio on Summer St. in Boston.

Lou and I collaborated on the Savage Arms film found on my site. Lou is probably most well known for his fantastic Light Painting. I believe he has some of his vintage stuff on his site http://www.lougoodmanphotography.com. After a decade of doing other art, Lou is finally shooting commercial work again!

Thanks for the sandwiches!

Friend and Weymouth Designer Robert Krivicich

Friend and Weymouth Designer Robert Krivicich

Well I finally got Robert (above) from Weymouth Design out of the office and out on the water!!!

We snuck away from our respective Macintosh’s and headed north to Joppa Flats at the mouth of the Merrimack. I wish I could say I caught the larger fish, but alas, Robert is the better Angler and kicked my ass on both the fish count, and the size contest.

Robert is an amazing designer. This September, he and I will have been working together for nine years. We have worked on some interesting projects together.

My absolute favorite shot for Weymouth Design has to have been the Annual Report for US Shipping (as seen in the “campaign” section of the web site.) Robert was the creative director, and Aaron Haesaert (now at Catapult Thinking) was the designer. We agreed to shoot the job with Fuji Velvia film, and use a lot of panoramics. We shot that job with the Nikon F5 as well as both the Widelux and the Hasselblad X-Pan.

Another helicopter shot

This is one of my favorite shots from the job. We were just off the surface of the ocean, 20 miles off the coast of Puerto Rico standing on the skid of a Jet Ranger. Talk about a fun job! These are my favorites, and I am always thankful to get the opportunity to make these pictures.

Here are some other of my favorites from that Annual Report:

Portrait of the Captain

Portrait of the Captain

AB Portrait

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