We had a two-hour drive to the location up in the Catskills, so we set our call time at 5:30 am. Unfortunately, that was also the Sunday when Daylight Savings ended, which made it feel like 4:30am. Amazingly, everyone was on time except for one no-show model.
Our videographer, Renée, was so worried that her phone wouldn’t automatically adjust for the time change that she manually switched it to an hour ahead, and showed up an hour early at 4:30am (felt like 3:30!). Poor girl, she ended up having to wait at a deli and break up a fight between 2 drunk tourists and the deli owners. 8th Ave and 14 St is a strange, surprisingly BUSY place at 5am.
When we got to the location – a huge waterfall in the mountains – the snow was knee- (sometimes waist-) deep and it was literally freezing. I’m from Syracuse, one of the coldest, snowiest cities in the world – all of Russia and the Antarctic included. And I still have to admit, by the end of the shoot I was freezing.
Chris, our model, was from PA, so, like myself, he took it in stride and didn’t let the cold get to him until the very end. Columba, our other model, and Renée were from Mexico and New Zealand, respectively, and were shivering like crazy the whole time.
The whole concept for the shoot was to create surreal, atmospheric images that captured the eerie, stunning light you only get in the winter. The mix of the light filtered through the clouds and bouncing off the snow meant I didn’t have to add any additional artificial light. I didn’t even need reflectors – the snow did it all for me. One thing I did use was a smoke machine (thanks again DriveIn 24). Other than that I stuck to a Canon 1Ds M3 and 2 zoom lenses. I shot to card and only turned my laptop on to download the cards and make a back up.
Morgan produced the whole thing. I’ve been involved in over 500 shoots – easily – and ours ran as smoothly as the best of them, even the ones with ridiculously huge budgets.
Why did it run so smoothly? Several reasons:
1) Amazing styling – Besides a few tweaks here and there I’ve never seen such perfect styling and propping, and it was all done by a first-timer, our friend Robin. She’s a fashion-blogger who was recently on the Nate Berkus show doing an interior design challenge. She had never styled a photo shoot before, but managed to get a ton of authentic and vintage pieces – even props – and was just a total genius at arranging things in a believable, but still really fresh fashion. The other styling gem of the shoot was Vassillis. I have rarely seen hair this awesome, sexy, and unique and the few times I have it’s been on huge budget jobs for top top clients. Even then it’s rare. Not only did he do masterful hair from the back of a van he also handled makeup for the shoot and helped me with art direction. All while smiling and cracking jokes. Fantastic guy – can’t say enough about him.
2) An awesome team – Thorsten Roth, a fellow photographer, was my first. I had two younger photo assistants who wanted to work with me on the shoot, but when Thorsten offered to help out, I was thrilled. He’s an old friend and someone who has not only worked as a top-level photo assistant, but who knows what it’s like being behind the camera. It’s rare that photographers work together without bringing their own insecurities and competitive impulses to a shoot. I feel really lucky to have colleagues like Thorsten. Renée was also great – she is a pro at working on location, and was just generally a pleasure to have around. And Morgan. Let’s just say I almost cancelled this shoot pretty much every single day during the week leading up to it, and Morgan made sure it happened. As much as she can be a big lazy whiner about other things, I’ve gotta say she really did everything in her power to make this shoot happen, and to make it incredible. Even if it meant cleaning up after people, watching the van while everyone else was off watching the shot, enrolling Columba’s friend in convincing her to do wardrobe changes on-site instead of at the van – whatever. She did it well and without complaint.
3) The right equipment – critical! some of the items that made the biggest difference for us were a couple garment racks, two 6-foot fold out tables, two 2k Honda generators, a 15-passenger van from CC Rentals, a beach cart (although a sled would have been better) and of course, sand bags. You ALWAYS need sand bags.
Shooting in extreme conditions is hard. You need to trust yourself a lot. If you don’t get a couple shots in the can that everyone knows are good during the first hour the crew will just be thinking about when they get to go home for the rest of the shoot and I don’t blame them, I’ve been in that position also. Because I’m aware of this I try to make the 1st shot as quick and painless as possible. For this first shot, we ended up getting 2 great images within 50 feet of where we parked. Once those were done everyone was pumped to do more and that’s when I loaded up the cart and guided everyone “over the river and through the woods” to the very real, very deadly waterfall.
Once at the falls I had to work fast. The wind was blowing, it was mind-numbingly cold, and everyone had a hard time keeping focus. Constantly communicating with the entire crew, and especially “directing” the models was really critical. There were times I only got about 3 minutes on a shot. Any wasted time is just gone – a possible “perfect shot” gone forever.
Everyone was relieved to wrap up when we did. Lots of thawing fingers and toes in the car ride home. On the way back we stopped in a little one-horse town called… well, it had a name. Sat down at a Mexican restaurant for a small dinner and a well deserved beer. Nice surprise that the food was great. Even Columba said she liked it and she is Mexican.
A long and exhausting, but extremely successful day. Now if only I could get all of the post work done in less than a week. Wishful thinking, I know
View the finished story on my website.