May 1 UPDATE: SHE’S ONLY 10!!!!
As the last few bags spun around on the conveyor belt at Kona International, I got the sinking feeling my large Tenba duffel just wasn’t around the corner. My Lightware case with the Profoto 7b, grids and dish came through and I rolled my Pelican with cameras with me as carry-on. In the Pelican, I had my cameras, cards, lenses, and on camera flash so I was set but I knew without my duffel bag, I was sunk to pretty low depths.
In my duffel was an all-important C-stand with boom arm, flyaway sandbag, a few mafer clamps, softbox, umbrella, and a few other knick-knacks that make a quick afternoon shoot take place on the Big Island. Without a stand, I had no real reasonable way to light my subject. A law mag commissioned me to fly out for the afternoon to shoot a lawyer (imagine…me saying I shot a lawyer…folk hero status?) and I had scheduled to shoot the job at a beach near KOA.
Now imagine I have to light a portrait at sunset with no stand. Impossible, indeed. Truly impossible. Without a c stand, how the hell am I going to hold up a Profoto head?
After a panic and heated discussion with Hawaiian Airlines customer service at the airport, they were certain the bag would be on the next flight arriving a little after five. I had about an hour to stew and figure out a strategy to make this work.
My subject offered to pick me up from the airport saving me the hassle of having to rent a car but at that moment I was wishing I could have had that car to drive far away from my sunset nightmare. She luckily was super understanding when I said Hawaiian Airlines lost my bag and quickly started to help me create solutions to my dilemma.
First thoughts aside from sheer panic…a broom and gaffer’s tape. I figured I could tape a strobe head to a stick and have someone hold the light. The lawyer had her 12-year-old daughter along on the shoot and I immediately commandeered to be a living light stand. I have a solution. I asked Margaret, my subject, if we could rush over to Home Depot and purchase a broom handle but she oddly had a had a telescopic broom handle in her work vehicle. Shazam! Her offices were like four minutes away and zoomed down the highway to pick it up. We got the stand and I “MacGuyver-ed” my 7B head to the stick. The endless possibilities of gaffer’s tape! In the back of my mind, I knew there was the overpriced Lighthaus Camera in Kona but the sun was sinking quickly and I had a portrait to shoot. And the time it would take for me to head into Kona and pick up a stand might have been the time lost in creating the portrait.
Now the next issue was teaching a 12-year-old girl the basics of photography. I mean how tough could it be as much of photo assisting is done by kids with about a much sense as a broomstick? As a matter of fact, most photographers…well…that’s a story for another time. So the kiddo sorta figured out directions but had as much interest in the lighting as I did in her friend’s text messages. Failure. Complete failure. She, the poor darling, couldn’t hold the stick up at the right angle and surely didn’t have the patience to stand still for the time it would take to make the picture. I asked her if she could do any longer but she shrugged her shoulders and when crab hunting amongst the lava rocks and ocean. Slowly the voggy Kona sky was opening and the fireball of a sun began to burn through.
Dread. So I started to pick up the broom stick myself and fire away a few test shots and it seemed to work decently well. I knew I would have to use an open dish sans grid as I could no way handle aiming with the left side of my body as well as shoot with a full size dslr on my right. It wouldn’t be the portrait lighting I needed but it was going to be something.
I started looking around the near empty beach for a random beach goer to recruit into my photo shoot but alas, no one was around. I asked where Margaret’s husband was and he luckily was around the corner coming to join us. Solutions were happening but not as quickly as I would have liked them. But out of the blue my cell phone went off. IT WAS HAWAIIAN AIRLINES!!! They had my bag and it was at the airport. Margaret, me and the kid hopped in her Honda and sped off to KOA just in time to get the bag and get the job done.
I dodged a big bullet. A really big one. I quickly assembled the right stuff and got my picture shot. The pictures came out fantastic and the sun gave up that fireball friendly flicker only a voggy Kona can deliver. Hopefully the clients will be thrilled…and rightfully so considering the absolute panic that rang my ears for an hour plus after arriving.
Now what lesson do I take away with this as a photographer? Not much. There isn’t very much I can do if the airline’s misplaces my bag. My broom stick magic would have worked but I didn’t have a reliable adult to act as a stand. At least I had my Profoto set but what on earth would I have done if my powerful 1200ws light had gone missing? Sure I had my Canon on camera flash I don’t care what strobists claim, a Canon/Nikon/Vivtar flash will never mimic a Profoto with modifier. I know Joe McNally does magic with his small flash units but he has a dozen or more and really does some outrageous lighting schemes. You can create really nice ambient flash portraits with ETTL but I’m set up with big powerful Profoto packs. Maybe the ETTL is a little nice if not weaker than the Profoto but I don’t have the time or the expense to figure out how to spend a few thousand dollars and make McNally lighting. Besides, my Profoto stuff was and will always be expensive.
I can’t carry a Profoto kit in my carry-on. I can’t bring a big c stand in carry-on either. I’m kinda stuck having to rely on the airline and TSA for me to get my gear to my location. I really have to rethink my travel procedure and figure what I can carry on. Manfrotto makes a tiny light stand that could be used in a pinch. I could stick that into a carry-on messenger bag or laptop bag. I put all my pocket wizards in my check-in but now I think I’ll always carry a few in my check in just in case. And just maybe I have to figure out how to really make magic with an on camera flash.
In the end, I could have shot her with ambient light and made some fantastic images as well but the clients were expecting a certain look. If I couldn’t deliver, I’m out of a client and a paycheck.
The true hero of the day is gaffer’s tape. Don’t leave home without it. Gaffer’s tape, that sickly, sticky, fabric wonder, saved me even if my bag showed up just in the nick of time. I kept thinking as my 12-yr-old assistant (whom I quickly fired after I got my back) kept trying to wiggle away, hmmm…how long before the adhesive comes off her if I taped that broomstick to her hands? Then taped her to the rocks?