Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The importance of scouting

A lot of planning had gone into my recent Jamaica shoot. Over the course of several meetings and conference calls we had agreed an itinerary that allowed for some scouting time at each location the day before to find the best locations and viewpoints. All except one…

One afternoon we planned to shoot horses riding through the surf, but we weren’t going to have time to scout. However we had explained at length to the local producer exactly what we were looking to do over the phone.

On the day, we were late arriving at the stables after the producer had kept us waiting earlier. With about an hour to go until sunset, we had some horses and some guides, and they took us down to the beach.

Except that there was no beach.

Instead there was a stinking stretch of swamp knee deep in horse crap. It clearly wasn’t going to do. Tempers were fraying. On explaining that we wanted an wide, sandy beach there was much scratching of chins. After a couple of minutes it was agreed there was a sandy beach not too far away. The guides galloped off to check if the access road was open.

It was not.

By now I was getting pretty stressed. The sun was dropping fast and the light was gorgeous.
We were then told there was another beach not too far away. It was the only available option, so we had to go and give it a try.

After a 15 minute drive following the horses, we arrived at a rocky cove surrounded by low scrub. Not exactly what I had in mind, but with only 30 mins before the sun went down I was just going to have to get on and make the most of it.

So we got the models and the guides up on the horses, and had them wading through the surf back and forth. The shoreline was so rocky that the horses had to step quite gingerly – so no galloping action shots today.

So instead I chose to shoot into the sun, to disguise the location as much as possible and give a warm feeling to the shots. I was on manual exposure and took a few test shots to get the correct amount of sun flare while still holding some shadow detail.

The WFT was transmitting files to the laptop so the art director could view them as I was shooting. He liked what he saw so we tried a few different variations.
By now I was standing waist deep in the water and getting splashed a few times by the waves, but luckily the camera held out despite getting a bit of a soaking. Finally just as the sun went down we shot the other was, out to sea, to get the most of the soft light on a nearby headland.

Going over the shots back at the hotel afterwards, we agreed that we had successfully snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. And in the process I learnt a valuable lesion – no matter what others tells you, always ensure you get a chance to scout a location personally before shooting!

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