I took the photographs for Wet Hen in less than a month. For me that is super fast, and it made me nervous. What was going on?
1. Necessity. Most of the twenty spreads in Wet Hen call for a rainy outdoor setting. We’re in the middle of a drought in California, so there was no way around it: I was going to have to make some rain, using…what? I bought a bunch of nozzles and sprinklers at the hardware store and started experimenting.
I soon discovered that no amount of water squirting out of a hose could create the magical illusion of a rainy day unless the ambient light was soft and sweet. This meant I needed to shoot just after dawn.
When I’m shooting in the studio, I love moving the lights in tiny increments, seeing the effect this has on the photo, the mood, the rhythm of the narrative. Hours pass. Finally, I find a pleasing-enough solution. I eat lunch. I look again. I wonder: might the composition be stronger if I move the mouse downstage a smidge? What if I zoom in? More hours of miniscule light adjustments follow. Days pass. Months.
Outside, just after dawn, there was no time for tweaking. Soon the sun would peek over the hill. Shadows would appear, breaking the spell. I turned on “the rain”. I took the photo. I was done in minutes, like it or not.
2. Curiosity. I’m always excited to see how a scene will develop, but with Wet Hen, I sprang out of bed every morning before the alarm. The characters were wrapped in towels in a basket nearby. I grabbed the basket, and the camera bag. (Memory card? Check. Battery? Check.) The dyed eggs were in the fridge. I could barely wait around to make a cup of tea before heading down the hill to the pond. Why? Because things were happening that I hadn’t planned. Interesting things. The Busby Berkeley rain set up was creating some surprisingly lovely effects. The homemade hen house/raft was perpetually on the brink of sinking, which added some very real suspense. Even with a newly-purchase remote shudder release, I didn’t have enough hands to control the camera, the hoses, the characters, and the props (especially the roly poly hard-boiled eggs, which sank straight to the bottom of the pond, and are harder to retrieve than you’d think). The whole set up teetered on the brink of disaster.
You could feel the near-disaster energy in the photos—at least I could, and this was a good thing: Wet Hen is an adventure story. I sent sample photos to friends and family to check my perceptions. “Yes,” they said, “You can feel the danger! What happens next?” I didn’t know. I couldn’t wait to get up the next morning to find out.
3. Help from the right people at the right time. There was one photo I could not pull off single-handed, period. I needed someone with a canoe paddle to create a wave while I held the hose, pressed the remote shutter release, and repositioned the twirling henhouse after each shot. My twenty-four year old daughter announced a visit. Perfect. Mind meld may or may not be psychologically healthy, but for purposes of winning at Pictionary, or getting something done quickly with a minimum of explanation, it rocks. We got the shot (See photo above) in one take.
Next up: Cub in a Tub, which has potential to be a near-disaster in a snowy setting. I can hardly wait.