The Writings

Where The Wild Things Are - My Shoot with Emily Nolan

"I must be lost," I thought to myself. I was driving down a winding road through a heavily wooded area of Fairfax Station, on the lookout for some sign that I was getting close.   I wasn't used to this, since most of the time, I've been shooting products, stores, or entrees.  It was pretty wild to think about how all of this was coming together. How did I get here?

She was a big fan of my work.   She had seen the photos I had taken of CityGirlBlogs and fell in love with the pictures.  I was beyond flattered, especially since she even wrote about me in a blog post. Her name is Emily, an aspiring model and actress.  In such a tight-knit community that I've discovered exists in DC, it wouldn't be long for her to reach out to me about a possible shoot.  When I conceived of creating a photography business, I didn't plan on doing many model shoots, if at all.  So when she had contacted me about a possible shoot, I was beyond ecstatic to work with her.  Looking at her previous photos, I knew I was in for a treat.

Next to the shoot itself, the brainstorming session was extremely fun.  We were each on a pretty similar plane when it came to what we wanted from a shoot.  I had just finished my long-awaited photography story project and she wanted something beyond head shots, since she wanted to focus more on poses.  I have always been a fan of Annie Leibovitz, and something that instantly came to my mind was trying to do something in a similar vein by doing an outdoor shoot.  She was beyond excited, especially since she lived near a very thick woods and horse trail.  As I've always said, I love working with people who can communicate their ideas and work with my own, as well as having the bravery to experiment.  So when Emily said she was game for my ideas, and also had ideas to expand on my own, it was love at first snap of the shutter.

I was in for a bit of a surprise: once I got to finally meet Emily in person (after quite some time tweeting, texting, and e-mailing), she was holding a trampoline.  She had done her homework (yet another reason I had fallen in love) and noticed some of Annie Leibovitz's work consisted of some models in mid-air.  Thus, she wanted to experiment with the trampoline in the shoot.  Woah boy!  We found a place where it was beautiful and green, but also wouldn't risk having her jump up and hit her head on a branch - a huge fear I had.  We had done a few shots without my external flash, but it created a slightly harsh shadow.  Not that I necessarily minded that, but with the inconsistent light in the forest, I decided to turn the flash on.  I kept the flash fairly faint, however (1/64th power @ 28mm, though I was shooting in 50-70mm) -- this made an even light that prevented her from being blown out and didn't flatten the image.  She was going to do a count before she took a big jump to pose, but I had a good feeling for her timing and was able to position the camera to give the appearance she was nearly flying.  Probably my favorite shots from this shoot came from this scene - completely Emily's idea to get those mid-air shots, and one more reason I was in love with this concept.

Emily also wanted a few shots of her on a boat in the middle of the water.  While some of what I envisioned had her completely in the middle of the pond, because of the lighting and the outfit, I didn't think that worked.  So, I stuck to her posing in the boat, with the pond as a backdrop.  Again, I kept the flash very faint so that she'd have an even lighting, and I was rather impressed with the end results.  One thing I didn't expect I'd have to worry about until I started the post-production: clearing up goosebumps.  The poor thing!  We had water splashing from a nearby fountain, a slight breeze... she must've been freezing!

The rest of the shoot took place in the surrounding woods.  I found a cool spot that had a tree stump that looked to be the workplace of neighborhood squirrels, since there were crushed nuts left over on top of it.  The one thing I regret about shooting in this location was that I figured I had enough light that was shining through the trees, but I was terribly mistaken.  Instead, my camera fah-REAKED out with the tremendous difference in contrast, so some of my images came out a bit spotty.  However, thanks to the wonders of Lightroom and Photoshop, I was able to remedy most, but the moral of the story is: whether you think you need it or not, just use the friggin' external flash!  It'll make everything nice and evenly lit.  Lesson learned.

We walked up a hill on a horse trail and I found a busted fence that I thought would be awesome to shoot at.  I kept the exposure a little lighter than normal because I wanted to get a lot more of the sunset that was shining on that hill.  I was glad that the images didn't get blown out, and with a little gamma correction in Photoshop, I had an enormous variety to pick from.  I ended up using the flash a lot more when I was shooting into the sun to make up for the harsh shadows that would result without, but another lesson I need to remember is using a smaller aperture, since only a handful of images ended up too blown out to use.  Emily had given me a lot to work with as she posed, so it made it extremely difficult to narrow down the images I wanted to use for my portfolio as I looked through them all in Lightroom.  The fence was a cool semi-natural prop we stumbled upon, and I thought it was a great way to end the day of shooting with nearly filling up two memory cards from just this one scene alone!

It's always a treat when I get to work with someone who has their own creative ideas, yet the blend seamlessly with my own.   Typically, when I have my own creative vision, it takes a lot to make me reconsider my "artistic direction".  However, working with Emily, we were able to bounce ideas off each other and create some truly awesome pieces of art.

Until next time,

- Patrick

(As always, make sure to click on the image as you're looking through the gallery to see the larger image)

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