Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Racing the Clock- Sunrise and Spontaneity on Lake Michigan


“Sweet Jesus you’d better be awake.”

My Chicago collaborator and tour guide, Katie Yohe, is meeting me downtown at 5:30am, and her text says it all. We're doing a sunrise Dancers Among Us photo with Jessica Deahr. The idea is titled, “Walk of Shame". We meet near a bunch of bars.

I immediately don’t like the location. Maybe I should have done some pre-production. The clock is ticking. Sunrise is scheduled for around 6:45am.

“Is Lake Michigan nearby?” I ask.

“Four blocks to the east.”

I decide to abandon the "Walk of Shame" idea (for now), and get a sunrise shot on the lake instead. I have less than an hour to figure out exactly what that shot will be.


We arrive to magical light on the lake. The cityscape is breathtaking, and I have no idea what to do. How do I find a pose that equals the beauty of this moment? We still don’t have Jessica- she is looking for parking. I really should have done some pre-production.


Jessica arrives. In a frantic effort to create a scenario, I borrow someone’s coffee cup. She strikes a pose and is immediately swallowed up by the environment.


Forget the cityscape. Let’s shoot the lake instead.


Forget the coffee cup. It looks too contrived. With no other prop in sight, I consider settling for a beautiful pose in the sunrise. I hate the idea, because it’s just so obvious and has been done a million times already. Why, oh why, didn’t I do a little pre-production? Just this one time?


Wait, is that a dog in the water? Before I even ask, Katie runs over to the owner Molly and works her magic. The dog’s name is Cooper, and Molly is willing to help tame the puppy's frantic energy. We decide on a game of fetch. This just might work.


That’s a pretty pathetic looking stick. We scour the beach looking for a better one. I hand Jessica the coffee cup and a new stick.


Why am I holding on to this coffee cup idea? Get rid of it already. Just a girl playing with her dog- beautiful! Except that Jessica is terrified of big dogs, and keeps dropping the stick in sheer terror. Eventually she warms to him a little, and we shoot for ten straight minutes (except when Cooper is running around in circles or chasing other dogs- tick tock Cooper!).


We review the images. I can sense Katie’s dissatisfaction immediately.

“She’s a dancer. She needs to be doing something! It needs movement.”

You’re right. Thank you, Katie.

Now if only Cooper would look at her.


Bingo! It only happens once but we get the shot. Cooper stands up, ready to fetch. He looks right at Jessica. She nails the pose, the stick in perfect line with her leg. A sailboat magically appears on the horizon. The gathering clouds are illuminated with a pre-dawn glow.


Minutes later the sun appears and Cooper, now a seasoned veteran, poses majestically. Jessica, exhausted from jumping in the sand, gathers her energy for one final push.

Pre-production is for sissies.

Katie put together a fun and quick video that gives you a behind-the-scenes look at this exciting morning. Take a look.