Tuesday, June 19, 2012

shooting with choreographer mike gamble at koresh

Better late than never. I typically post a new article every Sunday. Like clockwork, I wake every Sunday morning, or afternoon, depending on events happening the eve before, sit at my desk with a large cup of black coffee, accompanied by a large glass of water, open my MacBook Pro and share with the world what I have recently created.

Today, being Tuesday, is a definite deviation from my regular plans. I have not procrastinated as I was thinking earlier today. I have not been lazy, avoiding pounding away at these keys for an undefined duration. I have, in fact, been spinning my wheels, trying to come up with an article that would be worthy to accompany the photographs that I have created to go along with said posting.

As it may seem that I'm stroking my own ego, the exact opposite is in fact the reality. Saturday, I had the opportunity, my second, to work with an amazing creative talent. Truth of the matter is that working in collaboration, creative with creative, makes both of our jobs so much easier to achieve an end goal. Working with a creative talent such as this is a reminder of why I love being a photographer. Both of our talents were pushed to the limits in an effort for each of our artistic endeavors.

More after the jump...


I don't remember the exact date but it was a few weeks back, maybe a month, that I received notice that my good friend and superb choreographer Mike Gamble would be coming back to the states for a week or so. Mike Gamble has made his home across the pond in Sweden. For some background on Mikey, be sure to check out the post documenting our last shoot together, [here]. If you didn't hit the jump, I decided to go the extra mile and copy and paste a section from that article. Here goes nuthin':

Mike was born in Hartford, Connecticut. We met when he moved to Philly to attend Drexel University. At that time I was a wet behind the ears Rowan University student who was slinging drinks at a bar in Center City Philadelphia. The bar, Roosevelt's, located at 23rd and Walnut streets was a popular spot among Drexel, University of Penn, Wharton and other nearby universities. It was there that Gamble and I became fast and close friends.
Mike's training is in the world of dance. He has grown into one hell of a choreographer. It was in Philadelphia that he garnered most of his training in West African, Hip Hop, Modern, Jazz, House, Breaking and Capoeira. While in Philly he guest performed with Gwendolyn Bye and Dance Del Bello dance companies, choreographed for the Drexel University Dance Ensemble and Dance Team. Mike Gamble was also an original founding member of FLOMotion, an international Hip Hop dance company. In the summer of 2000, Mike made dance history, becoming the first (and only) male to complete the final cuts of the Philadelphia 76ers Dance Team. In 2003, Gamble moved to Los Angeles and quickly became quite active in the commercial industry performing (dancing, acting and modeling) in music videos and commercials including work with artists Leela James, Chris Cornell and India Arie. He also has worked with corporate giants such as Target, Nike, Apple and Reebok. Along with the commercial market, as if that wasn't enough, Mikey has produced, choreographed and directed burlesque companies who have performed in and around Los Angeles, Reno, Laughlin and Las Vegas with artists including Panic!, At the Disco and R. Kelly, as well as companies including SPIKE TV and Trashy Lingerie. Not too shabby Mr. Gamble, not too shabby.While Gamble continues to work in front of the camera, he has also been focusing his talents behind the scenes with the production and education through the arts, having choreographed and Emmy-nominated children's television program, producing and choreographing numerous events and shows, while also co-founding and running an international management agency with his long-time friend and former agent, who herself, was one of the top agents at the top two dance agencies in New York and Los Angeles. His passion for spreading knowledge and the joy of dance has recently taken him on an international journey as he relocated in 2009 to Gothenburg, Sweden. Since moving across the globe Mike has quickly developed an awesome reputation in Sweden, as well as, Norway and Denmark and as would be expected, he doesn't plan on stopping there.
Now, where was I? Okay, Gamble contacted me via email, text and actual telephone conversation, discussing the possibility of a new shoot. I couldn't have been more excited. Working with Mike in the past was awesome and I could only imagine that we could put together something even better.

Over the next couple of weeks, Gamble and I brainstormed, throwing creative ideas at each other until finding a happy medium. Wonderful thing, working with other creatives. The idea jar is never empty. Together we were building off of each other. Oddly, Mikey kept mentioning high heels. I had to admit, I was super confused. He insisted that I had no need to doubt this mentioning of spiked heels, that once we were on location we'd both have a better visualization of his grand idea. I couldn't help but doubt (just a tiny bit) the vision but I'm quite open minded when it comes to a clients wants or needs.

I couldn't wait until his arrival in the U.S.

Shoot Day Finally Arrives

As days felt like months, eagerly awaiting the day that we would actually shoot, it had finally arrived, June 16th, our scheduled day to work and work we would.

Shooting would happen later that afternoon, 4 p.m. to be exact. This would give me the entire earlier portion of the day to prepare. I woke up very early on the day of, having trouble sleeping due to an overwhelming feeling of excitement. I methodically checked and rechecked all of my gear.

First was the camera bag check. I made sure that the D4 had a full charge and it did since juicing her up overnight. Next, I swapped out batteries on the Pocketwizards. I never know how much I have used them prior to a shoot so I play it safe by putting in a fresh set of double As. Once I'm certain that they are synching properly I move on to the strobes. I begin with fully powered rechargeable batteries. They were good to go. As I don't expect them to last an entire shoot, I always have backup. Unfortunately, I have only the one set of rechargeable batteries. The backups consist of a new pack of regular double As, every time. I usually buy a 16 or 20 pack for each shoot. This does get a bit pricey but I haven't found the perfect brand of rechargeable batteries as of yet. That search will continue. After verifying that all power supplies are sufficient, I move on to the memory cards. To be sure I have ample memory, I clear out any images lingering on the XQD and CF cards. Next, lens check. I study each to be sure they are nice and clean as I don't want dirt showing in the final photos. The final step of camera bag checkout is to identify that I have all proper accessories such as sync cords, chargers, etc. Once complete, I zip up the Tenba and place it to the side.

Since we would be shooting primarily on seamless white, I give the background support bag a run through. I make sure that all stands and crossbars are in working order. Then, I check on the paper rolls. Enough? In this instance, I needed a second roll. I'll explain that in a bit.

The final bag for checkout is the light stand and modifier bag. I pull out each stand individually to be sure that they too are functioning properly. Once certain of their operation, I move on to the mods. On this day, I was super excited to use my new Westcott Apollo. The light that it throws is just breathtaking. Other mods in the bag are three 45 inch and 60 inch convertible Calumet umbrellas.

Gamble arrived at my place at 3 p.m. I had planned on loading the equipment into cab for a short ride to the shooting location. Mike thought much differently. He insisted that we lug all the gear with our perfectly working legs. I disagreed with this insane notion but somehow ended up agreeing with him. I still am not sure how I was convinced into walking.

Our destination, only a few blocks away (ok, a cab would have been super lazy on my part) was Koresh dance studio, located at 20th and Chestnut. The Koresh dance studio is one of the premier studios in Philly. Owned by Roni Koresh, a dance legend, the studio has produced some major talent.

We hiked as the gear started to wear me down. The lactic acid in my shoulders was rising fast. Sweat began to drip into my eyes, the salt burning and blurring my vision. A glance at Mikey, the super in shape dancer, made me realize that cutting back on the pasta wouldn't be a bad idea. Each block felt like a thousand yards. A five minute walk began to feel like 40 years, in the desert. I couldn't wait to get to the studio and drop, and I mean drop, all of the gear to the ground.

After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at Koresh. I dropped my gear and made my way back outside, to the corner bodega, to buy the biggest Gatorade they had, lemon lime of course. I gulped down the electrolytes and made my way back to the studio. The floor was reserved for our shooting purposes from 4 to 7 p.m., plenty of time to setup, shoot, shoot some more, breakdown and call it quits.

At four on the dot, the room cleared out and we began to load in the equipment. First task was to improvise with the background setup. You see, not having ample storage for ten foot rolls of paper, I typically shoot with the 4 1/2 foot rolls. For this shoot, that just would suffice. Rather than grab the big roll for a single days work, I decided to use two smaller rolls. I thought I would simply gaffer them together and have an instant, on the fly, large background roll. Key word there, thought. After rolling out both rolls I realized they could butt up due to the cardboard roll protruding out of the ends of the paper. Together, Mike and I, did some quick thinking. We tore off ends of the paper and ran it down the gap, gaffed the seams and miraculously made it work. The seams and tape were clearly visible in the ambient environment but I planned on blasting the paper with light, blowing out anything that would cross its path. No worries.

Once we had the background set, Gamble went on to warmup as I prepared the rest of the room.

With just three speedlights, I would have to create some interesting light. Off the bat, two would be used to blast the paper, leaving me with only one more strobe.

Improv time. I wanted to, in essence, sandwich light him, a light, 90 degrees hard at his right and one at his left, with a bit of fill coming in on front. The goal was for contrasty yet beautiful light. Elementary math tells you that would require three light sources. I pulled it off using a single flash. How so? Smoke and mirrors. Well, actually, just mirrors. I positioned the set and first strobe so that it would fire camera right, directly across the room, hitting the mirror and bouncing back camera left. I also popped the 60 inch brolly on the floor angled towards the subject, producing a tad of frontal fill. With all of the light blasting around the room, some unwanted junk would happen. Luckily, the mirrors were fitted with blackout curtains. I used the curtains to flag any stray and unwanted strobe. Worked like a charm.

After getting the strobes in place, it was time to pull out the D4 and start checking light and exposure readings. I opted to use the versatile and just sick Nikon 24-70 nano coated 2.8. This glass is heavy but rocks every single time.

Here's were I break some of the rules. Hey, rules are meant to be broken, right? In a setting such as this, a studio shoot, photographers typically keep that ISO as low as possible. With the D4 that means ISO 100 or even as low as ISO 50, keeping noise to a minimum. Having the king of low light performers, I decided I would head up into the ISO 400 range. Hell, I've had awesome images out of this camera at ISO 12,800, 400 would be a piece of cake. The reason I wanted to bump the ISO was to allow me to get lower flash power settings with in turn would get me faster recycle times. Faster recycle times equate to keeping up with the energy that Gamble emits.

Once ready to get down and dirty, Mikey and I went over a few things that we each needed from each other. Again, the creative on creative relationship is spectacular. We had dialogue as smooth as butter. We discussed lighting, wardrobe changes, style, posing and yes, high heels. Finally, the truth would be revealed. Along with the other forms of dance that Gamble choreographs, he has also been teaching the highly popular burlesque dance form. It made sense.

The clock rounded the 5:00 mark when all was ready to go. The music was thumping the room. The sounds of hip hop and old school rap with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest bounced off the walls. I was getting pumped. Typical of me, I removed my flip flops. I like to shoot barefoot. Yep, I said it and I'll say it again, I LIKE TO SHOOT BAREFOOT! All caps baby. Why? That answer can be a bit more complicated. I prefer to be comfortable when shooting and shoes are probably one of the most bothersome pieces of clothing that I wear on a daily basis. Sure, one day I may be running around a nudist colony but for now it's just the shoes. Actually, not sure about the nudist colony thing, not with my current physique. Hell, I don't even like to get naked in the shower, let alone around others. I digress. I enjoy the comfort being sans shoes and also feel one with the ground and I can maneuver more readily without thinking. Ok, that was odd. You get the idea.

Shooting commences. "Look" number one was in the retro chair, translucent shirt, black pants and of course, the snakeskin stilettos. I was totally digging this portion of the shoot. Gamble poses flawlessly and effortlessly with my every direction. My heart was pumping the good stuff now. The clock started to tick faster and faster. Good times fly by, as the saying goes, well the saying goes something like that if not that exactly.

We went through a series of posed shots in many different wardrobes and lack of wardrobes for that matter. Clothed and barely clothed, chairs stools, front back, we hit everything. You can have your hammer back because we nailed it!

[Once the entire series is edited, I will share a link to the completed work via facebook, twitter and other social media outlets. Until then, you get only those posted herein.]

Once the posed portion of the shoot was complete, we moved on to the movement section. This is where I'd be putting the speedlights to the test, asking for every ounce of energy they could spit out. To ensure lighting was going to work with me and not against me, I decided to swap out the batteries, around the room, with a set of freshys.

Both Mikey and myself took a bit of a breather to discuss camera angles and the moves that he was about to make. By this time, I was dripping sweat all over the back of my camera and Gamble, who has been doing the most taxing movements, was dry as a bone. We discussed the option of oiling him up to enhance some specular lighting but ultimately decided we'd be fine as is.

Time was at warp speeds. We hurried to make sure that all of his "money shots" were achieved and properly documented.

Prior to the shoot I explained to Gamble that I wanted to do the entire shoot on black. We didn't see eye to eye on this subject. I, with lots of whining, decided we would primarily shoot on seamless white. I did get him to agree on letting me shoot for a little while on seamless black. The clock was nearing 6:45 and we had only fifteen minutes to go. Leaving the black rolls behind, knowing of the blackout curtains, I would do the remaining minutes of the shoot on seamless black. In the other room I could hear an employee of the studio with a vacuum cleaner, telltale sign of "hurry the hell up with your photos dude." We picked up the pace and shot for a few minutes on the black curtain (see first image). We nailed a few shots in little time.

By the way, can I just say that Mike Gamble freaking blew my mind. He was epic. His moves left me speechless. I was in pain just watching him. Well, the images speak for themselves. The grace and power were phenomenal.

It was a wrap at 6:55 p.m.

The studio was in our reserve until 7:00. This gave us five minutes to make the impossible, possible. I'm not quite sure how we did it but we broke down all of the equipment with ludicrous speed. Ok, ok, so we didn't get it done in exactly five minutes but it was pretty damn close, and I didn't forget anything, which with the rushing, I thought I'd leave something of importance behind.

By 8 p.m. we were back at my digs, cold, adult styled beverages in hand with the 500 or so files uploading at lightnings speeds. By 11:00 we were, after hours of discerning choices, done.

Gamble had identified, with the assistance of my ever helpful and super supportive business manager and wife, Stefanie, the best of the bunch. We all then exhaled a deep breath of happiness, got to our late dinner and added adult beverages and called it a successful night.

Good night, that was until morning, when the entire editing process had begun and is still going.

My thanks go out to Mike Gamble, amazing brother, my wife who ran to Calumet to grab some last minute needed gear (gaffer tape and white rolls) early the morning of and Koresh dance studio for their hospitality and kindness, I'll be back for that t-shirt, XXL please (they have lots of those, not many pro dancers buying up my sized shirts). And last but not least, YOU, the readers, thank you.

Good night to all.

Until next time...