Wednesday, June 3, 2009
No telephones anymore!
I got an email in the middle of the night from half way around the world. Lonely Planet, the travel book company, has been handling my travel stock for the last several years, ever since I published "travel+PHOTOGRAPHY: Off the Charts". Now they were soliciting me to cover my hometown, Boston, for one of their upcoming guidebooks. I have relied on their publications myself. But shooting brought up a lot of new age issues.
Lonely Planet represents some of the best travel photographers in the world & their hard cover books are very impressive, but I have never been all that enthusiastic about the ubiquitous handbooks that you see every awkward tourist carrying in their hands while crawling over the globe. But being assigned to do the whole thing was a “horse of a different color”. I have shot for many travel magazines & advertisements but this had potential.
Firstly, the budget was an obstacle because they “pay by the pound”. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the list of locations was long…over 75. Because money was finite I was, at first not all that interested. But my studio manager enticed me with an idea. Since I knew so many people in Boston or two phone calls away, we could ostensibly get access to anything & improve the level of photography with every institution, large or small.
Secondly, that did not solve the production costs. Architectural or documentary shots of famous Boston landmarks were not enough. Lonely Planet wanted examples of the places being experienced in some way. This was a problem. They use stock photography so often because too much of travel photography is chance.
This past weekend I taught a workshop on Cape Cod. I arranged two dawn shoots. For the first one we had “pea soup” fog. It made for great pictures but it might not be useful for the “always-sunny-while-on-vacation” photography needed in table top books. The second day was glorious but the weatherman predicted it would be bad.
We did not have time to repeat anything with such an extensive undertaking. So we had to stack the deck. After much discussion we decided to enlist the technology of new social media. We sent out calls for models & assistants through Facebook, Twitter & Craig’s List. And we called the placement directors at a bunch of photography schools in the surrounding area.
The response was overwhelming. People of every ilk volunteered to lug equipment in one shot, only to be used as “tourists” in the background of another. However, it was a logistic nightmare; coordinating schedules, shooting before & after many places were closed getting corporate permissions & the right people to sign off.
I was flabbergasted that we only had to tell the managers & owners it was for a guidebook & everyone (eventually) capitulated. Only one school required to see proof.
We were allowed backstage at the symphony, dress rehearsals, sound checks, into the bowels & surrounded by dinosaurs.
Rather than drag big studio strobes everywhere, we shot the whole project with 3 Nikon SB800’s. I recently published a book titled “Speedlights & Speedlites: Creative Flash Photography at Lightspeed” (Focal Press ISBN: 978-0-240-81207-6). I have used them extensively in the past few years, but I really discovered how to utilize them to instantaneously “relight” every frame until I got something appropriate. I was able to play them like a piano & fine tune every shot. We photographed voluminous museums, bustling restaurants, dark, crowded clubs & tight fitting retails stores.
As the deadline drew near we became more & more anxious cramming three & four locations into a day, from 7:00am in the morning for union-controlled theaters to after midnight at jazz clubs. My studio hopes to benefit from the residual sales for years to come. Watch for it in the fall of 2009.
All three Photos Shot while on assignment for Lonely Planets