One of the things I loved about learning to speak a decent bit of French a few years back was that just when you realized that you knew enough French to get by, THAT’s when you realized that you had so much more to learn. Same goes with any second language, or flyfishing, or race car driving or laundry or medicine, yoga, or anything that you can really sink your teeth into.
And the same goes with a life as a professional photographer.
I’ve shot in what feels like every place on the planet under crazy-tight circumstances, with 80 people on set, with celebrities, with no margin for error, client breathing down your neck, 120 degrees, uphill both ways, blah blah, you get the story… so much so, that you could say that you get numb to it. Except every once in a while…
Such was the case with a recent portrait shoot of one of my favorite artist/musicians, Moby. He’s an amazing guy. I was scheduled to photograph him as a part of his “Gristle” tour (fascinating) and in connection with a project I’m doing that I’ll disclose at a future date… We were shooting at Town Hall Seattle, 7pm. Except in the hours before the the shoot, my day went totally sideways. Estimates due. Drop in international guests. Pre-production woes for a different shoot. Meetings that ran long. Traffic. Yada yada yada. Just stuff. Everything that could go wrong, was …going wrong. Suffice it to say, we were running late to shoot Moby. But being the pros we are, we remained calm. We’d be in the paint before and we’d be here again, and we were sure to get outta this pinch with little more than an elevated heart rate. Or so we hoped.
When we arrived at the location, we had 10 minutes to set up. From scratch. 4 lights, softboxes, backdrop, camera, test shots, the whole deal. NOT the way we normally roll. Just me, producer Kate, and three on gear support, Dartanyon, Erik, and Norton. But we remained calm. We nailed the setup. Nikon D3x. No tripod. Big white seamless on a crossbar, C-stands (our bent up ones…haggered), sandbags. Now we’re flying. One Broncolor Scoro A4s, a second Broncolor Mobil A2r (which btw, has just had its price reduced), Pocket Wizards…and…er…wait a minute. Did we? We DID. We forgot the Pocket Wizard kit. Not just a Wizard or two. We forgot the whole kit, half dozen Wizards, cables, everything. In the rush, a case had simply been left behind.
4 minutes and counting.
No biggie, we’ll go to our Plan B. We always have a backup. For everything. That’s part of what separates the pros from the ams. We carry sync chords in case something is acting up. And not just one of ‘em. Usually three. Just to be sure. But…er…wait. We just changed light cases to the Pelican case. And… the… sync chords were in the…oh jeez. We’re without sync chords. Boom. Plan B, shot to hell.
Is this really happening?
Kate walks in – talent is ready. Coming upstairs now. ETA, 120 seconds.
Stop, for just a second, and think about what you would do at this moment. You’ve already shot 10 portraits before this as a part of this series you’re working on, so you can’t really get away with changing much… Crank us this ISO on your D3x? You can’t keep to the project spec and drag Moby outside. Have you decided what you’d do?
In a stroke of
pure genius 12 years experience level headed knowledge about your gear and low blood pressure to match pure luck, we remember that you go to plan C = on camera flash. And if you’re really smart….wait…check that…really in a pinch because you’ve dropped all the other balls like we have today…you find great salvation in taking advantage of the optical slave unit built in your pack. A pop from my little SB-800 off the low ceiling triggers all my Broncolors.
Moby walks up.
In the 30 seconds while super-producer, Kate, and Moby’s manager make small talk about the release he’s signing, I chimp 5 or so frames, move 2 lights about 12 inches, and take one more test shot. We’re there.
Now I’ve been a big Moby fan for years, so it’s a treat to have a minute of small talk. I greet him. We know a few of the same music people. We chat. I’ve licensed music from him before and used his mobygratis.com site (check it) for personal stuff. I explain my vision for the project as he steps out on the seamless. 199 photos in under 5 minutes. And a few are stunning.
We snapped a shot together for a laugh and a keepsake for me. Mostly I wanted a reminder of time number 2,384 when I just about blew it, but barely pulled it off. Most of the time its a smooth sailing ship. But sometimes it’s just not. It might look like polished on from the outside, but on the inside, we are all just one step ahead of the next thing that’s trying to bite us in the ass. And I suppose, in some ways, it’s how you walk through that fire that matters most.