Apr 30 2009

highway 395 revisited

Published by at 9:00 am under portraits,process,teaching,technique,travel

Back in the fall I traveled to he Mono Lake area with my friend Eliot Crowley. He is working on his MFA thesis project titled “Highway 395 Revisited” that involves taking portraits of strangers that he meets along the Eastern Sierra road. Eliot is an accomplished commercial photographer who is getting his Masters degree to allow him to teach higher level classes at Brooks Institute.

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Eliot in a grove of Aspens with the Airstream in tow near June Lake

This portrait of him also became a teachable moment for my Photo 1 class I was instructing at the Julia Dean Photo Workshop. I had just scrambled back from the road with Eliot and I used his portrait to demonstrate some of the planning and background knowledge that goes into what looks like a snapshot.

Part of the spontaneous look comes from standing in the middle of an active road with no control over the traffic. I’m using no external lights, but I have the knowledge that fall leaves look better backlit and that the aspens behind me will be a great source of bounce light that will illuminate Eliot’s face as well create a great reflection in the truck and Airstream.

I found a spot where the trees looked great behind he truck as well as showing the highway stripe and the peak in the background. The class saw all the scouting test shots and preparation that led up to this 30 seconds of a planned snapshot.

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The beauty shot of the Airstream

The scouting was for two shots not one. I first looked for this long shot and then repositioned myself for the portrait.

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My "I love Mono Lake" pose - Photo by Eliot Crowley

I was also able to help Eliot with his project by flagging down potential subjects, wrangling with equipment and serving as a test stand-in. All of the activities of a normal photo assistant – except when I was an assistant I was either clueless, or a bored know-it-all. Now when I help friends I’m able pick up on the small nuances of working in a different way with subjects – and on this trip I also learned Eliot’s secret lighting technique.

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My slacker wood-cutter look - Photo by Eliot Crowley

Visit Eliot’s blog and see the real people (my posing will also make more sense) that we found for his portraits and ask him to reveal his secret. It’s really a mixture of a way of thinking about light that is easier with digital capture, blended with the lighting technique in Photoshop. In addition to having a great photo-adventure and camping trip with a friend. I pick-up a new trick that I used on a recent group portrait of a company’s Board of Directors.

Mark Harmel


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