In the Woods in the Dark

Marshunda Smith (cellist, conductor, violinist, music teacher, and vivacious human being) is one of my favorite people to photograph for personal branding shoots, and we’ve done several. I love cello music and often our shoots have an improvisational soundtrack which ups the ante on our collaboration. On our recent shoot it was daylight savings and I read incorrectly when the sun would be setting that day, which ended up becoming a fortuitous goof. Marshunda arrived with a range of bright clothes in her trunk, like a mango shirt to complement the golden leaves. We started out on the edge of the woods in Beverly, MA and made a range of portraits using natural light and a bit of softbox pop.


Then we moved farther into the woods and set up some new shots, when my camera was suddenly like “Um, you want me to focus where exactly?!” By which point the light had all but faded and then, boom, it was pitch dark. Of course we were laughing by this point and every time my light flashed (a Nikon Speedlight SB800 on a stand with a Photek Softlighter 60”) Marshunda was expertly hitting a new pose. Some literal shooting in the dark, and it worked.


My photo jam is that intersection of planned-unplanned. The darkness allowed me to get nimble, getting into a “use what you’ve got” mindset. A photo shoot in the dark was not what I pre-visualized earlier while prepping my gear but I was pleased with the outcome, we both were. When we had lots of images to choose from we packed up her cello case and my camera and lighting gear and picked our way back through the brambles to our cars.


Soul House

On a recent evening I photographed Soul House at the Peabody Essex Museum, a collaboration of Hub New Music quartet and a trio from Urbanity Dance. My job was to capture the movement and sound of the performance unobtrusively in pictures using only the existing light. With a fast, trusty steed Nikon 70-200mm lens, I worked from different vantage points--from up on the balcony or down low on the floor (where for a time the dancers were backlit with a single small spotlight and the ambient light was practically nil and it turns out I made, I think, the most interesting images of the night). During this time I was thinking about choices we all have to make in business, creative output, or both. How do we deliver a superior outcome even when all the elements may not be ideal? And how do we comfortably find solutions on-the-fly that create an unexpected and satisfying result?

Meg Anderson, Jacob Regan and Haley Day, Urbanity Dance

Meg Anderson, Jacob Regan and Haley Day, Urbanity Dance

On this night in particular, capturing an event in very low light meant I needed to set my camera to "think" there was more light, but aware of the potential downside of creating "grain" or "noise" instead of a smooth picture. In context this was the obvious choice to sacrifice, giving over to balancing a slow enough shutter speed to let in some vital ambient light but not too much so as to create unwanted motion blur in the dancers and musician's movements (which can sometimes work to great effect but not as a rule on this night). The other essential was needing to set a wide open aperture to make an engaging and decently-lit picture while having to carefully land precise focus, such as on a dancer's face. A tricky trifecta, and all in all I was pleased with both the process and the outcome, executing a dance of my own.  

Hub New Music performing in the Peabody Essex Museum’s atrium

Hub New Music performing in the Peabody Essex Museum’s atrium