One of the exciting things about photography is that you never know what the next day will bring. One of the stressful things about photography is that you never know what the next day will bring. You never know what chances you might get 24 hours from now. That phone call. Who you might meet. The mystery and chance encounters keep me on the edge of my seat. Keep it interesting. Keep it scary. Sometimes that might mean lots of quiet days, trying to network, pushing my name, but sometimes a little gem pops up every now and then.
My first job out of college was doing design and bottle photography for a wine vendor. I don’t drink. The probability of me staying at a place that sells liquor and wine for a long time wasn’t likely. But I made some connections, and when I finally left that job so that I could concentrate on my photography full time, I hoped that I might hear from them every once in a while.
Years later I got a call. Someone involved in Hollywood was going to be in town for a day promoting some wine and vodka, and would I be interested in “shadowing” them for the day and getting images? Most of what they were asking for was the typical “event” images; the talent with the members of the company, signing autographs, shaking hands with the company owner, that sort of stuff. Run and gun. Smiling heads. I’m sure we’ve all had that call. However, they couldn’t tell me who it was. I tossed them a quote, worked out the details and we were good to go.
I went in the day before the event and got the tour and layout of how the day was going to unfold: The morning was in the meeting room. Then photos of employees with autographs. Then off to do a group shot with the whole company. Run and gun. Smiling heads. Yup. I brought in some lights to set up for the group shot. The room that we selected was large enough, but kinda boring. The walls sucked. It was cramped. The light was terrible. Make the best. I went right for the “Wedding Group” setup: two lights with an umbrella and softbox on either side of where the group would be. Nothing fancy. With a small sized company all in one image, we’re going right for the simple and basic.
While I was setting up the group shot, I figured I’d take a chance and set up a second small setup off to the side, against a wall. I brought along a roll of black seamless, taped it up to the wall, and stuck a black “X” on the floor with gaff tape. My logic was that right after we got the group shot of the employees and Hollywood-whoever-it-was, I’d see if I could nab them for an isolated portrait while everyone else was shuffling out the door. Fast and simple. What do I have to lose, right?
I had a few employees come in and stand for me while I got the light set up.
I whipped out my meter, got the exposure where I wanted it and then wrote that down on a piece of gaff tape and stuck it right to the light stand. That way all I need to do is crank my aperture and shutter and I’d be good to go. It was actually part of the lighting I was using for the group shot, so all I had to do was spin the light around against the wall, set my camera to the predetermined setting, and take whatever shot I could. If I could get it, awesome. If not, well, at least I took the extra half hour to set everything up. Who knows. What did I have to lose, right?
Just as I was leaving for the evening, after getting everything set up, I was pulled aside and they told me who it would be that I would be following tomorrow.
Elwood Blues. Doctor Detroit. Sgt. Joe Friday. Beldar Conehead.
But it was Ghostbusters – one of my favorite movies of all time, that absolutely scared me stiff.
I was going to be trailing behind a real Ghostbuster the whole day.
Ray Stantz. Holy shit. Oh my God.
The next day was a blur. Dan arrived, talked up his vodka and sat down to give autographs to the employees. The whole time I photographed everything for the wine companies archives. Then we were off to the room to do the group shot. My chance was coming up.
There was this guy with Dan that I called “Mr. Rolodex”. Mr. Rolodex had Dan’s complete schedule and calendar memorized in his brain and he stuck right with Dan. Any time someone asked Dan a question about could he come-here-go-there Dan would look at Mr. Rolodex and he’d say “We have to be at such-and-such place in 10 minutes”. Or “back to the meeting room in 5 minutes.” You get the idea. It was impressive, but stressful because everything was managed right down to the second.
We did the group shot. He was making people laugh. Big smiles. We got it. Awesome. As everyone was standing up, I looked at Dan. “Sir, can I get a shot of just you, alone, a simple portrait?” Dan smiled. He looked at Mr. Rolodex. The Human Calendar looked at me and said “We have to be at a resturaunt on Elm Street in 10 minutes. You have 45 seconds.”
My exterior was calm, cool and collected. On the inside I was a nervous whirlwind screaming “I ONLY HAVE 45 SECONDS OMG OMG OMG”. I walked him over to the big X on the floor. I swung the light around. I eyeballed my gaff-tape cheat sheet and adjusted my settings. “Right here. Right to me. Give me a little bit of a smile”. I sounded like I knew what I was doing. Really though, I was practically wetting my pants. I felt sick to my stomach. I felt like I had been slimed.
Three shots. I got three shots of him, and two more of him holding two bottles of his wine, and in the sixth frame I had the hand and arm of Mr. Rolodex grabbing him saying, “We have to go, we’re already late.”
It was the fastest portrait session I’ve ever done. I was covered in sweat. I’ve seen Ghostbusters so many times; I’ve watched those characters and quoted his character so many times in my life, and there I was with his direct attention for 45 seconds. His eyeballs were stuck to me.
I looked down to turn the camera off and wipe my brow, and when I looked up he was gone — 45 seconds.
If I hadn’t taken that extra time and set up my secondary setup the previous day, I would have missed that chance. While I would have been still screwing with a light and metering, he would have had to walk out that room and I wouldn’t have gotten a shot of him for myself.
I took that job for that 1 shot. I took that job for that 45 seconds. It doesn’t matter what I was paid. The check went to rent. But I got 45 seconds and a portrait of a guy that makes me laugh.
Take that chance. Go that extra 5 steps. You never know what might happen. You’ll always regret it if you don’t. Sometimes we take a gig just for the paycheck. No emotion involved. Sometimes we don’t know what might happen. Invest a little extra time. Kick it up a notch for the sake of kicking it up a notch.
I followed him for the remainder of the day; signings, appearances, pictures with the fans. Throughout the whole day Dan was a trooper. He even stayed an extra 4 hours at one location because the line was so long. “They are the reason I’m here. I’m not leaving without every person getting a handshake.” Pretty awesome.
I followed him to his last location that evening (which was full of people wondering where the hell he was) and as I finished up with the last portrait of him and the venue owner, he turned to me. “You’ve been awesome all day. What can I do for you?”
I reached into my bag, pulled out the cover to my Ghostbusters dvd with a huge, dorky smile on my face.
“Sid – don’t cross the streams. Ray”
You can’t cross the streams unless you take a chance.