A good friend of mine works at the Centre de ski Mont Rigaud. The Mont Rigaud ski center is a 120 meters vertical hill where downhill skiing had been practiced since the early 60s. Their reputation has been established as a great learning place for the sport. This is where I stood on my 1st pair of skis when I was 8 or 9 years old. They are also one of the few skiing mountains in the Montreal region.
The owners of the place (Karine, Luc and Stephane) put a lot of work over the summer into the main lodge. Because of that, Jean and the owners wanted to bring a bit more customer’s attention on the new upcoming season. They also have a few walls needed to be dressed with a few images. Jean told Karine, who is also an amateur photographer, about my work and websites. I apparently got a fan that day! Jean called me and asked if I could drop by during the day. I had a short discussion on what Karine was looking for and then it was just a matter of setting a day.
November in Montreal can be very uncertain. Among a few sunny days, you generally get rain, freezing rain, snow, high wind and yes, cold. Looking at how things were going, it had to be happening soon. We discussed again the shoot, the desired outcome, the models, the makeup. A few emails later, November 21st would be it. When we looked at the forecast for that day, it was supposed to be the only day where it would not be raining and the temperature would be slightly above 0. Of course, it’s November. On the shooting day, forecast was calling for sunny all day except cloudy between 10am and 2pm (guess what time we were shooting at…) and -7 Celsius. Fortunately we were not shooting fashion models otherwise I would be attending funerals this week I think.
The idea was to do 3 shoots. The 1st one was to be used as a teaser for the new season, the 2nd was to be used on the walls of the main lodge and the 3rd one was for the Journal de Montreal article about zip lines safety regulations (the mountain operate a zip lines recreational site during the summer season). Victoria and I showed up to the mountain at 9:30. The staff was getting ready to move in some of the equipment on the mountain while the models were arriving. The models for the shoots were also staff members who agreed to get makeup on and stand in the cold for a few hours. Alexandra Castronovo showed up shortly to start doing the makeups.
While makeups were going on, Victoria and I headed to the hill to start setting up the scene. That whole setup took quite a while. After planting the camera in place on the tripod and framing the background I wanted, we needed to get all the equipment in place. We are not talking about small props either. Bombardiers ski hill grooming machines mounted on 5ft wide tracks aren’t as easy to move as a car. Same for the snow cannons. They carry much weight for those small Kubotas RTVs so we needed to get them in place in the 1st try otherwise resetting was going to take some time. Once all the heavy equipment was in place, we set the table, arrange the plates and drinks and asked the models to have a good time. Victoria and I walked around with light stands until I liked the exposure I was getting under that overcast sky. The whole setup took about an hour and a half to put together and we shot for about 15 minutes.
Once that shot was done and we were confident we had the desired image, we moved to the 2nd part of the shoot. They needed some skiers portraits to put in the main lodge. Their interior designer suggested they dig out some archived black and white images but there were none to their liking so the contract was to produce vintage looking images representing the ski season. One element was missing; snow. We decided then that the best way would be to shoot low, aiming up, show the empty trees and washed out sky. Everything was going to be shot mid-legs up. The images were all recorded in colors and then converted to black and white in Lightroom.
For the older looking toning on the image, I wanted them to have a golden looking feel. Note that I am not saying sepia here. Sepia to me means a push of a button in lightroom that turns images yellow. Digital sepia is an overused digital process to me. As photographers, we have tools made available to us to drive our own vision from start to finish. I am not saying that presets are evil but they are someone else’s vision of a finished product. Presets can be good starting points as long you tweak the final image to what you anticipated it to be. Enough with my preaching now. To achieve my golden feel to the images, I applied a split toning to them. First, I applied a copper tone on the highlights and the a bluish tone to the shadows. In lightroom, I played with the split toning saturation sliders until I got the right amount of warm and cold tones.
Next, I needed to get the images looking like they had better years. To do so, I simply moved the images to Photoshop and applied textures to them. Textures can be found everywhere on the web and are also easy to make if you have a scanner. Just dirty up sheets of white paper an scan them. You can then mix the results on top of your photos in Photoshop.
The 3rd session was not as creative as the first 2. These images were to be provided to the engineering firm who reworked the zip lines installation to be compliant to the newly adopted safety codes. The Mont Rigaud is the 1st zip line center to be compliant in the province of Quebec and will be used as example for the other parks. These images required obviously a lesser artistic drive
It was the 1st time I had to deliver such images The 1st images alone had a cost in both time, and money attached to it for moving all that equipment that was supposed to stay in the garage for at least a few more weeks. To hear “yes” after each request I could make when asking “Can we put that machine here?”, “Can you turn the cannons this way?”, “Can you bring the Bombardier down the hill?” was quite something. It was also the 1st time I had that many people standing behind me while I was shooting. That occurred to me only later in the evening.
The day before the shoot, all I could think about was the pressure of having a customer next to you, trusting you. After seeing how everyone seemed to have appreciated their day, I think the pressure was really self-induced.