Saturday, March 21, 2009

Photo Shoot for The Hello Strangers

I am really excited about the recent photo shoot my sister and I did with my husband for our band, The Hello Strangers. I am cross-referencing a blog post from my husband's and my photography business blog, Playing Work. Ryan describes the details and processes from the shoot. He also asks for opinions about black and white photos versus color. We'd love to hear your opinions!!

My sister and I are recording with the band all this weekend. I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

I have learned over the years that being a photographer is not just about taking pretty pictures, but more importantly is about solving problems. It could be said that I am not really a photographer, but a problem solver who figures out the necessary steps to complete a photograph. Some photos come easily, while others may involve various equations that must first be interpreted before the image can be captured.

I’m not talking about calculus here . . . I’m talking about problems like how I am going to get power out to the middle of a field, or what type of light I am going to create that will best tell the story I want to tell.

Larissa and her sister have a band called The Hello Strangers. They are an alternative country band and have a very distinct sound combining beautiful harmonies, fantastic melodies, and, often-times, haunting lyrics. You may think I am biased because Larissa is my wife, but I have a feeling if you listen to their music or see them live you won’t be able to disagree with me.

Last weekend, weeks of brainstorming and planning came together for a few hours of creativity and photography for The Hello Strangers. Brechyn, Larissa’s sister, arrived at 4 p.m. with makeup done and wardrobe in hand. Earlier in the day I had picked up the retro chair from her apartment and borrowed a 5000 watt generator from my Dad. While Larissa and Brechyn finished getting ready I loaded up the camera, strobes, light stands, sandbags, chair, generator, ladder, props and beer into my trusty old Nissan Pathfinder.

As soon as they were ready, we loaded up three very special dogs and the remaining props and caravanned back the lane and into the field about 1/2 a mile from the house. Nestled in the middle of a tall patch of grass, we started by creating our set. Once we had the chair and small table in position, Larissa and Brechyn stepped in. We shot for about 15 minutes with natural light before setting up the strobes. A front moved in just as we were beginning the shoot, and a cold, damp wind blew across the set, causing Larissa and Brechyn to tense up and look very cold in the photos. They warmed up in the car with some beer while I set up my preconceived light formation and cranked up the generator. After a few tests, I was ready to go and they took their positions on set while the 3 dogs were busy working on finding something to eat.

Having the dogs along creates a fun, but slightly chaotic obstacle
Larissa and Brechyn try to tame the chaos

We shot quickly because the temperature was dropping, the wind was picking up, a few sprinkles were beginning to fall, and one of the dogs disappeared. Not the best circumstances to shoot in, but we knew we wanted a cold winter feeling to the images so it worked perfectly.

I knew we had the shot so we quickly packed all the equipment back into the vehicles as the rain came down. Once we were back at the house and had located the missing canine, we began to setup for the second half of our shoot. Although I am primarily a location shooter, I love shooting in a controlled studio environment from time to time. Brechyn had the idea of doing a shot of their boots lined up in a row with the two of them on each end. We wanted this to be a square format for the possibility of being the cover of their next record so we had to exclude a few pair of boots. I played with the light until I had the look we wanted and then took a series of shots with boots in different positions and the girls in different colored skirts. Once we had the shot, we decided to improvise a little and shoot close-ups of the instruments and some details of the Hohner Accordion that is featured occasionally in the band's repertoire.

The total production time for the day came out to be about 7 hours and in this time we were able to capture some fantastic images. These are the kind of shoots that I absolutely love to do. Not only do I get to photograph and collaborate with two beautiful, talented women, I also get to fully exercise my problem solving abilities to create intriguing, polished images.

Below are a few shots from the The Hello Strangers photo shoot. These were originally intended to be in color, but after some thought, I decided to see what they looked like in black and white.

Here's where you come in: What’s your opinion? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think about the images in general, as well as which versions, either color or black and white, you like better.

Happy Problem Solving!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Livin' the Honky Tonk Life In Yankee Territory

I have been meaning to write this post for several weeks, but ever since my sister and I performed this past weekend at a Hank Williams Tribute in Baltimore, I am even more inspired to do so.

What does it mean to live a Honky Tonk life? More and more, I find that it is a good description for the ideology under which I live. While Honky Tonk means many things to many people, I thought it would be fun to parcel out what it means to me, particularly after living for 4 years in Austin, Texas and 2 years in Idaho. There is a unique sense of freedom to be found in these parts of the country that is quite different from living in the Northeast. Don't mistake my pride for these areas as somehow trumping my love for my Yankee roots (though I was born in the South, in North Carolina). But I have found ways in which to live in the blue-blooded North, while still celebrating the lifestyle of the great open spaces, honky tonk bars, and raging rivers.

Here are some Honky Tonk guidelines:
  • Smile and tip your hat at people you pass, particularly if they look doleful and cross. It might make them feel special, and it'll make you feel even more cheerful.
  • Kick up your heels and dance, hoot, and holler. Northerners sometimes have trouble with this one, so show 'em how it's done!
  • A little gluttony goes a long way. My husband, sister, and her boyfriend get our kicks by hiking with our dogs 2 miles over to a local biker bar on the top of a mountain ridge, drinking 3 pitchers of beer, playing some pool, putting some Merle Haggard on the jukebox, eating some wings, and hiking the two miles back. You can walk off your buzz, view some beautiful vistas, and have tons of fun!
  • Lighten up! No one is going to take you as seriously as you are. Your happiness is just a shift in perspective away.
  • No matter your race, creed, or sexuality (this is the Austin version of Honky Tonk), every person (and animal!) on this earth deserves fair treatment. Unless you are buying the next round, stay out of people's damn business and let them have their rights!
  • Avoid turning up your nose at people; it just makes you ugly. And it only means you're uncomfortable with yourself.
  • Don't fence yourself in. Try something new and uncomfortable. Add some spice to your life; put some color in your cheeks! Experience it for what it is, and you'll wake up the next day glad that you did it. I was terrified before our performance at the Hank Williams show because we hadn't practiced with the house band until we walked up on stage in front of 200 people. But once we were in the midst of the performance, I was so focused and enjoyed every second of it.
  • Do things for the joy of it! Every day is a blessing, and we live in a fascinating time. Stop and enjoy the wonderful details along the way: the strains of lap steel guitar floating up your sunny staircase, the happy cups and plates stacked in your cupboard, the little bird holding on for dear life at the feeder blowing in the winter wind, two young boys walking down a long, lonely city alley, lovers dancing and kissing as if no one is watching, a glance of communication from one musician to another. What is your reality? What do you see in a day?
Now go and have yourself a honky tonkin' good day!

My sister and I (The Hello Strangers) perform at the Hank tribute
Photo at top: Our new friends C.W. and Lindy Loo

All photos © Chace + Smith Photography