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Practical Photography Column – May 2015

In my last column I mentioned that most of the time I shoot to commission which can leave me a little bit creatively stale. Because of this I was determined to find time to shoot for myself whilst in Las Vegas for the annual WPPI conference. Before I left the UK I spent some time looking at possible locations and found an area with enormous sand dunes that I thought would produce some graphic imagery. Luckily there was no problem with finding models because I was travelling with married photographer friends who are always happy to get some fresh imagery of themselves. We discussed outfits and rather liked the idea of a couple dressed as if they had been out on the town in Vegas, so a little tired and dishevelled which was lucky because we were all suffering from jet lag at the time!

At the beginning of this year I began to explore shooting moving image on DSLR and just before we flew to the States we took delivery of a drone so decided to take it with us for its virgin flight. I wanted the shoot to be during golden hour and into sunset and the blue skies over the city on the day of the shoot suggested we would be lucky. However the weather changed dramatically and as we left Vegas the skies were thick with storm clouds. The next hour of the drive involved watching the weather and light with the team waiting for me to make a decision about where and when to shoot. It was clear that we were going to have to change location and with it the entire concept of the imagery.

As we drove we were staying just ahead of the rain and at one stage an amazing rainbow appeared. We immediately pulled off the highway but by the time we were all out of the car and ready to start it was beginning to fade and I had to make the call to keep driving in the hope that we would find a better location. At this stage we had all accepted that there was a chance that this would be a futile journey and the mood was low as we drove through a mountain pass and looked out over a huge, flat plain that clearly had potential. Instead of sand dunes and blue skies I had interesting cloud cover, mountain ranges and desert terrain.

By this stage we had about 20 minutes of poor light left so I was relieved that I had packed a speedlight and pocket wizards. As we got out of the car we were hit by strong winds and intermittent showers but we all jumped straight into action and began to shoot. I don’t often use speedlights off camera (opting for the more powerful Elinchrom Quadra Rangers) and found myself having to push it to manual full power to get enough light to balance the background. This involved another friend of mine hiding behind cactuses etc to put the light where I needed it. Just as the sun was finally disappearing and we were finishing up with some silhouette shots the wind dropped and we were able to get the drone into the air briefly to get a sense of the location.

We all love the images that we managed to capture and feel that this location probably gave us more variety than the one we had originally planned. As a location photographer you have to be prepared to work at speed and completely change the concept of a shoot on the fly. At the end of the day – it’s what keeps me interested and pushes me creatively!

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