Shootin’ In The Sticks

Shootin’ In The Sticks

Rewind about two months ago, I was in the middle of photographing the 2012 Smokin’ Hot Espresso calendar. Before you roll your eyes, “oh boy, another bikini barista calendar, how lame,” you might wanna look into this one. I’d agree with you about nine times out of ten that the “normal” creation for such ideas (skimpily-clad women calendars) are poorly conceived, produced, and constructed, however… that’s not how the folks at Smokin’ Hot Espresso do business. Fortunately, they are the one out of the ten that want to do things right, and not produce something that was all shot in one day, and in a studio no-less. For some reason, the pattern of recent years has gone something like this with these kind of productions – take girl, prop said girl with minimal clothing, toss her on some random/boring background, run her through the same standard poses we’ve seen since the beginning of time, and photoshop the crap out of the photos in post production. Rinse and repeat. After all, it’s ALL about the girl, and production value doesn’t REALLY mean anything… right? A picture of a girl is a picture of a girl… Um, no. 12 months, of girls, in boring, unimaginative poses and situations, in a studio… yuck. Who would want to buy that? Luckily, Smokin’ Hot and myself are on the same page. It’s beyond making a buck. It’s about making something that is fresh, fun, and a treat for your customers. Our calendar is more of a end-of-the-year thank-you gift to the customers for their business. ROI (return on investment) wasn’t the driving factor, not one bit, and that’s why I really like working on this project. This calendar is full of the same baristas who have made the customers coffee every day. How cool would it be to hand those same customers a calendar with the baristas in fun outfits and situations? We wanted to produce something on a level that would leave us knowing that no other similar business in the area would come close to matching.

This post kicks-off a set of articles I’ll be pushing out, describing my photographic journey through a handful of months working with Smokin’ Hot Espresso as we produced this calendar. We didn’t skip any corners on this project, and it took as long as it did in order to mature ideas, secure locations, and schedule the shoots. We took a lot of things into considerations, again, not losing perspective (it being a photo shoots of bikini baristas) and getting lazy about the details. For example, Fall activities we were portraying in our photo concepts that required Fall scenery were flexed to ensure we shot in prime Fall colors. It’s not the driest or warmest time of the year to shoot in the PNW, but we didn’t want to cut the project short because it wasn’t going to be ideal temperatures out. The girls know this going-in and they are troopers, staying well-composed even though they are outside for a minimum of an hour, and wearing just about nothing in 40-50 degree temps.

So… here we are, shootin’ in the sticks. This shoot was a trek. About an hour drive from Tacoma, navigating roads until they turned to dirt, and then hiking for 5-mins up a hill. Not a fun task when you are packing 100 lbs of gear with ya. The resulting view was well-worth it though, providing us with almost a 360 degree view of the landscape (it was a big hill), including a clean shot of Rainer.

We got there a bit early, taking our time to select the most ideal composition locations on the hill, as well as wait-out the sun to hit a desirable point in the sky. The primary shot was a no-brainer… framing Rainer in the background. I tossed on a polarizer filter to pull more color into the sky (and knock down the ambient light a bit, allowing me to start my shoot sooner). Sun was camera-right, providing the lighting for the environment, I also stuck my flash on that side (in-relation to the subject) to produce a more natural light on the model (as if it was coming from the sun as well). I mostly shot this composition with a mid-telephoto (~200mm) to compress the background and pull the mountain in to the photo, and then later went with some wide glass to add some drama. I really like the added depth of the out-of-focus blades of grass of the telephoto shots.

The second composition was just about 20 feet away from the first location, propped on another stump and facing West into the sun. We waited for the sun to get really low in the sky, pushing out warmer colors, helping to re-enforce the Fall colors we wanted in this shot. The sun is my favorite backlight to work with, it’s just so darn purdy. Unfortunately, the sun is only worth a darn for about two hours every day (sunrise and set). I got away with only using one flash for this whole shoot, which is always nice. Less gear, less adjusting, and shoots move along about 5 times faster than 3-5 light setups. A lot of photogs always have the itch to fill-in all the shadows with at least a little detail. Me, on the other hand, I love those deep, dark shadows in my photos, so I’ll rock a single flash for a good majority of my shoots. I do a lot of location shooting, so I can use that ambient light as tool for background detail and subject edging.

Throughout the duration of the shoot, I was blindly hoping all over in tall grass, sticker bushes, and hidden tree limbs beneath the thick foliage. When you are rolling out great images, with eye glued to the viewfinder, you tend to ignore the immediate surroundings, completely focused on attaining the right framing, regardless what you have to step in. You’d think I would have learned from last time (click here for my ‘killer ant’ story). I’m happy to report that aside from some scratches from thorns here and there, I didn’t roll an ankle, or get attacked by any animals.

The third look was made by a simple change in my position to the subject, she didn’t move. Rotating around, I took the impact of the sun out of the background and also accented the tall grass from the angle in-relation to the model. Just enough ambient light in the background to give the photo some layering.

There you have it, an archery concept of our barista/indian atop of hill with a great view in the Fall season. Don’t forget to catch the behind the scenes video I cut together for this project as well (click here for that).You can consume a calendar along with your coffee at any Smokin’ Hot Espresso stand now.

A couple BTS shots.