Day Three – Soufriére Fire Station
Wednesday saw us visiting the Soufriére Fire Station. I was looking forward to this part of the trip since I first read about Joe meeting this guys years ago when Scott Kelby was a guest instructor.
Driving into Soufriére
This was the only time I ventured into town during my trip, other than coming and going to the airport. We loaded everyone up in a van and made our way down the mountain. It was a good time to relax and chat, but I also loved the drive. Yes, the road coming out of the resort is a bit bumpy, but I still loved the curves and views that came later in the drive. Besides, it's interesting to watch a different part of the world go by when you don't have to think about driving.
Getting there is half the fun. Dodging chickens in the road. Watching the driver try to make a blind pass of a slow truck only to find a speeding car coming around a curve. Watching the lane shrink to the width of a single car while we somehow slide through it past another oncoming car. Maybe I was the only one who loved it, but I thought it would make a great video game.
Half the fun was knowing we'd do the same thing on the drive back to the resort.
Visiting the Soufriére Fire Station
These guys are great. They provided a friendly, warm welcome to all of us – strangers who just came to take their photo. Garvey Charlemagne is also a photographer, and I can only imagine that things clicked nicely when Joe and Scott first came upon them a few years ago. The guys opened their house to us and made outstanding subjects.
My photo partner this time was Katie, and I was looking forward to shooting with her. She has an eye for color, design and composition that I really admired, so I wanted to pick up on that as much as I could. On top of that, she's just a friendly person. It was evident by the way Katie relates to her subject. She made a few clicks and then sat on the bench with Henry, our subject for the day. Just nice chatting, discussing the images and including him in the process. I wish I could relate so naturally to people I've just met. Henry was as easy going as anyone you could hope to meet, so that helped me out quite a bit.
I had a few objective in mind for this shoot. Definitely wanted to get some detail shots, but my overall objective was simplicity. I didn't want to lose my subjects in a complex background. I also decided to fool around with focal lengths. It's a workshop, so why not experiment and see what happens?
We graduated from a single flash to using two lights on this session. Also, we started using a softbox on C-Stand instead of working with diffusers and paint poles.
Joe took us for a walk around the station, pointing out some features and advice from his previous visits. One thing that Katie and I both loved was this red wall along the side of the building. It's actually a split paint job, with a cream color just above the view of this photo. Also, the paint is a semi-gloss and it tends to reflect light back at you. As joe told us, there's not too much you can do about that except watch the angle of your light, but to expect and accept some spill that reflects when working close to it.
Katie started shooting first and our initial problem became obvious. Henry's helmet was blocking the light and casting a shadow on his face. The solution was to toss a gold reflector on the floor and I stood there holding another SB-910 straight down to skip the light and provide some fill. Worked very well without overwhelming the key light.
Upon getting back to see these shots on my computer, I realized a couple of things that I missed on the back of the camera. There's a it of a shadow on his forearm from the axe, due to the floor skip. There's also another odd reflection hitting the wall on the other end of the bench. I'm not terribly worried about these as workshop images, but it caused me to go buy a tether table and other pieces so I can shoot tethered and review the images on a larger screen in the future. Just arrived last night.
One of the reasons I wanted to try shooting some detail shots is because I don't think I do it often enough. The thing going through my head for detail shots was pretty much tools and hands. Tools and hands.
These guys work hard. Tough men with a tough job. You can tell from looking at this axe that it's been in use for a while and seen some hard times. Definitely worth a shot.
What I didn't realize is that lighting it would take a different approach. The soft box is great for portraits, but I wish I'd thought about putting a grid on that light and focusing it on a smaller area of the image. The good part is that the experience taught me. If I never made a mistake, I'd never grow. Details are important – both as subjects and as attention to detail when shooting.
Earlier in the week, I spoke to Joe about my concerns with shooting portraits using shorter focal lengths. He pointed to my 24-70 and assured me that he's found very little distortion with that lens and I felt OK giving it a try. On this day, I pushed it a bit farther by putting my 35mm prime on for a shot.
Now here's a shot of Henry with an 85mm prime.
The differences jump out at you. You see much more of the fire truck in the 35mm shot, but poor Henry gets dwarfed as a result. His helmet, axe and hands seem out of proportion with the rest of his body, too.
In the 85mm shot, he looks much more natural and proportioned. You see less of the truck, but it still provides a nice graphic element behind him.
I showed the 35mm shot during the critique the next morning and Joe's comment was that he would have gone long on that shot. Then I was able to show the 85mm shot (using Katie's lens, since I left mine in Florida) and it got a better reception.
So were my concerns about using short focal lengths justified or not? It depends upon how you're composing the shot. For environmental scenes, I think I'm much more comfortable going with a wider lens. For this kind of portrait, I'll likely stick with my 85mm or my 70-200mm in the future.
After another invigorating drive through Saint Lucia, we found ourselves back on Jade Mountain as Joe gave a demonstration. RC's wife, Jenn, modeled for Joe by the infinity pool I showed in the HDR example from my Jade Mountain post. Once again, it reinforced the lesson of working one scenario as the light changed. Always starting with a baseline, measuring, adapting, and solving the next problem. Once the sunlight and everything else was in place, Jenn could do her thing and Joe captured it all.
I plodded around Jade Mountain a bit more that evening, grabbing shots of the architecture and environment. Damn near died walking up the stairs as another toad the size of my fist decided to jump under my foot. Saw a glow-in-the-dark caterpillar and watched a grown man try to take a photo of the Milky Way using his iPhone – with flash. Some drunk threatened to “tee off” on me for taking pictures (which I pretended not to hear). Fortunately, his friends calmed him down quickly and there was no incident. We started talking a bit later and I showed him some of my shots. He wasn't so bad once he realized that he wasn't in my shots at all.
Even in Saint Lucia, I'm still charming.