What to do when it all goes wrong, and how will you fix it?

The late June morning was perfect weather for a sunrise shoot on Elk Lake. It was idyllic, we wrapped by 10, and were back at our accommodations at Black Butte Ranch by 1pm.

The Hall family are on a glassy Elk Lake at dawn to soak up the incredible view.
The perfect place to shoot kayaking from is a party boat!

Our next call time at Black Butte Ranch wasn’t until 4pm, so we all took a much needed 2 hour nap.

We woke up to thunder. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It’s not supposed to rain in the summer in the Central Oregon high desert. This will quickly pass, right? I started to wonder if we had spent all our ‘good luck weather’ in one place.

Agency, talent and crew met at 4pm and looked at each other with bewilderment. But mostly, they just looked to me. Now what? Fix it, Therese.

Cancelling a shoot due to weather is a hard decision for me to make. Can we power through? Will the weather suddenly break? The next scene was of a family playing corn hole—that game is played in the rain, right? That’s normal, right?

We were also scheduled to shoot a scene of a family making s’mores around a fire. Could we at least get that shot? It’s a twilight shoot, we can still do that, right?

The lightning struck. The thunder cracked. Then the rain fell. In buckets.

I set out all my note cards and looked at my options.

  • Ignore the rain, and shoot it anyways. We’ve done that plenty of times. The CD said  “Sure, you could take a bunch of bad pictures. But why bother?” Good point, I can’t argue with that.
  • Shoot corn hole in the morning (during scheduled time off for cast and crew) and shoot s’mores tonight (fuck the rain).
  • Shoot corn hole in the morning and shoot s’mores tomorrow evening, after shooting all the other late day/early evening scenes we have to shoot. This would involve asking crew and talent to be flexible too.

At that point, I called it. Not gonna happen. None of it would look good with wet talent. UGH. Instead, we ordered a round of beers, and watched the lightning storm.

Luckily, we had clear skies again by morning. The agency account director asked  “why was it so hard to call the shoot, knowing that the weather was so bad?” Great question.

We were on day 1 of a 3 day shoot. It’s my responsibility to review every single option before the obvious one, to do my due diligence. I have to think about my talent, my location, my crew – would they all be available for an alternate plan? And what would it cost? I had to quickly estimate the price tag for a cancellation vs.  a rescheduling, and present these numbers to the agency/client. Get all the options on the table, so that we can all make intelligent decisions. I have to go through this difficult process, otherwise, I lose sleep at night because I feel like I left an option on the table.

For this shoot, we had some fairly simple solutions, with a relatively inexpensive work-change order. But the difficulty in making this decision, even with simple solutions at hand, is knowing that I, alone, am responsible if it’s not the right decision. If you’ve ever wondered what a producer does, this is it, right here. A producer makes the hard decisions, under pressure, while everyone is looking at her silently, wondering “how is she going to fix it?”.

Cornhole the next morning turned out perfectly— Huge sigh of relief! See the rest of the shoot here.

Reflections on the Grand Canyon

Next week Andy is heading out to float the Green River, through Stillwater Canyon in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. This made me realize we’ve never shared the images he created on his 18 days floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

Here’s a small selection of the work, along with a short interview I did with Andy. You can see the full gallery of images here.

What was it like being on a trip where photography wasn’t the main focus? 

It’s nice to experience the world without worrying about finding/making images—but it’s hard to turn off that vision, to stop ‘seeing pictures’. For the most part I gave myself specific times to do photography, and the rest of the time was spent without a camera, or just making snapshots—mementos of the trip and not ‘art’.

What was it like being off the grid for 18 days?

It’s great to be disconnected from devices, the internet, phones—that’s amazing. It’s the issue of power that was tricky—being a digital photographer in the wilderness creates all types of issues for charging up batteries—from packing in multiple pre-charged camera batteries (expensive) to having a solar panel to recharge in the field (slow and time consuming).

How did you decide what to photograph? How did you choose your subjects?

There’s a few games I always play when I’m out hunting landscape. I’m looking for shapes and alignments of distant objects and features, or repeated patterns and juxtapositions of lines and angles. I also look for disappearing moments; the light in the Canyon is amazing, but fleeting. It’s being sensitive to how the light is moving and changing—which in the Grand Canyon is all the time. Have a camera ready and photograph it “now’ because it will be gone by the time you dig your camera out of the bag.

From a wash right outside of Page, Arizona
Slow shutter on the Colorado River from camp.

How did you tackle the scale of the Grand Canyon?

The scale in the Canyon is beyond human—you build your impression by looking all around you because you are surrounded by amazingly huge and formidable forms. You can’t possibly photograph the complete vista, so I’m looking for ways to evoke a sense of wonder and place without burdening myself with an impossible assignment. Even “small’ features in the Grand Canyon are gigantic.

Of course, the literal idea of scale is possible using the same tricks that photographers of the early west used—include a body in the image for scale.

Find the people for a sense of scale

Looking at these images now, what comes to mind?

about midway through the trip…

I want to go back and photograph the Grand Canyon again—I learned a lot about my process and seeing light + shape in that amazing place. Seeing these images with fresh eyes makes me happy.

Cottonwood Creek
Blacktail Canyon
Exiting the canyon
Obligatory double rainbow parting shot, for those that made it to the end!

New name for a small budget

I was on the phone with a potential client recently, and heard the newest synonym for a tiny budget. It’s now called the Condensed Budget.

And it came during this conversation, which I’m paraphrasing:

We’re being forced to hire the other team, because they’re cheap. We don’t like their work, and if we hire them, we don’t get any creative or production control. So, can you shoot it for us for less than the condensed budget they shoot it for?

Oh, and as icing on the cake? “this will be a good opportunity for you, because you’ll get to work with our best CD, and he works on all the best projects”.

Fwiw, we didn’t get the job. Good/Cheap/Fast – you just can’t have all three, but no one seems to understand that these days.