Day Two – Jade Mountain
Jade Mountain is the luxurious sister resort to Anse Chastanet, and this was the location for our shoot for the day. Just a little higher up the hill than Anse Chastanet, but the rooms were another world apart.
RC's Room at Jade Mountain
Here's an iPhone panorama of RC's room at Jade Mountain. You can see him up there with Tony, and apparently I captured someone's butt on the infinity pool that I can't properly credit. You can click the photo to see it larger, but I'm not sure that's going to help.
Here's something to keep in mind. This room goes for over $2700/night, and that's in the low season. It has a beautiful view, nice amenities, a private butler and you just want to sit in this room while the world swirls around the sun. This is probably the most comfortable space I've ever inhabited in my life.
The story I heard from Joe is that this is the same room that Amy Winehouse used for a month or so while the British paparazzi camped out on the opposite hill to get a shot of her. From what I've since read, the Jade Mountain staff did a great job of cleaning up a plethora of vomit and blood while she was there. No wonder the rates went up. It was only $1400/night when she stayed there.
I woke up to rain this morning. Rain so heavy that I could not see the Pitons from my bed. It was a pure white-out over the cove. When I walked down the hill for breakfast, water flowed down the stairs like a river. I couldn't help but expect to find some salmon trying to swim their way upstream.
One of the things about Saint Lucia that impressed me was the water runoff management. You see drains and sluices all over the place. That doesn't happen here in Central Florida. We're surrounded by bodies of water, but drainage usually isn't a problem. The ground absorbs it like a sponge and the water goes into underground rivers. In the rest of the world, the ground is substantially harder and the water has to go somewhere. Since this is essentially a volcanic island, the water runs downhill. That's where the network of drains and sluices channel the runoff. In most places it works fine, though I doubt that was the intent for the staircase going downhill at Anse Chastanet. Oh, well.
RC's Video Demonstration
Part of the class featured RC's lesson on using Photoshop for video. Pretty cool stuff, but what happened next really showed the power that's available to the average photographer these days. RC had a vision for a short video. A man walks toward his room, opens the door. You see him glance off to the side for a moment. He tosses his keys down, whips off his shirt and he dives into the infinity pool. As that's happening, the camera pulls back to reveal him swimming toward a woman and showing the resort.
That kind of production in the past would have required a pretty expensive crane and a crew to operate it. RC did it with an iPhone and a GoPro camera in a DJ Phantom quadcopter during the three hour break between morning class and reconvening for the afternoon shoot.
The resulting video was just as he described. What most folks didn't get to see is how it happened. He had a number of obstacles to overcome. First, there was the rain. Second, there was a time constraint to use the room best suited for the video, since it had an alcove outside of the camera view to prevent him from being in the final production. Finally, there was a technical issue with the GPS on the quadcopter that made flight a bit…let's say erratic.
Despite the obstacles, he pulled off a scene using about a thousand dollars worth of gear that just a couple of years ago would have cost significantly more, and then he had it edited in Photoshop to create a final result within three hours. I thought it was a very effective demonstration of the tools that an average consumer can use to produce stunning results.
Herma and Delie in Jade Mountain
We had two models and used two rooms, RC's shown above and Joe's room that was one level down. Herma was back, and we also had Delie – a very statuesque subject. Once again, we broke up into teams and mixed them up a bit. I paired with Brian and started in RC's room.
Brian is a great guy. Good sense of humor and photographer from Dallas. He did some shots using the bed, but also in the infinity pool. When it was my turn to get into the pool to assist and hold a light, I didn't hesitate. Perhaps I should have, though. You see, I thought there was another step before I made the plunge up to my neck. I let out my best Goofy scream – Ooooh-hoo! That got everyone's attention.
If you ever see a training video where someone is holding a light modifier on a paint pole, give them some credit. After a while, that stuff gets heavy and uncomfortable to hold over your head. Brian is lining up his shots and I'm asking questions to make sure the light is where he wants it. Inside my head, the unspoken voice is saying “Pull the fucking trigger so I can put this thing down!”
During one of my turns. I have Herma on the bed and someone – I can't recall who – suggested shooting through the mosquito netting. It seemed like a good idea, but it just wasn't working and I had to pull the plug on that approach.The white sheen obscured the model and it just didn't look attractive. That is a lesson in itself. You don't have to keep fighting when something isn't working. Just call it and move on to something else.
Once we pulled up the mosquito netting, I was able to get something that I liked much better.
This shot took a bit of work, and it didn't come about without help from RC and Cali. I asked RC for help keeping the model engaged, as I seldom know what to say. Just the same, I don't want the person to think I'm insensitive. I'm just awkward. So he did a great job showing me how to keep that conversation going while I was also working out the exposure and compensation.
During the shoot, I tried a few different things. The first shots were with available light. While it was good for the overall scene, it didn't give me the accent I wanted on her face. Next, we switched to single SB-910 flash with a dome diffuser inside of a Lumiquest softbox. Better, but it was putting a specular highlight on her forehead that was a bit too much. Cali was right there with suggestions to correct the problem which eventually worked out to adding another layer of diffusion using a tri-grip. That created a larger light source with more spread, giving the shot above.
Next, we switched with the other team and headed down to Joe's room to shoot with Delie. As I mentioned, she has a very statuesque figure and I wanted to capture it. Something else I wanted to do was include the Pitons to show a sense of the location.
By now, I was starting to hone in on the process that we would repeat during the week. My first shots were to dial in the ambient exposure. Joe stood in as a test subject (something he repeated for all of us during the week). Once I was comfortable, then I could start dialing in the light on my subject. I wouldn't say that I was rapid at this point, but the repetition of experience was starting to help me get there just a bit faster than before.
The great benefit of doing the technical things over and over is that it frees up a part of my mind to communicate with my subject. It's yet another reason why I see the value of working on one shot as opposed to running around trying to get multiple images.
Same Place with Different Views
You can put a group of photographers in the same place with the same models and gear, but the results will always be different. Some folks used the Pitons as a background, some didn't. Some had the model in the pool shooting across the water, others were standing above shooting down. We all did something very different, and I really loved everyone's photos. While I walked away with the shots that I wanted, I also wish that I had thought of some of the scenes that my classmates created. I think everyone did a beautiful job. It just served as a reminder to me that we all have our own sense of style and creativity.
One of the people who definitely has an outstanding eye for design and creativity is Katie, who would be my partner on the next day. I learned quite a bit just from watching her go about setting up her shots and paying attention to her eye for color.
Jade Mountain HDR
Part of the learning experience at the workshop was learning HDR from RC. I definitely picked up some new ideas, and I'm still working them out in my own process. To give us some material to use for his lessons, we all took this shot that RC composed. We actually shot this on a different night in his room after another of Joe's demonstrations.
I trudged up more stairs to shoot the Milky Way over the Jade Mountain restaurant later this evening, but it was more of an experiment than a final result. When I tried it again later in the week, I think I found much better results after evaluating my first effort. I'll show those later on and tell you what pitfalls I learned about astrophotography.