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Friday, January 20, 2012

Ian Spanier: Shooting Truckers from ‘Shipping Wars’

Although I often shoot in the studio, more often I am on the road. In today's world of tighter budgets and increasing airline baggage fees, traveling with heavy portable battery packs and heads is less possible. And often, when traveling to remote locations, picking up rental equipment is just not going to happen. Solutions to problems like this are the key to survival in this ever-crowded industry. So when Photoflex released the TritonFlash portable strobes, I was very intrigued. I got a chance to test them on a personal project and definitely liked them. I was eager to get my own and little did I know they would come in so handy.

The Assignment

Soon after testing out the TritonFlashes, I got a call from A&E Television Network to shoot five subjects around the country for a new show called, "Shipping Wars". The five featured subjects are all part of a new breed of truckers who bid competitively, eBay style, on shipping jobs. Each picks up a load in one city and delivers to the next city. The job included shooting on set of the realty-style show while the filming took place and then setting up a formal portrait of each subject. I needed to be able to work fast and travel last minute to the various cities. Since there were so many flights packed in so tightly, I was worried about luggage not showing up, and I knew that renting lights locally might not be possible. I considered not using lights at all, but my client wanted lit portraits, so I needed a solution. Hello TritonFlashes! I knew I could get away with carrying on the easily portable lights, check my light stands, and should they not show up, the old human stand (my assistant) would suffice.

Even though I've traveled halfway around the world, been as far as south as New Zealand and as far north as the polar ice cap in Greenland, I toil over packing almost every trip. I pride myself on working minimally, but I love gadgets and always think there's a way I could use this or that. I've always been good at improvising, but it's nice when you can have everything you need.

This was a true challenge. How could I get two lights, batteries, soft boxes, transmitters, and chargers in one bag small enough to qualify as my "personal item" alongside my LowePro Pro Roller x200?

I decided to take my LowePro S&F Transport Duffle Backpack. Initially, I hand-carried my Photoflex Small OctoDome but then ended up strapping it to the side of the Duffle as there are a couple of snapback clips on the side. All this I put on my back and rolled comfortably through each and every airport we visited. The batteries are unbelievably light, especially compared to Quantum Batteries, which I've worked with often. I wouldn't even consider the bag stuffed, and not once was I questioned at the gate. We did take a couple of smaller planes, and I was able to keep the lights on the plane as it fit in the tiny overhead or under the seat.

As minimal as it might seem, the comfort of knowing I had everything I needed should my luggage not arrive was paramount. There was more than one point along the four weeks where we had to switch flights, jump on a red-eye and/or change plans. One less thing to worry about is always a good thing.

The Portrait

Here's a sample portrait of one of the drivers, Marc Singer. Marc, as you can see, has a great mustache. He's also one of the more competitive guys on the show, and the show producers warned me he may be tough to shoot. I love when I hear that, as that extra challenge is always fun to me. In line with this, I know that if I can wow the subject with good lighting, they will like me and cooperate.

We got to the location early and Marc was eager to get the portrait out of the way so he could concentrate on the job pickup. Marc would be loading a Baja Race Truck, a pickup truck and a 4-wheeler on the back of his trailer, and also be building a cover over the race truck since it couldn't get wet. On top of that, a winter storm surrounded us. I told him we needed 10 minutes to put the lights together and asked him to move his truck to the middle of the street. Being quick is key to keeping subjects happy who have their minds on other things.

One of the great aspects of the TritonFlashes is how quickly I can put them together. The wind was heavy, so we didn't even bother with light stands -- my assistant took on that role. The key light here was the Small OctoDome with just the front diffusion face (no interior baffle) with the power on the TritonFlash set to 1/2+. Shooting with the diffusion face attached provides me with a softer quality of light and keeps the shadows a little more open. Also, with the light close to the subject., the light is softer and it falls of quickly. I wanted the attention to be on Marc, and not the big shiny grill of the truck. The second head here was inside a Photoflex XS OctoDome (the one that comes with the kit) with both layers of diffusion attached and dialed down to 1/16- to be a 2-stop under fill. I like the catchlight this light creates, and as well how it opens the shadows created by the key light.

The second setup was basically the same. We threw the fill light on a mini-stand to accommodate the new height of the subject, and my assistant held the key light higher with the use of the Photoflex LiteReach, as the wind was still too strong for a lightweight stand. Here we had a distracting reflection in the cab of the truck, but it was easy to remove in Photoshop. I always prefer to give my clients an image that will require little-to-no retouching on things like this, but cars and trucks nearly always pick up lights if they are pointed at them. Our setup took 10 minutes, and the shoot approximately 15 minutes.

Marc was so happy that we finished the two setups so quickly that he requested we do a third! He wanted to be shot with the lights that are on the grill of the truck in order to show the manufacturer. He repositioned the truck, and I decided to make this look a little different. I pulled the diffusion face off the Small OctoDome to create a lower hard sun setting feel. One of the things I truly love about the Photoflex modifiers is that they have so many variations in the way I can use them, each to tell a different lighting story.

After the Job

Soon after the shoot, I received an email from the show's producer asking if I could send one of the shots to Marc as he was dying to see it. I retouched one and sent it to A&E to forward along to him. They really liked it, it got major play on their website, and last week I saw it in Reality Magazine. If you Google the show, "Shipping Wars", many sites are featuring the images. Most importantly though, was that A&E was happy with the images. And despite the many challenges, we got the shoots done quickly and kept our subjects happy!

To see more of Ian Spanier's work, visit www.ianspanier.com

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