What do you do when you’re on location and things just aren’t working out? In the second of his monthly columns for N-Photo, Joe McNally reveals the importance of three little words...
If the magic is missing from your shots, Joe has three little words for you…
We all have perilous moments in the field; those times when the sun’s not up yet, and the location looks like garbage, and the sky is featureless, and you don’t have a clue what to do. The crew is looking to you to bark stirring orders that will lead to heroic photography and you just hope it starts raining so you have an excuse to go back to the hotel.
There’s a new ad campaign out there for Apartments.com, featuring Jeff Goldblum as a TV huckster selling you the idea of the moment: “Change your apartment. Change the world.”
In the realm of location photography, you are dealing with your own smallish version of the world, trying to make whatever particular slice of the globe you find yourself standing on attractive, interesting, vibrant, or at the very least, modestly pleasing. When it’s not going well, you have to have the gumption to gulp hard, stop everything, and start over.
“Change your lens, change the world.”
The gift of a different lens is a different perspective on the scene, and, potentially, fresh wind in your visual sails.
Here’s how I got the photo at the lower-right. I shot the photo at the top right, and then moved in closer. I was foundering on the rocks of poor decision making and uncertainty, and was operating with zero clarity of thought.
The instructional subset here is straight out of the book of Jay Maisel – “And, yea, the photographer saw that it was not good, and heard a voice in his head saying, ‘Move yer ass!’” (That’s actually Jay’s voice, and it has a New York accent.)
Stop. Walk away, and walk around. Shooting really wide? Try shooting really long. That was my situation for the shot. I was in close, desperately trying to include unnecessary information, and I didn’t need to. I stopped. Pulled chocks. Walked away. Tried long glass, and boom! I had a picture.
Now, in the new spot, I was literally shouting distance from the crew and the model. Back in the old days of lenses, manually focusing this much glass through the dust and heat of the desert would have been an iffy chore. But here, with dead-accurate AF, the resolution of the D810, and the clarity and coatings of the optics brought to bear, I’m shooting my model from across the equivalent of a football pitch and I can still see her pores.
Which means it’s a wonderful time to be a photographer. You can confidently step onto the tightrope of a job and not just shuffle across in conservative fashion. You can stop midway and do a trick. Try a somersault, pictorially speaking.
And, again, as we have all experienced, once you nail that one good photo, it puts swagger in your stride. You are no longer fearful of the job. And it’s important, given the psychology of location work, that you nail that first foray with a camera. It sets the tone for the day, reassures the crew they’re not working for a loser or an idiot, makes the models anxious for you to shoot them some more… all that flows freely once you’ve shot your first successful picture.
So, trust yourself to switch it up. Trust the gear. And, you know, move yer ass!
With dead-accurate AF and the clarity of the optics, I’m shooting from across the equivalent of a football pitch and I can still see her pores
The lighting was simplicity itself: one Profoto B4, fitted with a beauty dish, and a warm gelled B1 as a backlight, assisting the sun and defining the windswept cape
Getting in close and shooting wide (top) wasn’t really working for Joe. Walking away – quite literally in this case – and switching lens, from wide to supertelephoto, made all the difference