Summer Coda | Photographing Rachel Taylor and Alex Dimitriades
As a stills photographer making beautiful images of Rachel Taylor and Alex Dimitriades, the two primary actors in Richard Gray's motion picture film Summer Coda, was high on my wish list. Sadly I didn't get the opportunity to photograph the two of them together until the penultimate day of our Mildura location shoot. In fact, other than the wrap party and a few candids at Melbourne's Southern Cross Railway station, this was my last picture making opportunity on the film. And it wasn't easy.
Photography In Mildura In The Summertime
I was grateful for the time I was finally given to photograph Rachel and Alex. However, the middle of the day under a hot, blue sky is far from ideal when it comes to making striking images of celebrities. But then that's the lot of the stills photographer, you're very much at the bottom of the food chain on a film set and you learn to make the most out of whatever opportunities you're given.
Advice For The Stills Photographer
This kind of work provides a range of challenges and you do get to meet and work with fantastic people. But I'm glad my career is at the stage where I don't have to do it everyday. It's the sort of job that you go into expecting a range of problems and managing them the best way you can. Sometimes that means taking a kicking from those who should know better, and other times making a stand to ensure that you're able to do your job and contribute, in a positive way, to the success of the film.
So, at the end of the day, it's not so different from any other job. It's worth it as long as your motivation is pure, rather than ego driven; the fight is right; and, ultimately, it's in everyone's best interests that you prevail. It's important, for all involved, not to take things personally. At the end of the day, while the day to day pressure can be significant, great friendships are made and that, and the quality of the work you leave behind, are what matters most.
Photograph Under Open Shade
So, with one chance to make great images and only hard, unflattering light available, there was only one option: head for the shade. I love photographing in the shade. Your subject can open their eyes which brings the added benefit of removing the wrinkles and creases on the face that form when they squint. The eyes are the windows to the soul, they reveal color and character. Its essential that you see them in a portrait. And to see the eyes they need to be open and illuminated.
Throughout this series of images I've placed Rachel and Alex in what is referred to as open shade. That simply means even, but not particularly dense shade often found a few steps in from a bright sunny area. So, rather than moving too deep into the forest, position your subject in gentle, even shade a few steps in from a sunlit area.
Avoid Photographing Under Dappled Light
And remember that shade is not the same thing as dappled light, which can produce bright, burnt out areas on your subject face and clothing. Avoid making portraits under dappled light.
The Beauty Of Veranda Lighting
The first and third images in this post were made under veranda lighting. As well as providing interesting architectural backgrounds, verandas produce a kind of open shade, ideal for portraits.
I photographed Rachel and Alex under veranda's on either side of a house used in the film. Just look at the beautiful lighting, it just dances off their faces. Notice also the color scheme. The plum-like colors in Alex's shirt are subtly echoed in the background and offset by the neutral grey of his t-shirt and Rachel's black dress.
This is how I like to make pictures: quickly and simply, with as little fuss as possible. Rather than being distracted by equipment and mathematics this approach allowed me to interact with Rachel and Alex who, while remaining in character, relaxed and opened themselves up to me and, as a consequence, to you. Photography is not about the camera, don't let it get in the way of your picture making.
The above image was made in a small area of shade created by a shed to the far right of the frame. By shooting into a predominantly dark toned background I've ensured that the viewers attention is focused on our subject's faces.
The third image was made under a light-filled veranda at the front of the house. I loved the gentle summery feel of this location and employed an aperture of f3.2 and a short telephoto lens to produce an extremely shallow depth of field. This heightened the hazy summer effect and placed extra emphasis on Rachel and Alex's faces. I love the interaction between them. Its perfect for the location and lighting.
The last image from this series was actually quite difficult to produce. Someone wanted me to photograph our two stars in front of the row of palm trees. Great concept, wrong time of day/year. I enlisted the assistance of my new best friend, Willy the Gaffer (i.e., lighting technician), to help. I needed to create an area of open shade larger than the tall, thin palm's produced.
When All Else Fails Bring Out Willy
It's perhaps more accurate to say that I asked Willy for a loan of his scrim (i.e., diffuser) which, somehow, the two of us managed to hold up over Rachel and Alex to lower the intensity of the light and place them into lovely, gentle shade.
Try to imagine Rachel and Alex in place. Willy holding up one end of the scrim and me somehow balancing the other end, on top of my head with camera in one hand and flash in the other. Try to tell me that's not a double voila.
Actually the hilarity of the moment wasn't lost on our subjects. While Alex certainly has a "million dollar" smile, I'd like to think that my enthusiasm for the shoot and the mirth involved in making this final image provided both of our stars with a few moments of extra joy in their day. And that is one of the primary reasons I make photographs.
Unfortunately, despite the scrim, the difference in brightness between the open shade we'd created and the background was beyond what my camera's sensor could cope with. I only wish the scrim cut back two to four times the amount of light than it actually did. To further reduce the overall dynamic range (i.e., contrast) I added fill flash to our subjects and did quite a lot of work on the desktop to produce as nature a result as I could.
Willy's scrim (i.e., diffuser) used to lower the intensity of the light and produce a softer, more gentle quality of light. I've added an image of the scrim in question, in this case used to produce a similar effect on a car used in the film. Willy's lighting stands and assistants were not available to us for these images of Rachel and Alex, so we improvised.
Thanks go out to Rachel and Alex for helping me make these photos when their day on set had finished. Also thanks to Producer, John Finemore, and Willy the magician for their assistance. Team work allowed us to produce some fantastic images with which I'm both very pleased and immensely grateful for being given the opportunity to make.