Shooting from the hip ( western style)
6 Jul 2009
Several months ago I shot this photo shoot for a magazine that never made use of the images. Rather than see the results go to waste, I decided to upload them here. But that is another story. This one is about letting the landscape guide you. Going into the shoot I knew I wanted to conduct the shoot in a less densely populated area of the city. I also knew that the area I was going to shoot in had a series of alleys and large swatches of land. The absence of skyscrapers yield to the sky. I knew I could get that "big sky" sort of feeling. I decided to let the landscape guide me. Since I knew this was going to be a shoot using all male models (I even accompanied the stylist in picking out the clothes) I knew I wanted a James Dean Rebel Without a Cause look. Also knowing how I love those old Western movies where the bad guys come to town and start wrecking havoc, I knew I could reference these sort of storylines in my mind.
You may first doubt yourself in thinking like this. But its ok trust me. Models tend to be actors and they appreciate your instructions. You come off looking so prepared. Fashion photography is often all about illusion anyway. So don't worry, you will not come off looking and sounding stupid!
First off I began by communicating this, "you guys are bad asses riding in to town for God knows what" scenario to the models. I told Siblia (the blonde) that he was the indifferent guy; I told Jose he was the tough guy...so on and so forth until all had a role assigned them. When you do this, your models get to wrap themselves around a nebulous idea. All the while you explain why this location helps set the stage. Second, I spotted a launching pad:a place to start the shoot. It was hot that day so when I spotted this building offering shade I picked it. This way the guys got to stay cool and get into character without the sun blazing down on them. Not only did the shade provide relief from the heat, it proved to be a convincing stage> The look was the backside of town all shadowy as if the guys drifted in from out of nowhere.... Music score up...oh, I digress! Anyway I would coach them by suggesting "you guys are plotting a heist. I assigned roles, Austin, I said, you are the leader..Tell them what the plan is. As soon as the guys began to use their bodies: gesturing to one another, and looking at each other, I would holler, hold that, and they would. I would tweak this by suggesting a slight turn here a twist there and after it look authentic enough, shoot a few frames. And a "frame" for me is a frame. I still use film and I tend to want every other frame to advance the story. I know this ( shooting film) is outdated but I am lazy. Hence, the name OLD SCHOOL. I continue to work with what works for me. Economy is what I grew up on. I am a poor guy not use to luxury so I tend to want to "get it in the can". Insert violins here.
As yo shoot you decide when it is time to advance the story. Start walking, I would say. You'll find this difficult at first talking while holding your camera up to your face. Sometimes I have to yell around the camera. I admit, this is a little awkward, It does feel pretension at first but you soon learn to quiet the doubt. As the guys walked, I circled them like a animal of prey, looking for my best angle. Sometimes I would ask them to 'turn away' or 'towards me'..Seeking spontaneous looks stares and body language. All the while I would look for the tell tell signs of the old west ( big blue sky) (abandoned looking buildings) (empty streets). Fortunately this shoot took place on a Sunday. As stated above, this was an old area of town. Southwest Atlanta to be exact. There were fewer parked cars and hardly any traffic. Landscapes are so much more suggestive without all the urban clutter of cars and people. Then again, I was not going for a big city look.
After I had had enough, I would announce "THAT IS A WRAP". We would go back inside the office where refreshments and clothes were laid ready for the next look
As the models made ready for the next look, I told them of our next location....Oh, I forgot...You want to scout out your locations in advance. I knew this area and had mapped in my mind where I wanted to go. I also kept alternatives in my mind. When the second look was ready, I had already decided where I was going. Again I briefed the guys on the scenario.
As the day progressed the guys got better and better. Having never worked together but all being experienced models, they soon began to joust with each other. They began to plot their next moves. The landscape worked for them. They agreed all "WAS GOING GOOD". You want to encourage that sort of thing by pointing out good things they did to each other. They will began to adopt the roles.
My second location was a track and field. I had decided to drop the pretense of them being hooligans and allow a bit of horseplay....Not to much horseplay as these clothes had to go back to the respective stores. By the the way, I would have the stylists make a list of who wore what so that each store could receive proper credit. I know that this is the stylist's job but I always stay involved and communicate the character types to the stylists. My reason is I am hoping the stylists understands my objectives and dresses they guys to fit the parts.
As the day wears on and light changes allow your models to change with it. Light changes faster near sunset, Make a plan to allow roles to reflect the color temperatures as they occur: Stage a Hot sweaty look (grab a coke) when it looks like it, and a cool shadowy cooler attitude when appropriate. As to the selections herein, I added a few pictures of women because the bulk of my contacts here on JPG tend to come to see women. So I just made up the text as I uploaded the pictures. Selfish reasons. I know
If this were a layout for a client, I would not have any involvement in this. Still I would hope that what I shot served to guide the editor and writer. In big scale and well financed fashion publications, I probably would have been given an outline. But when you do not have that and you are left to get it. Let the landscape be your guide. If you get lost so what, you'll have fun and eventually, you will "get it in the can"....The camera that is.