Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Natural Light and the Small Wonders Map

I LOVE natural light.

It can be so soft and inviting that you want to linger in the image.  It wraps around the subject and almost makes them glow while producing equally soft shadows that can create an intimate-feeling moment.

Natural light pouring sideways through a window  is even better.

That great window light is a classic in creating mood while opening up faces so that you can see the eyes an expression of the people in your images. It is also, by the way, is a great way to take that harsh, unflattering midday light from outside and convert it into beautiful, usable illumination inside. 

The other day I used it to my advantage while shooting a press conference.

The event was to launch a business map of locally-owned businesses in the area. The map was produced by Local First Arizona, (yes, I am a member), an organization that promotes supporting locally owned businesses, while educating government and the public about the positive effects on the local economy of shifting your buying habits to support your neighbors. The goal of course is to create a healthier local economy. The map is one tool to promote that goal.

In the many, many press conferences I have photographed over the years, natural light is rarely a part of the toolbox. In fact, even with natural light, I might normally use a flash to fill things in. 

So, imagine my delight as I arrived to photograph a little Local First Arizona presser and found a wall of beautiful, soft, natural light flowing through the expansive front windows of the venue, the Calvin Charles Gallery in Scottsdale.
The gallery walls, painted bright white, only made things more amazing, further softening the soft light as they drew that light deeper into the gallery.

It was too great to pass up.

And so, leaving the flash off, I made my images of the pre-event mixing, the announcement and comments about the very real effects of buying local.

And, it turns out, the effects of photographing naturally had a nice effect on the images of a usually common-looking event.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Trying again.

   Even if you think you have the image, if time and deadline permit, it doesn't hurt to see if you can improve an image you feel strongly about.
   Such was the case the other day as I was working to make a few simple images to illustrate the use of the Recovery Act money at Sky Harbor in Phoenix for my photo agency, Corbis.
   The airport is completing an $11.7 million concrete taxiway so that jets will be able to move more efficiently to terminals from the north runway.
   With the project in its last couple weeks, I had no idea whether there was even a photograph, as I made arrangements with the airport media relations person for access. She also made proper notifications to security so they wouldn't send SWAT to ask me what I was doing. It was possible that there wouldn't be much to see, especially since I could only shoot from a distance, either through the fence or from a small nearby hill, over the fence.

That day, constantly-changing clouds blanketed parts of metro-Phoenix. I couldn't be sure whether I would have anything resembling a blue sky to work with, but I figured I should at least scout it out and maybe do a dry run to see if there was an image worth making. I was already thinking I might have to try again on a clear day to get the warmer more directional early-day light.

As I began looking over the site I couldn't see much activity. Steamrollers sat unmanned and a number of belly-dump asphalt haulers were coming and going. Whatever was happening was hidden from view.

I made an image with the Stimulus Act road sign, picking up a roller in the background and, finally a landing plane above. Not that great, but something. It appeared that would be the end of it.

I began to leave, but as I drove over the nearby overpass, I discovered that the paving crew had just moved into view of the only elevated viewpoint of the site. It was a sort of window bounded by trees to the left, a building to the right and heavy-duty fence at the bottom. I had to stop and try again.
Conveniently, as I worked this opportunity, jets began arriving at tighter intervals. Finally, I had something that showed work and a sense of location with a bit of action all in one.

I still wondered what it would look like with better light.  Also wondered if photographing between the fence slats at ground level so that the jets would be even closer to the paving crew would be a better image. This was also contingent upon the crew again working in an area that not only allowed planes into the frame but that would fall in line with Piestewa Peak or Camelback Mountain in the background.

Well they were, sort of. Let's just say it had to be pretty entertaining for anyone watching as I ran back and forth along the fence trying to predict where I needed to be each time a jet approached so that, the moving steamroller and the approaching jet would cross in front of one of the aforementioned mountains.

   It's funny, in the grand scheme, not an earth shatterring image by any means, but maybe because the a combination planning, experimentation, execution, a little luck and willingness to try again, I made an image far better than I thought would be possible from outside the fence.

   ...And my creative muse was pretty happy with the result.