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Archive for March, 2011

Antelope Island is, as I mentioned before, one of my all time favorite places. It sits in the Great Salt Lake and looks pretty Lord-of-the-Ringish. It has a healthy fauna with plenty of antelopes and buffalo roaming around. The way to get there is by a long very straight road that traverses the lake.

On the second day of our Giddy Up shoot we met again at my hotel downtown Salt Lake City. Again we had three riders, Tate and Cameron from the day before and as a new addition David Orion Thompson. We also had hired Hillary, a female model from Craigslist, her though for only half a day.

Once we got to the island, we ran into some problems. We had called a few days earlier about a permit and were told to just get it on the day of the shoot, that it would be a matter of minutes. I confirmed this again the day before, but of course once we got there nobody knew nothin’ and we had to make a slow march through state park bureaucracy. It would have been pretty frustrating except for the fact that the van with all the BMX’ers had broken down along the way and we wouldn’t have had anybody to photograph anyway. In the time it took us to get the permit, the boys somehow managed to get the broken heap off the road and to organize a new vehicle. When we all finally made it to the location we decided to play it like rock stars. Who really starts working before 11 o’clock anyway? In any case it helped my nerves considerably that the shoot the day before had worked out so well.

For the first set-up we picked a little dirt road at the south side of the island and started with Hillary since we would only have her for one more hour thanks to our earlier adventures. She and David definitely looked like they could be a couple and we tried to create a shoot that was half hipster, half Norman Rockwell.

After that we went to a patch of reeds near the lake. I always loved playing in these things as a child since this was probably the closest a German kid would come to a Tarzanesque environment.

After the girl left we went back to the dirt road with the riders. I had told them before the shoot that I wanted to incorporate Western iconography into the images of them riding. Cam didn’t need much prodding, he had an extensive collection of old time country music on his i-pod and a fine variety of cowboy shirts, but he went far beyond the call of duty by bringing a bona-fide bullwhip to the shoot.
He was very good at making the bike ride by itself even on a bumpy dirt road, and so here he gave it a push towards the camera, grabbed the whip and and gave it a good smack at precisely the right moment. Yeeh-haw!

After the dirt road shoots we broke for lunch at a few nearby picnic tables and noticed a small plane circling low and slow overhead as if looking for something.

After lunch we moved to the next location where David performed a bit of rodeo inspired riding. As with the other set-ups, we shot everything on a Mamiya RZ with a P25 Phase One back and lit the scenes with Profotos 7b’s. We usually arranged the heads with regular reflectors in as much of a circle as we could get away with.

For the last set-up of the day we moved to the access road to the island. Usually a sleepy stretch of blacktop were you can see oncoming traffic for miles. On that day it was far from sleepy though. We had set up our lights and had just started shooting when we saw police lights flashing in the distance. After a few minutes a huge Suburban police truck came flying by at 90 miles an hour, a few minutes later another police car with lights and sirens shot by followed by fire trucks, ambulances and more police cars. We kept shooting through the whole parade because even at their break neck speed, we had minutes to get out of the way. Cameron was manning the radio and finally found out that a private plane with a lone pilot went down on a remote part of the island earlier in the day. The plane we saw at lunch must have been looking for the missing aircraft.

Despite a bit of nervous energy on the set from all the racing emergency vehicles the shoot turned out very nicely. We had Cam (who also brought some nice suits beside the bullwhip) jump “over” the rental car. The image is a simple composite to get both the bike and the car in focus, I didn’t change the height of the bike at all. Cameron really could jump.

These two images are the only ones we really used photoshop on (besides color, contrast, blah, blah, blah) to showcase a bit of the different riding styles. Where Cam could really get high (aw, c’mon, you know what I mean) Tate could really go low. His ability to dip the bike and pop it back up was a thing of beauty. We had to hurry up with these images because at the end of the day the light was changing fast and we needed consistency for the composites.

After that we turned the set-up around to get a shot of the three of them with a nice sunset.

The images we produced during the two shoot days were pretty well received. Fab Julie Grahame picked the Bonneville pics for a feature on aCurator.com, David’s bucking bike made it on the American Photography contest website (and, as I just realized, disappeared again thanks to their low notch web maintenance), and the series placed second at the Internation Photography Awards (the Lucies) in the self-promo category, also clearly visible to an archaeologist on their engaging winner’s gallery.

Unfortunately at the same time the whole market for stock photography turned to and I decided to hold back with submitting the images until they have a better chance to make money. Hopefully the market for stock images as well as photography in general will rebound, but I do have a queasy feeling that the last pic of the day might have been a premonition.

Giddy Up-Bonneville
Giddy up-Intro

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The Bonneville salt flats near the Utah/Nevada border are so eerily beautiful and spectacular that I’ve wanted to shoot there for years.  Me and 10 million other shutterbugs.

The salt flats are one of the most used locations in the US.  Everything gets shot on the white flat surface from cars to cellphones to pantyhose.  It makes sense of course, you can add immediate natural grandeur to even the boringest of products and it’s practically not possible to make anything look bad out there no matter how large the lack of talent might be in the creative team. And that’s just the bad stuff. There is also a lot of really good photography going on in that spot. Kind of intimidating, really.

So, for quite a while I was mulling over what project I could do here and what my approach would be. I checked out Bonneville the Winter before (during another ski trip) and it had an inch or two of water on it. It looked great and different from most of the pictures I’d seen before. I kept that in mind and when the possibility of shooting BMX riders came up I started wondering what they could do with this place.

I went for a location scout and found (to my relief) that the water was back. The salt underneath was surprisingly firm. I asked Jordan Utley, our local fixer and BMX videographer extraordinaire, if his friends would be willing to ride their bikes in the shallow saltwater and he assured me that they would be up for anything.  Nice.

On the first day of our Giddy Up project Jordan brought along his friends Matt Beringer, Cameron Wood, and Tate Roskelley.  Fine riders, one and all.  We also booked a female model from Craigslist to go lifestyle-y in case the bike pics fell flat.  Her day would turn out to be pretty uneventful.

We met up at our hotel in SLC and started the two hour drive West. The location was incredibly easy. There is a rest stop on Interstate 80 that’s architecturally cool and just steps from where the water started. We parked, walked 15 yards, and set up the lights. By the time we were ready the guys were already in the lake hopping around like frogs on payday.

For the next image we moved to the picnic area (another 15 steps) and set up the Profoto 7b’s in a 3/4 circle.  We had to rehearse this shoot a bit since the timing was crucial to everybody’s health.  First Cameron made a run and hopped on the table with his front wheel up (that’s called a “manual” or “Manuel” if you’re from Mexico), then Matt rode in and jumped on the bench with another Manuel and then Tate came screeching around the corner with his bike dipped low.  Everything had to happen right on time and at a fairly high speed.  It was amazing how quickly the three guys figured it out and how consistently they could repeat it.

After that shot we moved along to use the striking architecture of the rest stop.  The first two pictures I shot with a 250 mm lens on the Mamya RZ from across the parking lot.  I liked the look but every communication with the riders involved a 30 yard sprint, then jog, then walk to and fro.

The image with the 3 of them was basically them improvising on their marks.  It was amazing how high Cam could pop his bike of the ground.

Here’s a little aside:  a while ago a German BMX’er crashed pretty badly during a shoot of mine, breaking his hand and a bunch of bike parts in the process.  When I bought him replacements parts he requested pieces from S & M Bikes that had names like “Beringer fork” or the “Beringer stem”.  So it was funny to meet the “Beringer” himself on this shoot.

The last set up of the shoot was at the end of a little road that led out into the middle of the flats.  While we shot some portraits by the edge of the water the unoccupied talent rode way out into the middle of the lake.  In the fading evening light it had all the creamy dreamy quality that I had hoped for from Bonneville.

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Giddy Up-Intro

As far as cities go Salt Lake City’s reputation amongst quite a few New Yorkers is pretty bad thanks to the fact that it’s the capital of the (certifiably) strange Mormon universe. Of course New York’s reputation is quite similar with quite a few Mormons except you have to exchange the words “Mormon universe” for “liberal-socialist-chardonnay-sipping-brie-eating-universe”.
But in the spirit of the new American civility let me tell you: SLC is actually quite nice.

It has coffee shops, movie theaters, espresso bars, clothing boutiques, cafe au lait outlets, dive bars, latte purchasing stations, bowling alleys, cappucino factories, restaurants and-did I mention?- coffee shops. It’s kind of like Brooklyn only smaller, almost completely white and with very large mountains right next to it.

For a ski trip it’s awesome. You can stay in town and pay very reasonable prices for hotel, food and drinks (Utah’s liquor laws are not nearly as bad as rumor has it), get properly caffeinated in the morning and have your pick of a whole variety of great ski resorts within a half to one hour car ride. It also has a great Austro-German restaurant named Vienna Bistro. The chef/owner’s name is Frodi and he definitely knows how it’s done.

So in early 2009 I was planning a ski trip followed by a stock shoot in the fair state of Utah.

For photo shoots Utah is hard to beat because of it’s great scenery, good photographic infrastructure (lots of movies and ads are shot there) and accessibility. It’s also pretty easy to find good models. A lot of people out there are really into sports and you can hire plenty of good looking athletes.

Most importantly Utahns, Utahrinos, Utahlitarians, people from Utah are very friendly. On one ill advised hike in Zion National Park, a friend of mine and I ran into a very large group of young Mormon hikers going the opposite way on a very narrow path full of switchbacks. After every curve we ran into a new gaggle of nice people. By the time we reached the top of the mountain we had heard “Hi there-where are you from?-Germany?-well, Guten Tag then” so many times, it almost made me cry.

A few weeks before I was scheduled to fly out there I did a magazine shoot with the lovely stylist Jenesee Utley. I told Jenesee about my travel plans and it turned out that she herself is a Utahrette from Salt Lake City. I told her that I was planning a stock shoot which at that point was to be “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”. We chatted and she strongly recommended to call up her brother Jordan for local help. Jordan is a videographer that shoots BMX videos and Jenesee thought he might be able to put me in touch with some local riders if I wanted to shoot some BMX pics.

So, the misses and I flew out there and got the skiing part out of the way without doing too much damage to limb and ego. In that time we also met up with Jordan who turned out to be as nice as advertised. He showed me some videos he shot with local riders and the skill level of these kids was just amazing (so were his videos). I immediately knew that I wanted to work with them. I also immediately knew that I had to come up with a different angle to shoot these guys. BMX is mostly an urban sport and the videos were usually showing the riders turning typical city features like stairs and handrails into a playground. There are also a lot of really good photographs of them doing that. I knew it wouldn’t make much sense for me to do what a lot of good BMX shooters do all the time. The more I thought about it the more I was sure that I had to get these kids out of the city to do their tricks.

So when it was time to work my assistant came out on flight that I had bought with my frequent flyer miles. We started off with a location scout, which is always a highlight out west.

I pretty much knew that I wanted to shoot at the Bonneville Saltflats. I knew from prior trips that a lot of times they’re under an inch or two of water in the winter and the effects are just surreal. There is also a very interesting rest stop along I-80 that borders the flats. The water level turned out to be perfect and off we went to our second location Antelope Island which is situated in the Great Salt Lake. One of my favorite places ever.

We started the permit process, rented some gear (one Profoto 7b with 2 heads to go with the 2 kits I brought), bought a bit of unlogofied clothing at the Gap and Old Navy and put a call out for 2 female models on craigslist, for the romantic element.

Here are some of the landscapes I shot during location scouting (in their unspotted glory).

There will be more about the actual shoot in the next blog post.

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