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(L to R) Richard, Kerry, Greg

(L to R) Richard, Keri, Greg

The Annual Report season is back in full swing.  One my  favorite accounts is shooting for Raytheon, and this is for several reasons.

Firstly, we get to do what do best, which is to hit the road and solve problems.  Negotiating airports, traveling to new places, meeting new faces, and just generally spending time on the road is what I love most about this buisness.  The photo above was taken from our frist day shooting down in Rhode Island.  Richard (who loves the muscle poses) insisted on talking Keri (our Raytheon contact) into posing for the camera after the shoot. Read the rest of this entry »

dirty_lab

We shoot a fair amount of Science and Technology photography around this time of year (Annual Report Season) and one question always seems to come up year after year…

Why are science labs so messy?

I actually think this is why I love to shoot in labs so much.  Part of the tremendous challenge in shooting great photographs in locations like this is prospect of making a silk purse out of a sows ear.

The simple trick to making labs look cool is light!  If you can learn where to put your light in a lab, you are golden.  One easy place to start is how you think of walls.  You can either choose to make them go dark, or blow them out with tons of light.  If you have a blank wall, blow it out… If there is lots of clutter, let it go dark.  Also, always remember to put your light behind big things.  This will always give you some nice drama.

Here are some photos that were shot this season in labs.

lab1

lab4

lab6

lab7

lab3

lab8

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.

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