(The following is excerpted from Photographs from the Edge of Reality , by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)
One thing I revel in being able to do is making the seemingly impossible, possible.
In one such case, a high-tech Internet company needed new visuals to get people excited about their service, which was essentially a new way to allow citizens to get things done with the government. Paying parking tickets online was but one of the things that this Internet company wanted to do, and they had the backing of some big names — General Colin Powell among them.
This particular client contacted me and a few of my friends/colleagues. I came in for the briefing on the project, and they asked me about a few of my ideas and whether I thought we could get the shots they wanted done in 45 minutes.
Say Yes, Then Figure Out How
My first answer is always yes, and then I figure out how to make it happen. One setup was formal portraits, which were to take place in their downtown office, and the next setup was nearby on the steps of the General Grant Memorial, with the Capitol in the background.
I shared with them one of my ideas — one of the founders of the company wrapped in red tape, and the other founder with a pair of scissors, cutting his partner out of the red tape, symbolizing what the company could do for the average citizen.
Telling the potential client this idea was a bit risky, because I wanted to get them excited about the idea, but not to the point that they would book someone else and then give the idea to that unknowing photographer to execute. Yes, I know, ideas are not copyrightable/protected — only the tangible expression thereof is — but still, I didn’t want them using my idea.
The meeting ended, and I felt good about the project. I asked whom the other photographers were that the client was talking to, and I knew them both.
A Winning Plan
A few days later, after I had submitted my proposal, I got the call that I had been awarded the project. I asked the client in a casual manner why they had selected me, and they said that it was not about the money (as I had come in as the most expensive), but they selected me because they thought I was the only one who could do the assignment based upon the plan I had laid out to accomplish all the photos in 45 minutes.
Which is exactly what we did.
To accomplish the shots in that timeframe, we had three different setups, lights, softboxes, a generator, assistants, makeup people, a location manager, and catering. We started at the client’s office, setting up lights there for the portraits. The other two locations were being set up at the same time.
I kept in close contact with the assistants at the other two locations to ensure that we had both of the other setups prepared. After finishing up at the client’s office in less than 10 minutes, we had them travel to the Capitol in 15 minutes, leaving 25 minutes for the remaining shot.
The second shot was of the two founders with the red tape. We had gone out and purchased a hundred or so yards of red velvet holiday ribbon, and we started wrapping up one of the founders.
I wanted to have enough left over to stream toward the camera and down the steps, to draw the eye from the camera to the subjects. The idea was that the guy wrapped in red tape should look a bit like a damsel in distress lying across the railroad tracks.
We carefully laid him down entirely wrapped up, and we had his partner come in with the scissors. I wanted oversized scissors, but we couldn’t find any that were reasonable and not cartoonish, so we used the biggest pair we could find. We knocked out several images and had great results. Using a huge Plume HexOval softbox and shading them with a large scrim, the light on them was extremely flattering.
One Last Shot
Because we had done this one so quickly, I decided that I wanted the founders to be standing in the reflecting pool, and they seemed to go for it. The client and I had discussed this idea in a brainstorming session, but they didn’t think their client would go for it; I thought different.
I suggested to the founders that I thought it would be really cool to do a shot of them standing in the reflecting pool, with their pants rolled up, reading a paper and smoking cigars. They were totally up for it. We had them step into the reflecting pool, which we thought might be a no-no, but we didn’t have a definitive kibosh on it.
As we started the first few frames, which included an assistant in the calf-high water holding the light and softbox that surely would have electrocuted all of them if it had fallen in the water, my location manager — the genius we all know as Charlotte — warned me that a Capitol police officer was coming over to check what we — our entire team of 10 people — were doing.
I told her to intercept the officer, show him the permit, and buy me some time, which she did.
After a back-and-forth dialogue, my second assistant whispered to me that Charlotte and the officer were coming over toward me. Knowing that I had the shot and the entire shoot was a wrap with this third image in the can, I called to the two subjects that we had it, and they started walking toward the edge of the water with the shot done — and all with five minutes left on the clock!
Photos © John Harrington