Friday, May 25, 2012

[F]ramed - The Brooke Shaden Challenge Experience

Believe... (Model: Katie Johnson)

Through the encouragement of two friends of mine, I submitted my portfolio to the [FRAMED] - Brooke Shaden: Photography Challenge. I guess I wasn't keeping good tabs on my email, because by pure fluke, I happened upon an email on January 11th that informed me that I was one of 4 photographers selected to participate in the event. I'm a pretty skeptical person, so I immediately read the email to one of my close friends for advice, and then I replied to the email to make sure it was legit. Turns out, it was 100% legit.

Saying I was "excited" would be an understatement. But, there was one major problem... I received the email late on January 11th, and somehow had to get myself to Malibu, CA by January 14th... 8:45am. Yikes! Pricing flights and hotels, it was quite clear that this adventure was gonna cost me an arm and a leg... and then some. So, I did some quick coordinating to make sure things around home would be okay, and then I got the approval from my employer to take a couple days off, and the next thing you know... I'm on a plane to California.

Me... at the airport.

I love to fly. I actually wanted to be an air force pilot when I was a boy. But I gotta be honest with you... traveling is stressful for me. And when I'm on a tight timeline like this, it's stressful times one thousand. Overall, everything went smooth. But I ran into a logistical problem that cost me hundreds of dollars. Turns out that there wasn't really a very convenient place for me to fly into. No matter how I factored things, there was going to be a major distance to travel... either from the airport to the hotel, or from the hotel to the shooting location. I chose to have the large distance be between the airport and hotel. I felt pretty prepared when I left, from a "cash" perspective. But the cab ride from the airport to the hotel quickly added up... in fact, it got to the point where I felt I may be walking on the California highways, because my cash on-hand wouldn't cover the cab fare. Literally, the cab ride cost me hundreds of dollars... sapping me of all cash I had. If you thought the flight and short timeframe was stressing me out, let me tell you that the cab ride had me freaking, big-time.

Regardless, I made it to the hotel late Friday night. Then I spent hours on the phone with friends and family trying to figure out how I was gonna have enough cash to get to the shoot location the next morning, and then from the shoot location back to the airport. Ugh!
Taking pics during the cab ride from hell...
On video phone with Nicole, trying to figure out what I was going
to do now that I didn't have any cash left after the cab ride.
It was a long day... I deserved a pizza.  Mmmm... pizza!
I managed to ensure that the cab driver picking me up Saturday morning would take credit cards. He wasn't happy about it at all, but he did it anyway. He ended up being a really nice guy, and told me a lot of stories as we traveled to the shoot location.

When we arrived at the shoot location, we ran into a problem. We went deep enough into the hills of Malibu, that the credit card machine couldn't get a signal to process my credit card. So, we ended up driving another 15 to 20 minutes in order to find a signal. Luckily, the cabby was kind enough to not charge me for the extra mileage. Thanks Mr. Cabby!

The shoot location.

So... the cabby dropped me off in a parking lot in the hills of Malibu. I wasn't comfortable at all with this. Here I am with a suitcase and my camera gear, in a place that I can't even get a cell phone signal. What if I'm in the wrong place? How would Framed contact me? More ugh!

Well, luckily a few people congregated in that parking lot, and I evesdropped on their conversation enough to know that they were the other photographers that had been selected. I sauntered over and we did some introductions.

Eventually, Brooke Shaden arrived, and so did the Framed crew. After almost 4 days, I finally felt a sense of relief. That I was at the right place, with the right people, and I could now relax and have some fun.

Admittedly, a few of us were pretty nervous... we didn't have any idea what was in store for us. Framed, and Brooke, kept our mission pretty hush-hush, because they didn't want us leaking any of the information to the public.

After some pleasentries, we started on a mile-long hike into the hills of Malibu. We all had a fair amount of gear to carry with us, especially the camera crew with all their cameras and what-not. We seemed to walk forever.

The [F]ramed camera crew scoping out the location.

We ended up at a place where a house had once been. It has since been burned down, and all that remained were some of the walls and the foundation. It was a neat place, and had some very pretty foliage around it.

I've been a fan of Brooke Shaden's work for a couple of years now. I followed her very closely on Flickr for quite some time, and eventually got to see her career blossom into something very successful. So being there with her, and learning from her, was a dream come true. She's so nice, and extremely open and helpful.

Brooke began to gradually talk about what we were going to be doing. Yet, she still kept the ultimate goal a secret. In the meantime, we all had to do interviews for the Framed show... which we were all pretty nervous about, but I felt we all did well considering.

And then the moment of truth... Brooke let us know what our assignment would be, and we had a very short time to complete it. A few of us were quite stressed because of the amount of work we had to do in such a short period of time. We all had to select some props, develop an idea, get a model, and then shoot.

This, was quite nerve racking for me. I'm used to taking hours to develop ideas and do the shots. But now I'm basically being told to do it in about 30 minutes. Ugh!

I kind of didn't do what I was told for part of it. I was supposed to have used part of the old house in my shot, but I deviated off to a small waterfall that looked pleasant. I grabbed a candle and an umbrella... my idea, was to create a contradiction between water and fire. Usually, water extinguishes fire... so I wanted to create a pathway of fire, where the person igniting the fire knew that rain was immenent, but had faith that the fire would burn strong. The concept was basically that the subject believed in their path in life so much, that even the inevitable didn't dissuade them from their journey.

My setup was in a really crappy location. Getting the model to her spot was tricky, because one false step, and we were gonna end up in the pond. But, we managed to get the model in place, and me back and forth, without anybody taking a swim.

After setting up the camera and placing the model, we took a couple different shots with slightly different poses.  At one point, I even had Brooke sit next to the model and throw water into the air, as I wanted to make it look like it was raining, without having to add the rain in post-processing.  But, the throwing water thing didn't work out too well, so I left it out of the final image.  The next step, was to create the pathway of candles, so I let the model and Brooke go, because I didn't need them for this part.  To create the candle pathway, I tied the candle onto a fairly long stick, then lit the candle.  Starting near the camera, I submerged the end of the stick in the water, to make the candle look like it was floating... I had the camera automatically taking pictures while I did this, so that I could get the candle at various angles and heights.  Then, I would move away from the camera a few feet, and repeat.  I did this maybe 3 or 4 times, until I was back where the model had been standing.  This gave me a handful of shots of the candle at various angles, and various distances, allowing me then to make copies of the candle and place them randomly about in post-processing, until I had a somewhat convincing pathway (I'm really not happy with how it turned out, but at the the same time, it isn't too terrible).  The post-processing took me maybe 2 hours... copying all those candles was a pain, and I had lots of layers going on in Photoshop, which was tough to manage (and, which is why I stay away from compositing usually).

Overall, I think we all did very well considering the pressure to produce a complete shot in a short period of time. The other photographers were a pleasure to talk to, and shoot with. The camera crew too, were very professional, yet personable. I think we all had a really great time.

Brooke and I.
Brooke doing some autographs for me.

When all our shots were complete, we had to do some wrap-up interviews, and then we trudged back to the vehicles. The hike back seemed to take forever... and then we said our goodbyes.

Luckily for me, one of the other photographers (Ed) offered to drive me back to Santa Monica, to save me on cab fare (thanks again Ed). Boy was I appreciative. Then I grabbed a cab back to LA, and flew home.

I had a lot of hesitation being a part of this. It was a long way to go for such a short session. But I gotta tell you, that it's one of the best things I've done in a long, long time. Even with all the stress, and with the financial obligation, I'm so glad I did it.

I want to thank all the people involved with this.  I want to thank my boss for allowing me to take the time off of work.  I also need to send out a huge thank you to my mom for watching my son while I was gone.  Aaron Lindemann and Nicole Jolly, you two encouraged me to submit my work, and ultimately I would not have gotten out to do this had it not been for you two... thank you so much!  [F]ramed Network, thank you for this opportunity, and for doing such a great job shooting and editing the video.  And Brooke, thank you so much for seeing whatever you saw in my work which caused you to select me for this... it was an honor to be invited, I learned a ton from you, and I just want to thank you so much for everything.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Last Light, Last Night...

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

The concept behind this photo came to me while I was thinking about a layout for a photo. It started as a guy sitting on a bed blowing out a candle. Just a really simple serene image. The phrase "The Last Light" popped into my head, and had a nice ring. Oftentimes, I like to make the titles for my images have a catchy feel to them... sometimes I'll have harsh consonants, sometimes I'll use softer words, sometimes a little bit of rhyme or alliteration. So I thought about the scene and decided to add "Last Night" to the end "The Last Light, Last Night"... perfect. But then I started to think about what was the "Last Light". At face value it is the candle... but what if I take it just a bit further... Technically, light has to travel from point A to point B. So wouldn't it be interesting if you could take a photo of a candle being extinguished, and your timing of the shutter was so precise that you captured it where the candle was out, but the last bit of traveling light was still illuminating something (in this case, the subject's face). The final image was how I wanted it to be, but I would have loved to explore further a method for showing that last bit of traveling light. I think there might be a way to illustrate it afterward with some graphical work in post-processing. Or, if this scene were painted or drawn I could also think of ways to depict it. But for now, I'll consider this a "scratchpad" concept, and how I've captured it and titled it will be in my portfolio to review at some point in the future.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Day 355 of 365 - The Overflow Room At The Brenisher Museum Of Art

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

This is probably one of my favorite "trick shots" that I've done with long exposure techniques. The picture on the stairs is a picture of me, but the picture actually doesn't exist. No, I didn't photoshop myself onto that picture, I was actually standing/squatting just in front of the stairs. When the shutter opened, I manually fired the flash (which was gridded to only illuminate me), which then superimposed me onto the black piece of foam core that is on that picture frame. Then I quickly got out of the shot, and let the ambient light burn in the rest of the scene for the next 30 seconds. So it really is a single-take image, carefully engineered to take advantage of how darks and lights render when mixing flash with ambient light.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day 283 of 365 - Decisions...

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

This was a very fun shoot. Although, the mosquitos were NAS-TEE! My assitant and I walked around through the woods looking for the perfect size tree to use in this. The tree needed to fit between a normal-sized human's legs comfortably... not too wide, not too narrow. We lucked out and found this one right next to the path (which is what I was hoping to have). I get the general framing and composition figured out, then we setup a reflector on the left to highlight the runner's arm and leg on the shadow side.

My first goal is always to get the "standard" shot. The "standard" shot, is the simplest form of the final image that I would accept. In other words, even though my ultimate goal in this shot was to have the earbuds and water bottle flying, my first goal was to just get a good shot of the runner smacking into the tree without those other elements. Just getting that "standard" shot is all I need to know that technically I am done, and everything we do beyond that is experimentation. But hopefully, the experimentation is successful and ends up with the ultimate shot.

The breakdown of this shot is as follows... The runner is sitting on a stool behind the tree. A tiny bit of the stool was sticking out, and was easily post-processed out. Behind the runner, my assistant was crouched down and threw the earbuds when I told him to. The assistant was also slightly sticking out from behind the tree, so he was post-processed out as well.

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Day 281 of 365 - Night, By Door...

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

There's nothing I enjoy more than the challenge of modifying existing lighting. Especially when it's really crappy lighting that you cannot move (like street lights or lighted business signs). It took me a while to get things setup to look the way I wanted them to look. One of the bigger challenges was getting the red interior light to be the intensity I wanted it to be. After all, my two most significant light sources (the red interior light and the outdoor spot light) are both constant light sources and are both governed by the shutter. So, I had to move the diffusion panel closer/further from the light source to achieve the correct balance.

And of course, right when I nailed my "hero shot", I realized that the neighbor had come outside and their motion-light went on, leaving a wonderful specular highlight on the windows of the door on the left. And of course, the timer on their motion light was set to 10-minutes, so I just stood there doing nothing until it finally went off.

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Day 280 of 365 - About Falling Off Wagons...

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

Every so often I do a complete shoot, tear it down, and then end up having to set it all back up and re-shoot it. This is one of those. After reviewing the first round of images, I thought it would be funny to have Little Johnny pointing back at me and laughing (as shown in the final image). However, while setting everything up the second time, I realized that the original camera angle wasn't going to show Little Johnny's face as much as I would have liked it to. It seemed as though the whole composition would have to be re-thought, but I wasn't much in the mood because Little Johnny had enough already. So, I just shot it like this and left it.

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Day 277 of 365 - The Final Presentation of False Emotions

Photo by Andrew Kufahl

I was anticipating getting this photo complete in the early afternoon, as I had great natural light coming in through the window, and had worked out the framing and composition. But, I had to pick my son up from school. I didn't want to have to reconstruct the "scene", so I put masking tape everywhere to mark the position of the table, chairs, tripod, etc... that way if Little Johnny moved them when he got home I could move them right back. I wasn't able to re-visit this shot until later in the evening, so I had to figure out how to get light similar to what I was getting through the window earlier in the day. It took a little while to get it squared-away, but it wasn't rocket science. The biggest challenge of this shot was getting the knife at the right angle so that it's edge was highlighted. Ultimately I wanted the whole blade highlighted, but liked it much better with just the edge.

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