The opportunities to work with models and shoot portraits have been rare since moving back to the Bay Area after school. While at school I had many close friends that lived nearby with copious amounts of free time to lend to my photographic endeavors. Not so much where I live now. While I have plenty of close friends most live out of state or have demanding jobs making weekend meetups difficult. As much of a planner as I am it is a sense of spontaneity that often enhances the atmosphere of a shoot as well.
Recently I met a fellow creative personality who was more than willing to pose in front of my lenses. Keeping with that concept spontaneity we organized an impromptu shoot at one of my favorite local spots, the Baylands in Palo Alto.
The Baylands area consists of the marshy wetland biome that borders the bay throughout the Peninsula. The sodden ground and scattered brush landscape is very flat allowing the late afternoon and dusk light to linger long. Previous shoots here have given me the extra ability to be able to gauge how the light fades to night as well as the best places to shoot.
With Candice we took an adventurous pace and decided to go out along the various boardwalks that litter the swampy scenery. Boardwalk is definitely an apt term to describe the dilapidated planks of two by tens. The salty air and ever present exposure to the sun has warped the wooden walkways into roller coasters of trails. As one walks along some down these rickety roads a careful eye must lookout for missing planks, paper thin rotted supports, and the occasional downward dip into the tidal swamp.
In addition to these man made leading lines are the large electrical transmission towers that amble across terrain like the strides of a giant. Somehow these artificial but functional monoliths add a strange beauty to the otherwise flat land.
Working with these elements we sauntered down the winding paths; taking advantage of the dying sunlight. I had brought a bag of potential props including my Canon AE-1 with colorful strap. Immediately I suggested incorporating it which turned out quite well.
As with all serious shoots I try to come prepared both with a mental blueprint for several shot ideas as well as what sense or feeling I aimed to capture. For the latter I was really working on embodying a sense of adventure, happiness, and perhaps a touch of wanderlust. Balancing that to the expected improvisation of reality I found my eye more focussed on capturing the goofy seriousness that Candice brought to the shoot.
As I ramble about my motives and preparation, a shoot is really a two way activity with as much of the final imagine be constructed by the model as the photographer. The photographer is more of a hunter attempting to both look for but also create the image. While the model is literally the subject she also contributes an altogether vital and unique interpretation of what she believes the photographer wants (or what she wants). More often than not it is actually her defining the vibe and look of the shoot.
After exploring the planks, as the sun did finally go behind the modest distant hills, we made our way to a small dock along a shallow slough. Pulling out the prop bag I grabbed a strand of battery powered LEDs I had bought several years back but never used. I understand that using them is pretty basic these days I couldn't help myself. The golden yellow hue of the lights contrasted really nice with the deepening prussian blue of encroaching dusk.
As I finished off that roll of Kodak Portra 400 I loaded up my last roll of Cinestill 800T. My thoughts being that extra speed and tungsten balance would work well with the near night like light that was left. Putting the hipster light string away I then pulled out a pile of sparklers I'd been saving for a moment just like this. After finally getting them to actually light I used them as a direct light source to snag a few closer shots. Unfortunately the alpha nature of the roll of Cinestill I had, plus the constraint of shooting 1/60 second at f/2.4, left the developed shoots looking at least a stop underexposed and very grainy. I was able to work with a few of the more well exposed shots by the few wide snaps I took did not come out.
In all I shot five rolls of film: one Fomapan 100 BW, three Kodak Portra 400, and one Cinestill 800T. In terms of keepers this shoot had probably the highest percentage I've had from a shoot in several years. At a glance I would say around 50% are worth public viewing. And of that other half almost all are properly focussed and exposed, the culling threshold being poses and angles that didn't completely work out. I used the 105mm f/2.4 lens on the big Pentax almost entirely with a dozen or so shots with the wider 55mm f/4.
With both the Fomapan and Portra I purposely over exposed each frame by at least one stop. Basically I rated the Fomapan 100 at ei 50 and the Portra at around ei 160 or even ei 100. The denser negatives had loads of delicious shadow detail and retained their highlights surprisingly well.
It was refreshing being able to do a portrait shoot. It was even more fulfilling to work with a someone that was as excited and intent upon the shoot as I was and I think that really shows in the photos. I hope to be able to do more shoots with Candice soon!