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Making It Happen, No Matter What

Things don't always go as planned on shoots. We don't like when it happens, but it happens. Sometimes it's equipment, sometimes it's people, sometimes it's our own fault, and sometimes, it's totally none of that.

I had a shoot about a month ago with a beautiful young woman named Kaylene. A professional dancer, and I'm not talking about the "what club?" kind of dancer. No, I'm talking about the Broadway/Rockettes/ballet kind of dancer. Singer, actress. Has played the female lead in "A Chorus Line" -- TWICE. And she's only 21. Can't wait to see that this girl does after she graduates from college.

Of course, if I had my way, she'd spend the rest of her life in front of my camera. Or at least go try out for America's Next Top Model . . .

So what could go wrong when a beautiful young woman is ready and willing to take photos?

Well, it was supposed to be an outdoor shoot. Which means the weather becomes a factor. Here in Oklahoma, we're in the middle of another of our notorious droughts, so I wasn't concerned with rain or tornados.

It was the other thing Oklahoma is known for -- wind. When they wrote, "where the wind comes sweeping down the plain," they weren't kidding.

I can deal with her hair blowing all over -- it actually added to the fun of the shoot. What had me going was there was no way to put up any kind of light, much less one with some kind of modifier.

Now, most photographers would simply turn their assistant into a Voice-Activated-Lightstand (VAL). But I work alone.

Yeah, yeah, I know -- I shouldn't be working alone with a female model. But I've known Kaylene for almost 4 years, and we've shot several times before. And she's not the first young woman I've shot with when it was just the two of us. If we weren't already friends, if I thought there was even the slightest possibility that she would not be comfortable working alone with me, I wouldn't do it. But I enjoy something many other guys don't -- an impeccable reputation. But I digress.

I work alone -- so I have no assistant to turn into a VAL. And putting up a light with a softbox or umbrella attached is just not possible in the Oklahoma wind. Sure, I can sandbag the stand like crazy to keep it from falling over. But there is just no way to tighten anything tight enough to prevent the whole thing from spinning.

Neither of us wanted to cancel or reschedule the shoot. But what to do?

The only thing to do was suck it up, and shoot anyway.

Which means shooting available light.

Or as it's referred to in the current vernacular -- "natural light." Ugly. Natural. Light. Fortunately, it was almost completely overcast for the majority of the time we were shooting. The sun did make a couple of short appearances, but with the wind howling like crazy, even a reflector was just not possible. Have I ever mentioned that I'm really not crazy about "natural" light for portraits? Give me a speedlight or 3, and I'm a much happier camper. Natural light is flat. Very, very flat. And the color temperature of shade or cloudy light is considerably bluer than daylight or flash.

I set the white balance on my Nikon D810 to "Auto," and the ISO to 200 (which is where it normally lives anyway). Using Aperture Priority, and an aperture of f/2.8 for many of the shots, and f/5.6 for others, I shot with a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens so I could zoom from full body to tight head shots without having to run all over the place.

Of course, when shooting sideways in many of the Bricktown alleys we ended up shooting in, there is just not enough room to back up far enough to get a full body shot with an 85mm or 105mm lens. And since I just can't bring myself to shoot a head & shoulders portrait with anything wider than either of those, the zoom capability of the 70-200mm was perfect for this shoot.

We did find ourselves in one interesting situation when we found a portion of an alley that had a white wall on the north side of the alley. And of course, as luck would have it, as we moved to that part of the alley, the sun came out. I kept Kaylene on the shade on the south side of the alley, and let the sunlight reflecting off the white wall on the north side light her up. It was just enough to cast a little shadow on the south wall.

We only shot for a couple of hours, but we got some pretty decent photos, even if the light was a little flat. But you have to work with what you have, and when the weather (in this case, high winds) throws you a monkey wrench, you just make some lemonade. All photos shot with a Nikon D810, a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. All photos ©2018 Don Risi All Rights Reserved

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