Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Voice Activated Light Stand

EJL2008 V.A.L.S.

Home from San Jose, that means we are finished with the construction shots of highways and byways.
This last part of the job was a project at the San Jose airport. We spent most of our time there watching the "pile driver" pound concrete supports 50 feet into the ground... man it is super loud. The sun was hiding behind overcast so we used flash (Nikon SB800's) and high-speed sync to get some different looking pictures of the guys working the driver and the pylons.
When we are in an environment like this our philosophy is "lightweight and mobile". On this project we opted for one of the oldest tools in the bag-o-tricks, the voice activated light stand or V.A.L.S. . That means me with a flash in hand, moving with the workers as David shoots away. The flash in this case was fired using the Nikon command unit that is perched in the hot shoe of the D300. This was our best option for such a loud environment as it gave David the ability to control flash settings without having to call out to me, it also means he can use the camera's TTL function. The down side is that I have to be sure the infra red eye is facing the camera and not being blocked by my hand or a finger, and the effective working range is only about 60 feet.

The EJL2008 light stand at work

Nice light on a gray day

These concrete supports are pounded into the ground without a pilot hole, just like hitting a nail with a hammer. It is awesomely loud and it shakes the ground with every hit. Because we are wearing earplugs, the voice activation function of the EJL2008 was temporarily disabled. Luckily it is equipped with, among many fine features, a hand gesture back-up communication system that has come in handy many a time.

David signaled that he wanted the light lower.

The rusult

Thats me on the right side of the frame....
....and here it is.
Any photographer with self-respect should carry a multi-function V.A.L.S. wherever possible. Beside being a great place to clamp a light it will also watch your back and carry your bags.

We have some underground coal mine work in Illinois coming up in March, a setting we have worked in before several times and one that is perhaps the most challenging in heavy industry shooting. We have been talking about how we are going to approach shooting several ad-type shots featuring helmet mounted headlamps and we are going to have just a couple of hours underground to pull it off. It should be fun.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Crazy Busy

  Sometime back in early November David and I started this whirlwind tour of the country for a construction company's annual report and except for a brief breather around the holidays we have been on the move almost every week.

November 4th, we started with a flight to Portland followed by an awesome drive along the Columbia River, through the Columbia Gorge, and North to Yakima where we photographed an asphalt plant. Video
From there it was off to Salt Lake City for some nice shots of the I-15 highway construction project.
Home... Denver.
Then I think it went Salinas, Gonzales, Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco....California, all super beautiful places. Video

Home for the Holidays. Happy New Year everyone!!! I am here to say I must be going.
Back to Cali.. San Bernardo via San Diego to shoot the destruction of last year's fires. We had a full-day of noodlin' around San Diego just for kicks.
Back in Denver and shooting on a Saturday, fashion stuff, studio glamour, Brazil-et ribbon bracelets from Brazil. Video

Tuesday, January 22,  it was back on the move to Key Largo, Florida. This turned out to be a travel day planned by some evil force determined to suck every ounce of our energy by days end.
We hadn't even left the gate when the pilot started with the bad news.

Pilot: " Good morning folks, on our final check we found something we want the mechanics to take a look at. We will let you know what is happening here shortly"
We were already 10 minutes past scheduled departure.
30 minutes pass before another update, "...we are trying to make repairs".  45 minutes later and we get the news we knew was coming.

Pilot: " Ladies and gentlemen from the flight deck this is your captain speaking. Unfortunately blah blah blah. Please get off the plane and go to baggage claim for your bags, return to a ticket agent and book a new flight to Miami. Blah blah blah...thanks again... blah blah A... Airlines".
Yeah, thanks for letting us sit your airline!
 I go for the bags and David heads for a sure-to-be-long ticket agent line. We stay in touch with cell phones. I meet him with the bags and we have tickets in hand. If we want to get there tonight we have taken the only option.

2 Hours Later we are sitting first-class on a flight to Chicago.
We never intended to see Chicago that day.
We have a 6:30pm Chicago to Miami flight that departs an hour late.
Midnight we are in our rental car taking directions from Tom Tom and ordering Taco Bell at a drive-thru south of Miami.
2:30am and I am walking into my hotel room in Key Largo. 3am, I don't even care that there is a spring from the bed jabbing me in the back... lights out.
What time is sunrise?????

The 23rd-We've lost valuable time, we have to make up for a half-day of shooting and a missed sunset.  We shoot all day Wednesday and well into the night. Real footwork, we move up and down the project shooting any interesting activity we can find. This location in the Keys is a great setting and David is shooting some cool stuff.  There is an Egret perched on a crane barge and a pool of light has found some workers high on a bridge, click,  and the draw bridge is, click...awesome!  During a brief pounding rain we take semi-shelter under a bridge and continue to shoot a guy in a dive suit, half submerged and using a cutting torch on a pylon casing.... the water is on fire. I love this stuff!

Later that night it was hot and humid even at 11pm,  the camera was sweating, the lenses were fogging, we were shooting night construction, using Nikon SB800(s) and Pocket Wizards to light an 80 ft.  I-beam as it is hoisted in place by 2 huge cranes. The work lights were killing our shots with brutal flare and the one lane of traffic that construction was allowing through was whizzing by just inches away. There is only one road from Miami to Key West and this is it, the famous Overseas Highway. We found a quick solution for the flare by placing me in the shot posed as a worker speaking into a walkie talkie. We are exhausted but wide-eyed and charged by the challenge, we are getting some of our best shots. Another 18+ hour day done and we got some killer pics out of a tough situation.

Sunrise was shrouded in complete fog. Off to Key West for some fun. Spent the mostly foggy day walking Duval Street and Key West side streets,cameras slung and clicking away, me with the D2X and David with his newly converted D70 shooting infrared....super sweet! After an awesome Cuban sandwich we hopped in the rental and drove the Keys, rockin' the tunes and making pics. The sun eventually burned a hole through the overcast and we saw some nice light at sunset.

On Friday we drove back to Miami and spent the day shooting around South Beach. We had lunch at Johnny Rockets at 8th and Ocean where we sat and watched the models walk in and out of the famous Irene Marie Model Agency. Drove around Star Island (a rare treat) where Shaq and Gloria Estefan and about 10 others live or have lived. Miami Airport was no fun, 3rd worldly, but our late evening flight home Friday the 25th was on time and uneventful.
Home sweet home..

Tuesday the 29th it was off to St. Louis for another highway construction project.
The short flight was defined by the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. Even David was impressed with the pitch and roll, the sudden bounce, drop, fall, climb. Fun enough I guess when you consider some guys fly planes through hurricanes. When we left DIA it was 71 degrees in St. Louis, when we landed it was 50 something. By the end of the day the region had a more than 70 degree temperature change.
At 06:15am Wednesday and before sunrise we found ourselves at Dennys. Our server explained to us that Dennys is not somewhere you go, it is a place you end up. The cold of morning was wicked and we were prepared with gloves, knit caps, balaclavas, thermals and heavy coats, all the usual safety gear  and bellies full of warm coffee. We met our contact and got the tour of the project (I-64), grabbing a few shots along our first pass while the light was still low and warm.
The bitter cold (wind chill below zero) caused a malfunction with David's newest camera, his D300. What up with that???  The D2x worked just fine. The D300 still didn't work right after things warmed up and I am thinking back to the sweaty camera in Key Largo. Well we managed to overcome the cold and the equipment failures to create some more great pics for the client.  We shot until sunset and then headed out for a much deserved riblet platter. We met outside our rooms at 4am so we could return our rental car and check in at the airport for our 6am flight. I was home and in bed by 10:30am Thursday morning.... can I get a sleep  #32 please?
Next stop San Jose.