Sometimes You Have To Get Your Feet Wet

"The River Ran Scarlet"

As an artist there's bound to be times when I'm faced with challenges that I'm not quite used to. For me one of those challenges was shooting outside. It's definitely a lot of fun, and I've been SO pleased with my first several attempts, but for me I guess I'm just spoiled by the studio. The fact that normally I'm shooting tethered, meaning after I snap a picture I can immediately see it on a big computer screen, really makes shooting outdoors quite nerve-racking. When I take a picture in the studio I never have to play the nail-biting guessing game of, "Is this tiny image on the back of my camera actually in focus?" Or the ever present worry of, "Did I get all the pieces I'll need to pull this edit off?" Usually if I miss something or think of a detail to add later, I can go back to the studio and shoot it. However, when photographing on location I kind of have to get what I get, hope for the best, and deal with it in post. If I happen to miss something that I need to complete the image, odds are it's going to be a bit of a challenge (or completely impossible) to get back to that exact spot, with the same light, the same model, the same props, the get the point. I shot this image during the Silver Lake Flickr Gathering and I knew at the time that this was it; if the picture didn't work out, umm...oh well, that sucks, live and learn, moving on.

Before I dive too deep into my ramblings about this crazy red dress river composite, can we just take a minute to marvel at the exceptional human that is Aleah Michele Ford!? She is one of the first photographers that I met on Flickr. I immediately decided she was amazing and that we were destined to be friends after I laid my eyes on this masterpiece. We started commenting back and forth on each other's new images, and she certainly seemed to be a rather grand individual.  I think after a while it was safe to say we were solid internet buddies. Then I discovered that SHE LIVES SUPER CLOSE TO MY HOME TOWN!!!!?!! THEN my entirely wonderful friend Valerie Kasinski hosted the Silver Lake Flickr Gathering and I finally got a chance to meet Aleah in person. Seriously people, she is an absolute delight - just a fun, easygoing, bubbly breath of fresh air and I can't wait until we get to hang out and shoot some more!! (Same goes for Val...well actually that goes for all of my SIlver Lake Flickr family!)

Let me just tell you this was not an easy edit by any means. I definitely ran into many challenges and really wish I'd shot it differently. I had such a clear picture in my head and the images I took were...let's just say not as clear as I would have hoped. Not to say that this wasn't useable or fixable, but after putting the image together I realized that I definitely should have done some things differently. I should have shot Aleah much larger in the frame - as in shot with the camera a lot closer to her and then have taken all the photos around her to use to expand the image. I basically shot her in an already "expanded" frame and then took photos around that. If I were to have actually used all of the surrounding shots for my final edit, she would have been sooooo small and that's not what I was going for. (Did that make sense? If you have no idea what an expansion is, feel free watch this video Brad Wagner put together.) I hadn't ever messed around with any sort of an expansion shot until this image, so I still hadn't worked out all the kinks. In fact my outdoor shots are probably going to continue to be a bit "kinky" for a while until I learn what the heck I'm doing. 

Sometimes you just have to get your feet wet. In the case of this photo, it was actually Aleah who got her feet wet...literally, but that's not the point. (However, I do want to mention that she was an ABSOLUTE TROOPER and didn't complain once about wading around barefoot in the cold water during mid-October.) The point is, I'm still getting the hang of shooting outside and the only way I'm going to get better is by doing it and failing...well almost failing. Ok, actually I don't feel like this image was a failure (at all), in fact I feel it was a major success, because... 
A. It turned out just as I had hoped and imagined it in my brain, even with some speed bumps. 
B. I finally got this idea out of my head and into the interwebs.
C. I learned a heck of a lot about what sort of planning should go into an on-location composite like this one.

SO to conclude and review, let's play a fun game called....


1. If you are planning to do an expansion shot, shoot your subject as large as possible in the frame and THEN shoot the surrounding area to use for expanding your frame.
2. Once you've focused on your subject, LOCK YOUR FOCUS! Aka turn it off of autofocus because if your focal point shifts at all, you're going to have a heck of a time trying to cohesively composite your shots together.
3. Take WAY more shots than you need...because you'll most likely need them and you probably can't go back and reshoot things.
4. Keep your model in one place and shoot everything you'll need with them there before you ask them to trudge all around a river draping fabric over tiny waterfalls. I realized after I had her leave her position that I forgot to grab a few elements I would need, and then had to try to reframe her in the same place and everything. It ended up mostly working out, but would have been much easier had she never moved.
5. If you're going to ask your model to stand in cold water, MAYBE THINK ABOUT PLANNING THE DARN THING FIRST! This way the shoot can go as quickly and smoothly as possible and you can let the poor girl put her coat and shoes back on while her toes are still attached!!! (It wasn't actually THAT cold out, but definitely not what I would call swimming weather.)

Lastly I'd like to add that I believe in the back of my mind somewhere, this image was inspired by this image created by Trini Shultz. SHE IS INCREDIBLE, just sayin'.

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