Monday, April 06, 2009

Bluebonnet shoot

The Wife had a photo workshop Sunday, a "trash-the-dress" style bridal shoot in a bluebonnet field in Brenham. This is in support of her nascent photography business, Lisa on Location. The general concept behind this kind of photography workshop is that photographers pay a modest participation fee and, after a minimal amount of tips and photographic instruction from the event organizers, are turned loose to flex their picture-taking prowess on a bevy of models assembled for said event. The "trash the dress" aspect involves shooting the bride in informal situations where the dress isn't kept in a necessarily pristine condition. In real life, such "trash the dress" shoots are normally scheduled some time after the wedding, for obvious reasons.

This was a homecoming of sorts for The Wife, since her first job out of college was working for the Brenham Banner-Press. She doesn't hold a wealth of fond memories for the job (although I did learn--much to my surprise after 13 years of marriage--that she is the reporter who broke the story of Blinn College disbanding its national champion track team) which ended after approximately a year when the publisher eliminated her position in order to buy himself a new car. Yeah.

So she and I get up absurdly early to make out way to Brenham, leaving the kids in the care of a grandmother. We arrive as the sun is peeking above the trees, and are heartened somewhat by the fact the fields are more scenic than Google maps had led us to believe (they were bordered on three sides by Wal Mart, Home Depot and La Quinta, you see). There are roughly 15 models total, but it was hard to tell since many listed online as attending didn't show, and some who showed were never listed as participating. On top of this, only four or so women in their early 20s were actually modeling in wedding dresses. There were a number of teens who weren't doing wedding dresses, and the bulk of the models present were younger children available for family and youth bluebonnet shots. The one thing The Wife doesn't have need for at this point is kid portraits--she's already got far more than she can use on her website, and as it can be time-consuming working with children, ultimately that part just wasn't worth the hassle, so she ended up with relatively few kid shots.

The ratio of models to photographers, as stated by the event organizers, was roughly 1:1. But the bulk of these were children, and some of the children were siblings and a package deal. As the event was billed as a bridal shoot, guess what the bulk of the photographers were primarily interested in shooting? Four models in wedding gowns had clusters of photographers swarming them most of the time, stepping over each other and generally trying to stake out a good angle for the shot they wanted. That's not to say that the participating photogs weren't polite or professional. There were some good conversations to be had and most folks were in a good humor throughout the day. But it quickly became apparent that if you weren't aggressive, you wouldn't get your shots. The models responded to the loudest commands, and any photog meekly waiting their turn would get trumped by the next person with a camera that asserted themselves. Judging from the number of wedding dresses that were waiting to be worn in the dressing area, along with the number of adult models listed as attending but nowhere to be seen, it's hard to blame the organizers. I've dealt with scheduling models a fair bit in recent months, and "flakes"--that is, cancellations or no-shows--run about 50 percent. Apparently there are a lot of people who like to play at being models, but when it comes time to actually roll out of bed at 7 a.m., they'd rather just hit the snooze button.

I, by the way, wasn't shooting. The Wife had registered for the workshop, not I. Instead, I was relegated to the role of "Lensboy," packing the equipment, holding the reflector, offering suggestions and anything else that needed doing. As I'm holding the reflector to soften the shadows on one model's face, I commented to The Wife that it was interesting we had bright morning sunlight when the weather forecast had indicated it'd be overcast that day. Cue gale-force winds and heavy cloud cover. Temperatures dropped about 10 degrees, and what had started out as a balmy, breezy day quickly turned chill. The clouds acted a great light diffusers, but The Wife wanted a warmer look to the shots, so I held the gold reflector up as she bounced the on-camera flash off it. The effect was muted but perceptible. Of immediate concern to myself was the inclination of the huge reflector panel I was holding to whip off into the sky, kite-like, never to be seen again. The models had it worse, though. Those with long hair--ie most of them--fought a losing battle to keep it out of their faces. And pretty much all of them were wearing short, summer weather outfits that offered little protection against the chill weather. A few models simply packed it in once wind picked up and temperatures dropped. I can't say I blame them. Then, after an hour or so, the clouds abruptly rolled away and the brilliant sun came out again to screw up everyone's white balance. It didn't get any warmer, though.

It was interesting to observe the other photographers, as I was able to do since I wasn't shooting. The majority of photogs were shooting Canon, with Nikon, not surprisingly, making up the rest. I didn't see a singly Olympus, Pentax or Sony, which surprised me a little. Those other brands are distant also-rans behind the Big Two in terms of market share, but I know there are lots of photographers who use them to great effect in their photography. Just none who attended this workshop, apparently. I observed an array of Canon's top-of-the-line L series lenses in action, a smattering of mid-grade consumer glass and some basic kit lenses. One Canon shooter had a big Sigma telephoto zoom she was using. When I asked her about it, she got defensive, saying she couldn't afford the equivalent Canon lens and moved off before I could say anything else. I've been looking at Sigma's massive 150-500mm super zoom telephoto lens, mainly because there's noting else comparable to it and the price makes it attractive. I wanted to talk with the Sigma owner about her experiences with image quality and autofocus with her telephoto zoom, but obviously never got a chance. Rats.

Ultimately, we shot for two and a half hours, and The Wife got scads of good bridal portraits, a few glamour-style shots, some excellent senior portrait-style shots and a handful of kid shots taken when none of the older models were available. All in all, it was an interesting experience, and an educational one. We'd never participated in anything like this, and likely won't ever do a bridal again, although it could be fun for other specific themes (I know a few months back there was a pirate-themed shoot in Galveston on the tall ship Elissa). My biggest regret is that I didn't get to shoot any myself, but such is the lot of Lensboy.

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