Redwoods, Redheads, Red Horse

16 years ago  •  By  •  0 Comments

I am finally getting started on my next photographic series. I have decided to shoot an ongoing series at interesting locations throughout California. I don’t really want the images to really look as if they are from California, I just want to take advantage of the wide variety of beautiful terrain that exists right here in the backyard of my beloved state. I have started out mentally making a list of the different types of terrain available to me. I have picked Coastal Redwoods as my first to shoot in. I want each location to have people and animals. Each setting needs to be tied together with color and props and I don’t want anything to look contemporary. I also want lighting. It’s shaping up to look like fantasy and I’m going with it. It’s going to be big.
I have been planning these shots for about half a year. It’s looking like a lot of the locations are going to be far from civilization, so I decided to buy an RV to make a production motorhome. It will serve as the mothership for production operations. It will provide transportation, shelter, facilities, storage, a place for talent to change, and provide electricity to power the lights. It’s already been used on a regular job too. After delivery it went straight to Yosemite to shoot the valley for the company called Cisco. That was a story in-and-of itself of shooting on the edge of a very tall cliff, but I’ll try to stay on topic here. So time for the introduction of the moho. We call her Brontosaurus. Marie is helping out here to provide scale. This photograph proves the notion that you don’t get a lot of house square footage for your dollar in the community of Sausalito.

So, first step is to find the proper location. This is a bit tricky because this is probably the single most important decision to be made. It has to be beautiful, accessible, legal, safe and of course conducive to a scene to be photographed. I want the location to look impressive. The coastal redwoods of California are the tallest living species on the planet and I want them to look that way. I call Muir Woods National Monument first just because it is close. The ranger and I decide together on the phone that it’s not going to work out there. There are too many tourists. I take a look around Google and map out four more possibilities that are somewhat local. Since it will be a really nice drive I take a cruise through Marin and up the coast on Highway 1 to the Russian River. None of the places grab me, so I call Jim Baldwin, location scout extraordinaire. Jim has helped me out on regular work before. For the Crystal Geyser job, he found us a really cool house built on a bridge that spanned a canyon. The house actually floated above the canyon from one ridge to another. I digress.

Jim sends me photos and a list of three or four properties to review. Two look really interesting. One isn’t available, so, I call the nice Ravella family and take a look at their amazing property, on the Russian River, near Monte Rio. I have found my location. It’s flat, has a beautiful grove and is private. I had driven right past it on my own scouting mission, but without the help of a location scout, I probably would have never found the place.

It’s time to assemble the cast and crew. Because of the red color of the trees, I decide I would like girl with really red hair. I want her to look as if she is from a far off time. Maybe the past or the future. I want to leave some things to the imagination of the viewer. For the lead star, I decide on Lija Yee, professional model from Latvia who is also a great friend and wife of very good friend from high school days. I start assembling the crew. Rene Rael on makeup. Shannon Dunn on wardrobe.  Marie on production help. And, last but not least, Matt Scott, Ian Webb, and Anouk Kluyskens as lighting and camera assistants.

Lastly, I need to find the animal. I want a red-haired horse. Rather than call an animal wrangler, I just put an ad on craigslist, another great suggestion from Corey. I just didn’t think people with horses were perusing the talent section on craigslist, but I was wrong. I received ten emails in a day.  The lovely Kim Hudson and Karen Sullivan agree to bring their two beautiful horses in two horse trailers.

We arrive at the Ravella residence by mid-morning and get to work. We get generators and lights set up in the forest. We are using a 12 by 12 foot silk to light a large area, that needs to be raised high in the air and secured. I want there to be a powerful backlight with visible rays of light coming through the forest.  I scouted the sun angles to determine the time. It looked as if it should work well from 3-5pm. It will mean constantly shifting the lighting, but it I think it will be worth it. There is nothing like light from the sun. To make the sun rays show, we rent the largest smoke machine available and some powerful fans. It works great, at first, but quickly proves challenging in the later part of the day, because the winds become shifty and unpredictable. For ten minutes the air moves from west to east, so we place the smoker accordingly. Soon, it changes, so we have to move the smoker 75 yards. It is somewhat heavy, requires power, and has burning hot parts on it. Someone is standing by constantly at the generator.

Shannon and Rene finish the wardrobe and makeup and they bring Lija to the set. Rene does an excellent job on a tough hair extension job, but it looks great. They walk her to the set as if she’s some kind of elf bride. We bring the horses over. They are surprisingly calm and I’m relieved, but I realize later it’s not a good thing. We start shooting and everything works really well. We are shooting with a Hasselblad 40mm with Phase One P45 back. It’s tethered to the laptop and I’m seeing shots as they come up and I’m really happy.  We start out shooting Lija with the white horse and the horse is generally bored looking and has its ears pointing backward a lot. Lija and I talk about how we can try to improve the situation.

Someone opens up a photo reflector and it spooks the horse. Now all of a sudden, the horse looks really captivating to me. Marie takes the large, open, reflector dish and starts running all round the forest holding the reflector dish up in the air, waving it around.  She looks as if she’s gone mad and everyone is laughing, but the horse is amazed at the sight. I start shooting fast and we get our first shot.

We move on to the red horse. I wish I could remember the name. I think it was Fireworks. The color of the horses coat, Lija’s hair and the redwoods are perfect. Shannon takes Lija for a wardrobe change. While we are waiting for the wardrobe their is an opportunity for my wife Marie to pet the horses.

We finish out the rest of the day shooting wide-angle shots as the sun gets lower in the sky. I’m happy with the results, It’s a wrap!