Anatomy of an editorial
I thought it would be interesting to talk a little bit about what goes into an editorial shoot on location. There are a lot of things to think about when doing one.
The first thing you want to know is where the location is, and get as much info as you can about it. Most art directors will send you info, but you don't want to always depend on them for it. This shoot had some challenges to it, as it was in Aspen and with very high altitude. This was something I didn't even consider. I got lucky in the way I planned my trip though, but learned a lesson at the same time. Altitude sickness was something I have never thought about. The art director planned ahead, to acclimate and got sick the first day she was there. I on the other hand didn't think about it, but flew into Denver and drove the 3 hours, and from what I read was a really good idea. Like I said, I got lucky. My body without me thinking was acclimating as I was driving. I ended up with a small headache the first day, but that was it.
The drive in was amazing, that's kind of why I wanted to do the 3 hour drive. I did miscalculate my time though, and was wanting to see the clothes the night before. Not a big deal, but the AD and the stylist met and I should have been there. I just didn't time my flight and drive time right, and got to the hotel after dark.
One of the other things you need to really put thought into on a location shoot is your gear. Not really knowing if we were going to shoot inside or outside with the weather, I needed to have enough gear to do the job. I also had to consider having to bring the gear on the plane and dragging the gear with me after to the rental car. This was a small budget shoot, so there was no assistant to help out. I needed to be able to carry my gear, by myself.
I prefer moonlights when traveling. They are smaller, and weigh less than power packs and heads. Plus the moonlights can be used with battery packs. I took 2 of my Bowens 500R heads with battery packs. One of the things I have learned over the years, is that umbrellas are great for location lighting. I can emulate a beauty dish on the road with them, and they take up very little space. With packing location lighting, you want things that are versatile. I bring a medium soft box, umbrellas, small bright silver reflectors, and medium dull reflectors. That's my go to on location. I can pretty much light anything with this set up. Versatility is the key.
Another thing to seriously consider, is getting your sleep the night before. Everyone is excited and might want to meet for drinks, or hang out. I prefer to make an appearance, and then hit the hay early. I want to be fully ready in the morning. Location shoots tend to start really early, as was the case with this one in Aspen.
Kinda funny story shooting here, is that I had something to think about that I have never had to before. Bears!!! When I checked into the hotel, I asked if it was safe there, as I really didn't want to drag my lighting upstairs. I was told by the hotel clerk that the gear was fine, just don't leave any food in my car. I looked puzzled and asked why? He said that bears come into town that time of year to fatten up before the winter, and will break into the car. Let me tell you when I went to my car in the morning I was looking for bear tracks in the new snow that had fallen overnight!
The next thing to consider is the weather. Make sure you know what's going to happen. I checked the weather and it said a dusting of the snow the first morning, then sun the rest of the time. When I awoke, the dusting was a couple inches! It was ok, as it was for a winter story, but still. I was only semi prepared for this. I guess 2 inches is a dusting there, but from Oregon, that's a major storm lol.
When I got to the location, I was happy that the snow wasn't quite as dusty :) First thing I do is start walking around with the AD to plan the shots. More like groups of shots. I was shooting for 3 magazines at the same time. Same story, but slight differences, so I needed to make sure I had enough spots to shoot.
After walking around, we decided that we would shoot everything outside. Awesome! All natural lighting. Oh no! Where is the light going to come from, and what time of day can I shoot where? These are the things to think about, as the AD isn't. They just see this really cool place, and aren't thinking about the light. That's your job.
Another thing I have learned through experience, is that when you first get to the location you are totally amazed. OMG best location ever. Remember I had to shoot for two days, a total of about 30 different settings. Even the coolest location is hard to find more than 8-10 locations to shoot. I knew that day 2 would be a lot different than day 2.
After scouting we decided to start in the field with the horses, hoping that they would be friendly.
I know this sound funny, but the AD and I are city kids. Neither of us knew anything about horses. They came up as we were setting up, and started snorting and breathing hard. Then just stood there. We discussed it, and decided because their eyes were closed we were probably safe. The only thing they did was try and eat my cord for tethering the camera to the computer. It was bright orange, and they must have thought yummy!
That's another thing to find out ahead of time, weather the client wants to tether or not. I personally hate it on location, but it is the sign of the times. On this shoot we would tether. Make sure and bring something to put your computer on. As I was working alone, I just made sure the location had a small 3 step stool. You know the one with the little table that pops out. I have found in a pinch, you can use it for your laptop and one less thing to bring along.
Thankfully the killer horses must have eaten their fill of humans that day, as they just posed perfectly for us. When I shoot on location, I try to find open shade or shoot backlit when possible. It's wonderful light, and gives a sort of magical quality to things. They wanted wintery and cool, so creating a setting in CaptureOne was important. I wanted to be able to show them some sort of feel of what I was thinking. Once the look was approved, I just needed to find nice light. Thankfully, I am blessed with that gift. I shot most of the editorial with my 70-200 at f2.8 on my Nikon D810. When I needed wide shots, I used my 16-35 F4.
That's another thing to think about, what lenses to bring to a location shoot. Lenses add a lot of weight. I shoot tele a lot, so I bring my 70-200 always. I also won't leave without my Sigma 50 art lens. I know it's heavy, but it's the best lens I have every owned. I take a wide zoom too, and always bring a macro, just in case. Bring a back up body too, you never know.
We found out from the people on the location that they had sheep that were hand fed from babies and would basically follow you anywhere. OMG, we have to shoot with sheep in at least one of the shots! It took a bit to figure out how to get the sheep to do what we wanted to and follow the model. At first they would just go where the owner was with the food. Then we figured out if someone had food behind me they would follow as I backed up.
I've never shot with much livestock before, but it was funny and the shots turned out cool. My feeling is if you learn something during the day new, it's a good day. I did that and more every day on this shoot.
Another consideration when shooting on location, is to make sure all the shots have the same feel. Because we shot really early on the first shot, and wanted a late fall, early winter shoot, we couldn't have bright sunny shots with a lot of color in the background. We tried a few shots when the sun came out from behind the clouds mid day, but decided that it wouldn't work with the story line. We ended up waiting all day until the sun went behind the mountains to do the last few shots. Once the sun went down, we were able to finish up the shoot with the same feel. Part of being a photographer on location is shooting what you can when you can. If you need to wait, so be it. Everyone will want to keep shooting, but in the end it's your name on the shoot, so do what you think is right. Hold your ground.
In the end the shoot was successful, because of an amazing team. You need to seriously remember that. You cannot be a jerk. Talk to your team, and find out what they need.
This shoot was interesting because we had to do 3 different shoots with similar style and clothes. Slight changes had to be made. We asked the stylist what was easiest for her to do this daunting job. Remember she had weeks to pull the clothes, but normally need to get the stuff returned in a day or so. If it was easier for her to complete one story first, even though we might have to repeat shots with other clothes on another day, so be it. If she could send an assistant to return clothes on the second day of the shoot, wouldn't it be better?
Then you need to make sure the hair and make up is on board with it also. They need to know the plan, so they can do what they need. Also make sure they have enough light and outlets to get the job done.
Make sure you keep the model hydrated and fed. Most of the time people forget that the model is a human being, and has been on her feet all day. Make sure you take care of the talent.
I hope this gives a little insight as to what goes on behind the scenes on a location editorial. It's daunting and exhilarating at the same time!