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Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco’

As I have mentioned in an earlier post, the Missus and I recently made a trip to the left coast of Amurrrica so I could finally relax from my mediterranean lifestyle. As usual I decided to bring the shabang (2 7bs, 4 heads, and the Mamiya RZ) on our road trip from San Francisco to LA and back.

The project I had in mind originally was to find and photograph motocross riders in the hilly desert of Southern California. It would have worked out great, if only they were there. Even though I found plenty of tracks, I could not rustle up one single rider in the time we were there. Maybe they needed a vacation, too.

So faced with the depressing possibility of schlepping (and paying extra luggage charges for) all my gear without getting anything noteworthy out of it, I sent an SOS call to my good friends Jerry and Laurel in SF. J & L worked already on several other bay area shoots of mine, one of them detailed in great detail in an earlier post here.

Laurel told me about her friend Isabella, who is a passionate mountain biker, though injured at the moment, who could hook me up with other riders. It was very short notice, unpaid, and the shoot was happening on Monday afternoon. Somewhat close to ideal conditions.

After a location scout in different parts of the city, the tourist in me won, and I decided to shoot on the Marin side of the Golden Gate. Obviously it’s one of the mostest oftenest photographed locations ever, but the beauty of the span is just too damn hard to resist. During the scout, we went to some of the military installations in that area and the one closest to the bridge had some interesting structures that provided for good riding and angles without tourists in the background. I tried out different lenses and liked the slightly abstract (safari) look I got from the 250mm tele.

On Monday we started setting up for a one o’clock shoot. We didn’t know how many models would come, but we knew that they wouldn’t have a lot of time. When three riders finally arrived an hour late, the fog rolled in. Initially I was ready to kick something small and innocent, but the fog turned out to be not really solid. Every so often the veil would lift and the bridge would appear in highly attractive half-visibility. Laurel was standing on a little hill, telling us to get ready when a hole in the mist would blow our way. When we got the timing right it looked like this:

…and when we got the timing wrong it looked like that:

The rider in this picture is Remy, who is not just an all around good guy and very skilled rider, but also the owner of the tip-top Mojo Bicycle Cafe in San Francisco. A very nice combo of bike shop and cafe.

We did a quick group portrait (Ralph, Remy, and Isabella),…

…and moved up the hill for a second location. This is how our first spot looked from above:

The second location was on the other side of the hill and had a little patch of spectacular trees. We placed two lights amongst the trees behind the rider, one head pretty much from the front and left of camera and one head from the sharp right aimed at the rider but skimming the gnarly tree next to her. The rider had to start in the background, get some speed, duck under that big branch, get photographed, and roll down a sharp little hill while avoiding the camera. The two guys went first, but then Isabella’s competitive side kicked in and she went for it, too, freshly surgically repaired knee or not, giving me the best image in this spot (and possibly the day).

It was a short little shoot, but more than justified the schlepp.

If you’re into bikes or coffee or both I highly recommend to check out Mojo if you should find yourself (or lose yourself) in San Francisco (with flowers in your hair).

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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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