I receive emails from people asking about the work I do as a professional photographer (zackseckler.com) so I’m going to talk about a recent shoot I did that has a cool story behind it. Here it goes…
Season's Greetings. © 2010 Zack Seckler
As a general rule in conceptual photography, photographers first have an idea for an image and then they go out and shoot it. Duh! But sometimes an opportunity presents itself and the photographer, in this case me, needs to break the rules.
A few months back I ventured out with just a camera and tripod looking to capture the fleeting beauty of fall. During my mini-adventure I came across a tree with a very unique look. It was indecently exposed, so to speak.
I proceeded to shoot my new deciduous friend from different angles, with different lenses and at different times throughout the afternoon. I didn’t know quite what I wanted to do with the image at that point but I knew I wanted to do something. I also knew I wanted to composite other elements into the image to elevate it beyond a standalone shot of the tree and turn it into a more personalized conceptual piece. Needless to say, I got a ton of shots. Lots of shots in this case equaled lots of options.
I churned through a bunch of ideas and settled on one of transforming the existence of fall itself, the changing of the seasons, into a man-made occurrence. It’s an over-the-top expression of how much impact us humans have on the environment today.
In order to make the concept clear, and do so without too much visual clutter, I settled on the idea of having a worker with an industrial vacuum cleaner sucking up the leaves. Many other ideas wouldn’t have read as well or were too costly to produce.
First step: pre-production. I purposefully picked an idea that was simple to execute so this part was super simple. I ordered the props I would need; a wooden ladder and industrial vacuum (thank you Home Depot return policy). I held a casting for talent. I arranged for several wardrobe options and ended up going with a workman outfit to match the color palette of the background plate. I needed to duplicate the lighting conditions on the day I shot the tree so I checked with Al Roker and he booked us for a day with 100% sunshine.
Image composited into background. © 2010 Zack Seckler
Next: shooting. Compositing an element into a shot after the fact is difficult so I had to be detail oriented; ensuring the man on the ladder would fit seamlessly with the background plate. My camera settings were set exactly to what I used for the original background image capture. I shot with a Canon 1DS Mark III and a 24-70mm L lens set to F/8. I positioned the talent on the ladder at the same distance from where I was when I shot the tree. I then placed him in a ton of different positions and played with the angle ever so slightly to get a lot of options. This was critical to ensure I get a perfect match with the ambient lighting in the original background. For lighting, I wanted the ambient light to be the star so I simply used a strobe positioned just above the camera to fill in the shadows.
Finally: Photoshop magic. 1) Combined the composite image with the background plate. 2) Add shadow. 3) Add leaf effect. 4) Remove distracting background crap. 5) Add rung to the ladder (it was a bit short). 6) Grade the image. Done.
I thought all my hard work might be well suited for a humorous take on the “Season’s Greetings” card. I sent out that card and entered the image into a couple of competitions. I’ve recently found out it will be published in the 2011 Communication Arts Photo Annual and has been Chosen for American Photography 27! I’m very honored.
In a perfect world, where talent, props and equipment are available at a moments notice, this could have easily been done in-camera but sometimes it’s necessary to do things backwards. Sometimes its fun to break the rules.