Let There Be Light

I'm a big believer in opportunity. Each project I photograph represents an opportunity to either reassure an existing client that they are working with the right photographer or in the case of a new client that they made the right selection. Recently I had the opportunity to work with a new client Outdoor Living Brands, and specifically their landscape lighting division, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives. Larry Spada of Outdoor Living Brands contacted me based on a referral from my long time client, Belgard Hardscapes, both significant product manufacturers in the every growing outdoor living market. The goal of the project may appear somewhat straight forward, multiple locations in Charlotte, NC in August; capturing a range of outdoor living spaces to illustrate the dramatic difference outdoor landscape lighting can bring to your home. To enhance the story of the images, each location would have a theme, an event of sorts that would include people as well. A few key words you might want to highlight in the summary of the project, August, Southeast, Outdoor, hmmm, well yes it can be rather normal that time of year in the Southeast to deal with afternoon thunderstorms. Also I should mention a technical lighting issue, photographing at dusk, necessary to illustrate the effect of outdoor lighting, usually is most successful utilizing tungsten lights and typically longer exposures. Exposures in the 30 second range are quite typical in these lighting situations, however, incorporate people into the mix, teenage boys in a swimming pool for that matter and, well, holding still for that length of time wasn't going to be an option for the talent. So, let's dive right into how we succeeding in producing the images to meet the clients needs.

Our first location was the intimate neighborhood gardens of Wing Haven and the setting for a mother and son, an evening story, teddy bear in grasp as the garden is engulfed by the warm, comforting illumination of Outdoor Lighting Perspectives fixtures. A mid morning scouting visit presented our first project challenge, MOSQUITOES!!! A strand of wisdom to pass along, if at 11AM the mosquitoes are swarming like the Lilliputians in Gulliver's Travels, well let's just say you have two options for a 8PM photo shoot, either make reservations at your nearest blood bank for transfusions or you call in the Mosquito Squad. Quite convenient actually, Larry had a bit of a connection, Mosquito Squad happens to be a division of Outdoor Living Brands. Problem solved, blood bank reservation cancelled and the photography went smoothly. This initial location also allowed for the outstanding team that we put together for the project to really mesh. In addition to Larry, Martin Speer with Outdoor Living Brands was on site, Ken Brantley, the local Charlotte lighting franchisee patiently placed lights wherever we asked, Timur with Blackbox Studios provided assistance and local knowledge, Sissy Duncan with Simply Beautiful Artistry handled hair, makeup and talent support, and lastly my trusty assistance, Zack Benson, an accomplished photographer in his own right and a phenomenal second set of eyes on any project.

Our next location, the classic pool party, enjoyed by guests of all ages, and when I mention guests, it was 14 to be exact. The entire team realized this was going to be our most challenging evening. The sheer number of people, expanse of space, 40 ft plus trees to illuminate, all challenges and then that traditional afternoon thunderstorm began to rumble in the distance. Two hours before "go time" and all the talent is indoors, watching the rain fall and wind blow across our "pool party" set. At about 1.5 hours to "go time" Zack approached me, grinning a bit, really what else could you do, and asked, "so whatcha thinking?". My response, with a matched grin, "We are going to be fine, it's going to blow over and actually its going to really help us, going to cool things down for the talent", at that point I'm essentially trying to convince myself of what I'm saying. Over the next 30 minutes there are a few meetings, I reassure Larry and Martin that everything is going to be fine, it will blow through, figuring the more I present the idea, just maybe the weather gods will hear me. Then updating all the talent on our game plan, which essentially was, this is all going to work out, but we are going to be working in a little tighter window so we discussed the plan in depth. Then a pep talk with the production team, laying out our lighting configurations, as we utilized tungsten for the overall set, then switched to strobe to capture the set with talent. We all had our tasks, from cleaning areas of the set, setting props, positioning lighting, all to happen as soon as the rain ceased. With 45 minutes until dusk, the rain finally lifted and let's just say I think our team could land a grounds crew job at any Major League Baseball stadium of their choosing, it was impressive and the challenge of weather provide a terrific opportunity to showcase the talent of the team.

At this point in the project, I figured I'd used up most of my nine lives, the logistics of trying to rework schedules for talent numbering 14 is significant, so I really thought we'd enjoyed all the breaks we'd receive. I do know for a fact, that after the project above, the family homecoming, I definitely had used up all of my nine lives. The forecast was rather definitive, 100% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Reminding me of the dialogue between Mary and Lloyd in the classic comedy, Dumb and Dumber, where Lloyd is pressing Mary for the odds of them ending up together, Mary explains that its a one in a million chance, to which Lloyd, responds, "So you're telling me there's a chance!" For us on this night, it was going to be all about when and where, the storms would hit. The location happened to be near a golf course and that proved to be our savior. I can't tell you exactly how many miles away lightning is to trigger the "clear the golf course" sirens, but I can tell you its enough time to nail two different angles on a home exterior with multiple lighting setups and talent. I was trying to hold out as long as possible, once again everyone involved, from crew to talent, knew the plan, so when the siren rang out, it was a sprint. It is no exaggeration when I state that Zack, Timur and I ran, we sprinted from spot to spot, lights (aka lightning rods) in hand to pull it off. And pull it off we did, the last light safely under the cover of the garage as the storm completely let loose with all its fury. I think I channeled my inner Lt. Dan from Forrest Gump in the shrimp boat hurricane scene, and in the end as we stood in the garage, drenched, it began with shaking heads and grins, rising to a chuckle and finally all out laughter at what we had accomplished.

The feeling going into the final location was that it might be the least dramatic or powerful of the group. As it turned out I believe it was one of the most satisfying and rewarding. The weather presented no challenges, the only real issue that surfaced was the length of nap time for one, most important member of our talent. Throughout the entire project there was a terrific sense of teamwork and family that I credit Larry Spada and his entire family for fostering, as throughout the days of shooting we shared meals, laughter, amazing creative synergy and a few challenging moments. This final location seemed to encapsulate this feeling, an inviting corner residence in a neighborhood that felt like a neighborhood should. As the sun set and the landscape lighting and our additional lighting illuminated this quaint corner, people stopped on their evening walks, they came out of their homes and a photo shoot become a neighborhood social gathering. A wonderful opportunity.

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