I feel lucky I have good friends. This past summer, Josée and Alain called us to see if we would like to spend an afternoon berry picking on their 150 arpents property (127 acres). We spent the afternoon walking through blackberries bushes, filling buckets, eating enough berries to probably make the experience unhealthy and making sure we would not step on hornet’s nests fallen to the ground with the recently cut down trees. At the end of the afternoon, instead of taking the strait route back to the farmhouse, we did a detour through the maple forest that occupies half of the land. Years ago, this maple forest was exploited. Every springs, the farmer would collect the sap and turn it into sugar products. There are still remains of that time scattered through the forest but time and vegetation are taking over rather quickly. The walk through the forest triggered something.
Berry picking last summer
I love a good challenge and I asked myself “How would I shoot down here?”.
Last year, I would have come here with only my camera and a couple of lenses. Today, I would bring people and lighting equipment. The place is remote; about 1 kilometer of dirt and mud tracks away from the farmhouse. No power in proximity and the road getting here is not meant for a front wheels drive SUV. There is no way I would carry all the equipment on that distance by myself or even ask models to help me out with that (don’t get me wrong, they are not supposed to be Sherpas in these projects). And power; we need to be able to power the flashes all day without a power grid connection. With a shoot like this, you have to be ready to leave your comfort zone behind.
So I asked Alain if he would let me and a few other people shoot in his maple forest if we ever could figure out the logistics around that. “Why don’t you load everything on the tractor? I’ll take you there!”. For God’s sake, the guy is a farmer; he must have something else to do than driving us around all day? After insisting that I did not want this to disturb his working schedule, I could see his offer was genuine and from the heart. We scheduled a calendar date and started planning.
It rained for a week! Did you ever went to a farm after a week of rain? It is typically muddy. Even the forecast for the chosen day wasn’t promising. Highly overcast, chances of slight rain. What do we do if it rains and can’t get to shelter with the equipment?
Last Sunday, Victoria De Martigny, Vincent Lamoureux, Jenny Labbé, Alexandra Lalonde and Marinick Lord drove to the farm where we were greeted by Alain and Josée. From there, we drove the 3 SUVs we had, loaded with equipment, as far we could through the fields leading to the forest. The weather was expected to clear in the afternoon and the risks of showers were lifted by the weather specialists so we decided to keep going. We loaded all the equipment on the hay bale trailer attached to the tractor. Talk about loads of equipment! We basically had 3 complete studios with us. Going this far from civilization requires you have everything you MIGHT need with you.
Once we got to the spot I talked about to Victoria and Vincent, we decided who would be shooting where, who would be shooting who. I took a remote spot not because I wanted to be away but I just did not want to be in other’s feet. After all, the place was large enough so why stay all in one spot? I took a few minutes to setup the lights and ironed out a few technical details, set Marinick in place and started shooting. I was very lucky that my son decided to tag along. Having a voice activated mobile lightstand was great. He was also doing an awesome job at packing and unpacking equipment.
For this photoshoot, I did a bit more planning than usual. I communicated with the models on a regular frequency to make sure they were still on board with the project and explaining the concept shots I wanted to achieve. Parts of my concept shots needed a model with a white dress and a model with a red coat. Luckily enough, Marinick had both and was not too freaked out when I explained what I needed her to do with the red jacket (that will be a different post).
Another thing I wanted to do was a time lapse video of my work. This was secondary to everything else but I still took a few seconds to set my 2nd camera on a tripod, a bit away from my shooting ground. I mounted my 10-20 lens on it, knowing I would not be using it to shoot models that day. The camera was set to shoot images at 1 frame per seconds (using a remote made for that purpose). It shot a total of 2555 images. To preserve battery power, I was stopping the camera when we were in the actual shoot, knowing I would be showing model images at that point in the video.
The final setup was not captured in time lapse. It was getting late, light was fading quickly and every minutes counted in that race for decent exposure. For this one, we were back in the fields, next to our cars. I had a few “What the hell” when everyone saw me pull a TV and a lamp from the truck. The TV was heading to the garbage when I thought I could do something with it. The lamp was lightless. I connected the TV to an inverter plugged into my truck and attached a portable flash under the lamp shade. A regular bulb would not have been powerful enough to show light under the studio strobe used to light the scene. I shot that scene as much it was possible to do as the sun disappeared behind the tree line. This was our cue to repack everything and go home.
End of September in Québec is tricky; you can have relatively warm weather for the time of year or cold and humidity through the roof. We had the later; about 14 Celsius and a 90% humidity level. Being the photographer, I had the luxury of wearing boots, jeans, 2 sweaters and a tuque. The models… other than the temporary blanket on their shoulders between setups, the only comfort they had was in their heads.