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Posts Tagged ‘Cross Country’

During a short and sweet road trip with the missus through Wyoming last year I noticed that there were a lot of bikers out and about and after a while it dawned on me that they were on their way to the big yearly meet-up in Sturgis, South Dakota. Most of them have been on their bikes for days and you could see in their faces the effects of the wind and the sun. It seemed like we could do a nice little portrait series.

The first day we wanted to do the shoot was too rainy and we decided to use the time for a thorough location scout. We drove out of Cody and took the Chief Joseph Byway to the Beartooth Highway, which took us all the way up into Montana. One road was more spectacular than the next. We decided to set up shop the next morning at a place called Dead Indian Pass.
The spot overlooked a beautiful valley where Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce faked out a pursuing US Army on their (painfully close but unsuccessful) run towards the Canadian border.

We set up lights at a pull-out and asked the bikers that stopped there if they wanted to sit for a portrait. I think we got a nice collection of Amurrrican (and a few Canadian) archetypes.

To check out the entire series, click here.

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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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As the great philosopher and part-time musician George Harrison once said “all things must pass”, and last week was the time of another passing. The great green beast, my Volvo station wagon is no more.

On a trip down to Philly, halfway between New York and the City of lovely brothers, near the end of the NJ Turnpike, Susie and I were cruising along, minding our business when the car emitted a foreboding screech. A little bit later this was followed by a blinking transmission light and a little after that the car started slipping pretty seriously. We pulled over and called my friends at AAA. After their customary “Oh no, not you again” they arranged for a tow truck which got us to the nearest service station in Bordentown, NJ.
The mechanic after a brief diagnosis gave us the bad news, the “tranny” was shot. The tranny is kind of like the reproductive part of a car, and any problem down there is complicated and expensive. That, combined with other problems that needed fixing like a sagging bumper, a dubious timing belt, an exhausted car freshening tree, would have pushed the repair costs way beyond what the car was worth. So we decided to empty the coins out of the ashtray and say fairwell to our four wheeled friend.
I can’t say it was a dependable car, as a matter of fact it was somewhere between a lemon and a grapefruit. It’s volvnerability to all sorts of mechanical and electronic failures stranded me in some interesting places like Whitefish, MT, Death Valley, and a Walmart in Wisconsin. But we also traveled the country from New York to San Francisco, from Duluth to Savannah. We climbed the peaks of the Sierra and drove the Road to the Sun. We went to Montreal in -400 degree weather and crawled at 3 mph through a biblical rainstorm in Oregon. We drove the prairies of North Dakota and explored many a pothole in Brooklyn.

Good times, good times.

Rust in peace swede ride.

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One of my most favorite parts of being a photographer is that I’m allowed to use a smoke machine pretty much whenever I want to. During my cross-country trip a few years ago I even ended up buying (a used) one, since that was cheaper than renting. I’m not sure how many people drive thousands of miles with a smoke machine in their car, but in any case, I’m one of them. So, Mr. Smokey and I went to San Francisco to visit my friends Jerry and Laurel and do a little shooting for stock. We had shot on a boat earlier that day and still had time to squeeze in a few more set-ups at another location. We went back to Jerry and Laurel’s beautiful house and started setting up in the kitchen.

We lit the place with a Porty and a head in the hallway, a 7b and a head behind the camera and a 7b hidden behind the stove with one head pointing at the model from below and the other head stuck in the oven. Also in the oven was my travel companion, kite-high on fog juice, chugging away.

I love disaster pictures. I really enjoy taking photographs of things gone wrong and trouble around the corner. At the same point I want to make money and stock pictures should be commercially viable of course. So here I talked myself into believing that this could be a great ad for a food delivery service or a restaurant business. I mean what better way to send a person to Taco Bell than to show the futility of home cooking. Alas, I can’t claim that I have produced a bestseller that foggy night in San Francisco. I had to learn that unfortunately disaster and commerce don’t always go hand in hand (at least not in stock photography). And yet, deep down inside I feel that smoking up a joint is it’s own reward and the shoot was completely worth it.

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Not quite 3 years ago I decided it was time again for a cross country trip. I did my first major road trip in 1992 in a Pontiac Catalina Safari Station Wagon with 2 Nikons and plenty of Tri-X and it was such a great experience that I was itching to repeat it.



I bought a 1996 Volvo 960 Station Wagon (’cause it’s not a real road trip unless your car is big and temperamental) and hit the road.

I was planning on doing some Getty shoots along the West coast since I had a little support network there, and so this here story is about what happened in San Francisco.

First off I was staying with my friends Jerry and Laurel. I met Jerry when I was on my first cross country trip and he was living in Chicago. I had his number from a friend of mine and called him up when I hit town. He graciously invited me, a perfect stranger to stay in his gigantic loft on the South Side. The loft was in a house that used to belong to Al Capone’s gambling operation, but was home to several young artists when I got there. I had a great time hanging out and Jerry and I stayed in touch, periodically visiting each other. Eventually he moved to San Francisco and married Laurel, a smart, beautiful woman with a sharp sense of humor.

Both are gifted painters and like many artistic freelancers they are resourceful, creative and great problem solvers. Though neither Jerry nor Laurel have the technical know-how of an experienced photo assistant, they are quick learners and great on set with their local knowledge, creative enthusiasm and grounding sarcasm. I hired them as assistants and we started brain storming about what my options were to produce some unusual imagery in SF with a limited budget.

After bouncing some ideas around, Laurel mentioned her friend Andy, who lived on a boat and who rented “the Far Side” for harbor tours and parties. We went to see him and his flat bottomed tin can, settled on a price and started the casting process.

Since the shoot was done for stock, I figured their should be a business as well as a sports as well as a personal angle to it, and so we started looking for businessy-looking guys between 40 and 60, with athletic qualities who could also be gangsters. It’s all about options. Andy, the boat captain pointed us to the South End Rowing Club and we found Dwight and Ned there. Dwight was actually a business man and Ned worked in ship repair. Both were hardcore open water swimmers who had no problems jumping into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay.




Simultaneously we put an ad on craigslist to cast for a younger female model (again options on the shoot) and found Annis.

I had my own Profoto 7b kit (2 heads) and a Hensel Porty kit (2 heads) which became increasingly unreliable (aka useless) on my road trip. In addition we rented a 7b kit along with a bunch of sandbags from Pro Camera.

The camera was my Mamiya RZ67 with a Phase One P25 digital back. We used mostly wide angle lenses since quarters were tight and we had to fit in the scenery.

We did our own styling and worked without Hair & Make-up. The female models are usually pretty good at doing their own make-up and the guys don’t need a lot anyway. Minor stuff can get cleaned up in Photoshop. As much as a good groomer can add to certain projects, it can be a huge time drain on others, especially on location and I always weigh the pros and cons for each shoot.

We met at the marina and got all our gear as well as food and drinks on board and started towards the bay bridge.

It was much harder shooting from a boat than I had anticipated. My usual way of working is to select a graphically strong background, get the light to my liking and then make sure that everything stays the same so I can concentrate on the person/s in the picture. But that’s not what they let you do on a boat in SF. To begin with, the ambient light was changing about every 15 seconds. There were clouds, sunshine, haze and everything in between and then to make matters even more interesting, that boat would not hold still for even a minute. You get the background just so, then you get the model in position and … hey, off wandered the background? But beside the problems it was a lot of fun to boss an entire boat around.

My general approach to photography is to look for tensions rather than harmony. So the basic idea behind this shoot was to juxtapose outdoor pursuits with an urban setting, and the human vulnerability with scenic grandeur.

In the first picture we put Annis on the edge of the ship. She was very athletic and (stating the obvious) had a great body.


We put 4 lights up with regular reflectors and tried to get as close to a “surround” light as the boat and framing allowed. Since Annis had a very warm almost orange skin tone she contrasted nicely with the blue morning haze hanging over the bay.


Next up was the Golden Gate Bridge. I think it’s just about impossible to overstate the beauty of this span. The landscape of the Golden Gate is stunning and the fact that the Marin Headlands on the other side are undeveloped is simply unbelievable. I’ve seen this bridge already in many pictures and a bunch of times in person, but seeing it for the first time from the water made me all warm and fuzzy. Until that cold wind picked up, that is.

We had a kayak that Ned got us free of charge from the rowing club. A little banged up, but nothing Photoshop couldn’t handle. We put 4 lights from 2 packs at the edge of the boat on full power. Annis got in the kayak and did her best to keep in the lights while Andy steered the boat and tried to keep her (the boat) steady. Meanwhile the bridge appeared and disappeared in the fog. Everything was shifting, tilting, shaking, floating, drifting and blowing and in my head I was yelling at Mamiya for not putting autofocus on the RZ. Not many frames were useable from this set-up, but in the end you need only one good one.


After we got Annis out of the water it became time for the guys to shine. Everybody who ever dipped a toe in the Pacific around San Francisco knows how refreshing these waters are. Ned and Dwight jumped probably 10 to 12 times and when they got out there was a frigid wind blowing. No cream puffs these two.

Again there were 4 lights with regular reflectors arranged in a semi circle around the 2 jumpers.

Not to be outdone by the guys Annis hopped in for a quick swim as well. No sissy this one either.

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