When Douglas Dubler was asked to shoot a cover photo for Studio Photography & Design at the 2004 PhotoImaging & Design Expo with hundreds of onlookers, he jumped at the chance. When he was invited back for an encore this year, he saw it as an opportunity to push the creative envelope even further. . .
Don't Leave Home Without It
One of the bigger challenges of shooting in the San Diego Convention Center--or any other large arena outside of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles--is not having the luxury of calling a messenger service or hopping into a cab to pick up last--minute odds and ends you need to get the job done.
For example, Dubler's crew used eight Matthews stands for this project. They packed 16. Ditto for the lights, scrims, flags, and camera gear. Anything and everything that might be needed was packed in duplicate for the trip. When the nearest serious pro shop is two--plus hours away in Los Angeles, you tend to eyeball your equipment list carefully before heading out the door.
Another lesson learned year one in San Diego was not to rely on headshots alone to cast a shoot, around town or elsewhere. "Great looks are only half of the equation. If the girl has the wrong attitude or she's only looking at the assignment as 'just another job,' it's going to show in the pictures. If her head's not there, it's never going to work, no matter how well she fills a bikini."
Last year's SP&D/PIDE cover model was photographed against a white seamless background. This year, the goal was to try something visually different, as well as a bit more challenging from a technical standpoint. Rather than a field of white, Dubler and his team decided to shoot the model against a wall of water. Being there were no waterfalls stashed away in any of the Convention Center's broom closets, they had to find someone to build one.
"Around Hollywood, you can find any number of people who can build you a waterfall," says Dubler. "The problem is they all want to charge over $20,000. You try to explain you're not shooting a Hollywood epic. You just want to photograph a model in front of it then throw it away. They donít get it."
Richard Reed, a former assistant to Irving Penn, presented a solution. After a powwow with Dubler, he pieced together several materials that would produce interesting water patterns for the background. The original plan was to backlight the water using a translucent material for the wetted surface. Unfortunately, the lights wiped out most of the contours of the flowing water. [Editor's Note: In the final shot, Dubler side--lit the waterfall to capture the subtle shadows and textures of the water.]
After several test runs using corrugated aluminum and a variety of plastic materials, they chose a 1/8--inch polycarbonate material for the base of the waterfall. By heating it carefully with a torch, Reed was able to bend it into many flowing shapes for the water to travel along.
Matching the exact shade of aqua Dubler wanted for a background color was the next challenge. Seamless paper is available in a rather narrow selection of colors. Reedís solution was to have Dubler choose a Pantone color swatch that met his criteria. He brought the swatch to Home Depot, where a few gallons of paint were matched to the sample. The resulting paint was sprayed onto a large canvas surface, rolled up, and shipped to the site.
The final installation required four recycling pumps to keep the water flowing at the desired levels. Total cost for the waterfall was $7,000. "He did a brilliant job," says Dubler. "His efforts brought a huge amount of production value to the shoot."
Another lesson learned in '04 was to spend the better part of a day nailing down details to have the show run as smoothly as possible. "Last year, we shot the cover photo during the actual show, which added a certain element of tension to the proceedings," says Dubler. "This year, we captured the cover shot during an afternoon of setting up and testing. Knowing the cover shot was in the bag took the pressure off the actual seminar."
Lights, Cameras, Capture
For the hardware part of the production, Dubler relied on his Broncolor lighting system, with a slew of Grafit 4A power packs, his signature Broncolor Lightbars, and an assortment of other heads and light--shaping tools. All images were captured using a Leaf Valeo 22Wi digital back mounted on a Mamiya RZ Pro II. While he prefers shooting fashion and beauty with the Mamiya 210mm f/4.5 Apo, space restraints dictated the no--less--nifty 140mm f/4 Macro.
One challenge of running a seminar of this sort is creating an intimate bond with audience members, making them part of the show. While it is impossible to invite everybody onto the stage to peer into the viewfinder as each image pops up onto the screen, Dubler set up Panasonic large--screen plasma screens to enable each attendee to watch the creative process unfold. By positioning eight 65--inch Panasonic Onyx Plasma screens in and around the periphery of the set, everyone had a birdís--eye view of the action, adding "a real 'Wow' factor to the show," says Dubler.
Just as he trusts his instincts to tried--and--true equipment, Dubler turns to his support crew, most of whom are regulars on his set, to make things happen.