Above and be­yond plan A

Brett Stan­ley ex­plains how con­cep­tual ideas can turn into far greater re­al­i­ties

The Shed - - Column -

Go­ing from con­cept to re­al­ity with a photo shoot is quite of­ten the hard­est part of cre­at­ing an im­age. Most times you start with a brief from the client, some­thing wishy­washy and non-spe­cific, which you then ab­sorb be­fore let­ting your mind’s eye go to town. What comes out the other end is usu­ally a se­ries of com­pro­mises, step­ping down from the in­cred­i­ble im­age you saw in your head to the worst-case sce­nario, ‘this is the best that we can do with the fa­cil­i­ties we have’ kind of im­age.

Ob­vi­ously the last one is less than ideal, but you’ve got to have a plan B if plan A is just too am­bi­tious.

Don’t get me wrong, aim for plan A of course — re­mem­ber the say­ing: aim for the moon, if you miss you may hit a star.

Now it might ap­pear that I’m set­ting this up to be a tale of woe, a story of how a shoot went awry, but it’s not. It’s the ex­act op­po­site, a tale of how some­times you get more than you ever dreamed.

It started with a sim­ple brief for a mu­si­cian’s al­bum cover. She wanted to re­flect the two sides to her mu­sic, the hard and the soft, the yin and the yang. The cre­ative team sat around the ta­ble and we spit­balled a few ideas — a day and a night shoot, some­thing out in na­ture — some­one men­tioned head­ing up to Yosemite Na­tional Park, Cal­i­for­nia, and the flood­gates opened.

I’d been to Yosemite just a month be­fore, and had seen some great places to shoot. It’s such a green and lush park, but also has some black­ened ar­eas from the huge for­est fires in 2014. I could see it in my head, the soft and beau­ti­ful shots sur­rounded by the green trees, and the hard shots among the black­ened trunks. Per­fect bal­ance — and quite doable.

As the model was get­ting ready in the ho­tel nearby, I set out to scout some lo­ca­tions. I was driv­ing along think­ing that I knew where the lush green­ery was, but try­ing to re­mem­ber how far away it was from the scorched for­est, when I no­ticed the traf­fic backed up in front of me. It’s not un­usual to see traf­fic when you’re near a na­tional park, as peo­ple slow down for an­i­mals all the time. I was ex­pect­ing to see a brown bear or some­thing just as adorable, but it was some­thing much big­ger — a con­trolled for­est fire.

I couldn’t be­lieve my luck, the fire brigade was just pack­ing up, and as I spoke to one of the fire­fight­ers he men­tioned it was just a bit of back burn­ing to stop any larger fires from break­ing out. I told him what we were go­ing to do, and he said that as long as we stayed close to the road we would be safe. I headed back to the ho­tel to let the team know that I had the per­fect spot for tonight’s shoot, and we may even have some smoke.

Once we got back to the for­est, in the dark, I re­al­ized how much of an un­der­state­ment that had been — the trees were still burn­ing. It was in­cred­i­ble, but to­tally safe. The ground was cold and wet, and the trees that were aflame were set at such an an­gle that we could use them as a back­drop with­out any dan­ger. It was the sound that was so amaz­ing — pops and crack­les were com­ing from all around us, and the smell of the waft­ing smoke was in­tox­i­cat­ing, some­times smelling like in­cense from the dif­fer­ent types of wood sur­round­ing us.

We started to shoot and it was look­ing per­fect, more than I could have ever hoped for. I had day­dreamed about a smoky, moon­lit wood, and I got a flame-filled for­est in­stead. I couldn’t have been hap­pier, ex­cept for when half­way through the shoot it started to snow. We were in a for­est fire and it was now snow­ing. This was so much more than plan A, that’s for sure.

The next day, stink­ing of stale smoke, we headed into the park to take our soft day­light shots, and again we hit pay dirt. On the edge of a steep cliff wall, our model danced as the light snow fell heav­ier and heav­ier, fur­ther re­in­forc­ing the idea that dreams can come true.

And while I doubt I’ll ever get the smell of smoke out of my gear, I do think we may have missed the moon, but hit a star or two on the way.

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