For those of you following the Struck by Lightning story, this photo was taken of Kevin Burdick a few minutes before he was struck by Lightning on Shoshone Point at the Grand Canyon. So far, Kevin is just fine and now has additional super powers that cannot be mentioned here, as sharing that information may be seen as a national security breach and I may have my phones tapped by the US Attorney’s office. I can tell you that, with his new super powers, Kevin is often seen in tight stretchy pants and a luchador mask, but it is possible he was wearing those before the lightning strike.
In all seriousness, Kevin is fine and a bit more electrifying when he plays his music in front of an audience.
I shot this portrait with my friend Carlos Martín’s Nikon D800. It’s a nice camera.
When the man or woman on the street thinks about the process of making music, they think about a musician and a piano, or a guitar. Sitting down and playing for hours, perhaps making notes on some blank sheet music, writing some lyrics under a sycamore tree on a funky hand made notebook, and maybe the younger among us add in a snapshot of the musician playing music on their iPad into Garage Band.
But the creative process is goes beyond the romantic and requires organizational skills and business acumen.
When I walked into Cason Cooley’s recording studio in Nashville, TN, to photograph Mindy Gledhill, the first thing I noticed was the wall sized blackboard with a production grid on it. You can see the songs that are being recorded and the series of steps that each song must go through during the production of Mindy’s new album. There are a lot of boxes to check. During short recording breaks, Mindy wasn’t relaxing in a chair, shooting the breeze with the studio musicians, she was fielding calls that were clearly about business.
So, while it is true, that musicians and artists spend a lot of focused time writing lyrics in notebooks and making sketches on napkins, the majority of any successful artist’s time is spent in managing production and business and checking off boxes on an excel spreadsheet or its funky blackboard equivalent.
If you want to be part of the creative life, and “live the dream,” you had better be aware that the “dream” includes spreadsheets and task lists and business goals and production schedules. That’s just part of the creative life. Anyone who tells you something different is selling something.
Thanks to Mindy Gledhill for allowing me to invade her creative space as she worked. You can be a part of her creative venture as well by pledging to her album production at Pledge Music. The beauty of it is that you will also get some very cool things in return. One of my favorites is a signed lyric sheet. I think that’s about as cool a memento as you can get. Of course, I am biased, I was always the lyricist in the band.
If you haven’t heard Mindy’s music, here is a taste of it. You can get more at MindyGledhill.com.
Photography by Jared Platt, Platt Photography
Location: Cason Cooley Studio in Nashville, TN
Slideshow music by Mindy Gledhill, courtesy of Triple Scoop Music
Mindy Gledhill is at it again. Another brilliant record is forthcoming this fall. I had the opportunity to spend a few days in the recording studio with her in Nashville to watch and record her creative process. The creative process is such an interesting thing to study. I am familiar with my own and because I travel so much and meet so many creative people, I am privileged to see other creative peoples’ processes. Some are more efficient than others. Some are at the mercy of the muse and others can call up their muse on demand. But once, the creative process begins, it is surprisingly similar regardless of what art you are practicing.
More on that later.
For now, I wanted to give you a glimpse into the studio as Mindy makes the music come alive. As a fan of her musical talent, I have to report: the music is very, very good.
This next photo is Mindy writing a line on the Key-tar which was transported directly from the 1980’s to the studio through a time portal in the back corner of Cason Cooley’s studio in Nashville, TN. The musician and recording engineer in me walked around the studio in reverence, like I was in a vintage musical instruments museum.
This moment of creativity struck me. Mindy was listening to the music and could tell the song needed something. She voiced it, saying it needed a little more happiness in it (my words not hers). A little more listening, a little more thinking, a little wandering and Mindy was back on the couch with headphones and a key-tar playing a happy line on a silly little instrument. Within 30 minutes, the song had lifted off the ground with that light happy feel she had expressed less than an hour before.
Creativity has so many components to it. Focus seem to be one of the most important.
As I watched her work, I could tell when she entered that zone of intensity where all other distractions disappeared. That, to me, is one of the most incredible things about the human mind, that it can focus in on what needs to be done and forget everything around it, no matter how distracting life may be… The most creative among us can dive deep into that zone, much to the annoyance of their friends and family.
Mindy’s new album will hit the market in the fall, but you can be a part of it now and even get a pre-released copy, or have Mindy sing you to sleep on the phone by pledging your support for the album at Pledge Music. Independant artists put their soul AND their money into their albums. It is an expensive proposition to make an album on your own. Pledge Music allows the artist to fund their production while allowing you to get some cool swag items that you could never get otherwise. Some of my favorite items include:
The New Album (you get it one week before the world)
Mindy Sings you to Sleep
Pre-Release Listening Party
VIP Backstage Pass for Two Years
Be in a Mindy Glehill Music Video
Ultimate Artist Mentoring Package
Support the creative production process and become a benefactor to one of the most talented new artists around. Someday, when she’s too hot to touch, you will be able to say, “Mindy Gledhill once sang me to sleep!” I say that, but Mindy is a super down to earth, wonderful person, so I think she’ll always be singing someone to sleep.
During a few moments of downtime, I interviewed Mindy for a project I am working on. We did the interview in the back of the studio. The light was beautiful, so I got a portrait of her as well.
Images of Mindy Gledhill by Jared Platt, Platt Photography
Location: Cason Cooley Studio, Nashville, TN
Making an album cover photograph for piano rockstar, Kevin Burdick, gets increasingly difficult, as we continue to push to limits of where we can take his pianos. His most recent album, The Ivory Coast, took us and his piano to the sand dunes in Yuma, Arizona, where we suffered through extreme heat as we tried to hoist this heavy piano through the sand. It was fun, but challenging to put the album cover together.
This video includes interviews with Kevin Burdick about the making of the album cover, video footage of Kevin’s exclusive sand dune performance of Freight Train and many of the photos from the album photo shoot.
The video was edited exclusively in Adobe Premier CS5, which uses the 5D Mark II video file natively without requiring a conversion like Final Cut Pro. One more reason that Adobe is the best choice for image making professionals.
The final album cover contains four different photographs: the piano, Kevin on the sand dunes, the ocean and boat and then the texture. Follow the post below to see the various elements of the album cover and the progression of the album cover.
Moving the piano was very difficult. We obviously could not get it to the top of a 30 foot sand dune, so we found some small “mini dunes” that were accessible by truck and off loaded the piano there. But even then, it took three of us to move the piano and I think all of us almost popped a disk in our backs. This was one of those old pianos and it was HEAVY!
Our first photograph was the piano. Since it was the hardest thing to move, we figured we would start with that and match all of our angles for future photographs to that. We shot the piano early in the morning as the sun rose so we could get the same lighting we would get at the top of the sand dunes down the road. We had to shoot pretty quickly so we could get out the the large sand dunes before the sun got too high in the sky, so we got our shot done and sped off for location 2. The Sand Dunes.
This is our second shot, which is not too complicated a shot to create, it is just getting to the spot that is difficult. In order to get out to a spot that has the same angle as our piano shot we had to hike in a mile or more into the Sand Dunes. This is not like walking on the beach. First, it is hot as hell. Second, the sand is very deep. Third, walking up hill while the sand falls downhill makes for some very intense stair step workouts that create the sense that you are not going anywhere. Fourth, did I mention it was HOT! And of course, Kevin is not wearing shoes!
Once we climbed high enough to get a shot from above looking down on Kevin and a series of dunes behind him, we got many many variations, as well as some video footage for music videos, etc. We also got some cool shots for Dixon Golf in the United States’ biggest sand trap (watch for tomorrow’s post). And then it was up to me to get the rest of the shots.
This photograph, which I had taken earlier at a wedding in San Diego worked perfectly for the background. We wanted our Sand Dunes to overlook the ocean with some kind of a boat back there, so I searched my image catalog for the terms ocean and boat and come up with this image. I worked perfectly. I suppose, had we been going for realistic, the clouds would have been completely wrong for the photo montage, but we were looking for a dreamlike album cover of a place that exists only in the mind, so this fit the bill.
Then it was off to the image catalogs again to find the right texture to distress the image a bit. The texture also helps to mold things together that otherwise wouldn’t fit all that well. I keep a collection of textures for this very purpose in my image catalogs. When I am shooting weddings or travel photography, I keep my eye out for interesting textures and collect them for uses just like this. Being organized enough to find them is the real key. So, I typed in the word texture into my Lightroom Image Catalog and choose the texture I wanted. If you are having trouble finding your images, you need to do more key-wording!
This is what the photo composite looks like without the texture, before it is cropped and placed into the album cover design.
And again, once we have added the texture and the text to the photograph. You can see how much the texture helps to soften the look of the image and make it a bit more dreamlike. I actually prefer the tall skinny version of the image more than the square album cover. I miss the days when you purchased a CD in one of those long skinny cardboard boxes that you could further design. This would have been a perfect photograph for one of those. But alas, now you will simply go to iTunes and purchase Kevin Burdick’s new album, The Ivory Coast, on iTunes and see only the square front cover.
But of course, if you do that, you can see the back cover here.
We actually set up the piano the night before the shot so that we wouldn’t have to cary that thing in the dark. So as we left it for the night, the sun set in the desert and the lonely piano stood quiet and alone among the shrubs. I love this shot.
Photo Shoot Details:
It was a rainy day with strong winds all day and a bit cold for Phoenix, AZ in January, but we altered our planned photo shoot a little in the concept and went out shooting. Piano rock star, Kevin Burdick, was the subject. We decided to take the umbrellas, but when we got to our location, we had a break in the clouds, but not the wind. So we went with the umbrellas anyway. Kevin get very tired trying to hold the umbrellas up against the wind, it really was quite strong.
The photos were shot with the Canon 1D Mark IV.
Now on to some tips and tricks:
First, the sun is off to the right of the photo and slightly behind Kevin. Which means that if we took the photo without additional lights, he would be too dark. Remember, we are competing with some bright clouds in the background, so we have to control the ambient exposure to match. We could use a big reflector, or we could use a flash. It was just Kevin and myself, no assistant, so we chose a flash unit. A Canon 580EX II is mounted on a pole about 12 feet off to my right to avoid the on camera flash flattening effect. Because it is off camera, I had to connect it via wireless slave. I am using the pocket wizard TT1 and TT5 system. This allows the camera to communicate with the flash via radio signal, but unlike typical radio slave systems, that only transmit the fire signal, the TT1 / TT5 system allows the camera to communicate metering solutions etc to the flash for TTL auto exposures. The TT1/TT5 system also allows me to sync my flash at incredibly high shutter speeds via radio slave, and in order to get the ambient exposure right with the correct depth of field, I need to expose the image at f 5.0 at between 1/1600 and 1/2000 of a second. A typical flash slave system will only allow syncing with a flash at 1/250 of a second. So the Pocket Wizard TT1 / TT5 system is critical to the success of this photograph. When I need the light, but also need the shutter speed, I don’t have to compromise.
The flash is set to provide a bust of light which is about one and a half stops lower than the brightness of the sun. This allows the sun to remain the dominant light source. You can see that the sun is still creating its signature crest of light on the far right side of Kevin’s face, but it is not blown out. The near side of his face, though lit well, is still the shadow side. This combination of lights provides a good contour to his face. I am getting a studio lit look out on location with three lights.
“Three lights,” you ask, “but you have just mentioned the two?”
Light One: The sun. This is the strongest light on the set. It is the light coming from the side and slightly behind, giving me that crest of light on his face and hands, and acting as a hair light. It is also providing the nice bright crests on the clouds and the mountains.
Light Two: The Canon Flash. This is a direct light on Kevin’s face which is filling in the shadow not to match, but fall short of the power of the sun (light one). This gives us a great vivid exposure on Kevin’s face, without flattening the contours of the face because it is not on camera, but off camera and coming at the subject from the same side of the frame as the sun, so direction of the shadows still make sense.
Light Three: God’s Soft Box, the Northern Sky. The northern sky (because in North America, the sun is always in the southern sky) is a giant soft reflector of the sun’s light. That bounced light from the northern sky is filling in all the deep shadows on my subject and on the mountains and the clouds. Without the reflection of the norther sky, the shadows in the photo would be very dark. Now, I cannot position God’s soft box on a moment by moment basis, it is in a fixed position, but there are some things I can do. I can choose the time of day to shoot, so that either the northwest or the northeast sky is my active soft box and I can position my subject such that he faces the northern sky, and I can choose the proper location for shooting the photograph so that my subject can face away from the sun, toward the northern sky.
I always know where the sun is and is going to be. My iPhone, though not a good phone, has a great sun position app which tells me the exact position of the sun at any hour of any day well into the future. So, when I scout a location, I know where the sun will be a 3 PM on Jan 12, 2030 and can plan my photo shoot accordingly. I need to know this, because I want to get the best shot with the least amount of equipment possible.
The green toned photo above is what happens when the sun changes brightness on you in the middle of the shoot. The original shot is a bit off in exposure, but with some fancy photoshop work using two different develops of the same RAW file, I was able to pull of a very cool shot and and control exactly how dark I wanted the background and the subject. I love the drama of the image.
Note: Although the rest of these photographs have undergone a major amount of burning and dodging they have not been “retouched much at all. I am not all that interested in major retouching, but burning and dodging, which I did very skillfully in the darkroom, is still a very key part of the beauty of my images. Although now, I have such precise control offer my burns that almost anything is possible. I often will slim down a subject or remove a belly with only burning and dodging. I will post my article on Burning and Dodging here on the blog in the near future. It ran in Professional Photographer Magazine in January 2010. If you have a copy, take a look.
This next set of photos, we moved the position of the light from my right side to my left. Some people on my facebook posts have said it looks almost like he is being photographed against a backdrop, because he is popping out of the photo so much. This is what happens when you move your second light to a less natural position. Instead of the light coming from the same side as the sun’s light, it is coming from the other side, which subtly sets Kevin at odds with the shadows in the background. Ergo, he jumps out of the photo because he is no longer blending in to the light. Your mind sees him as different than the photo, even if your consciousness can not figure out why. Study the photo carefully and see the shadows on Kevin, then the shadows on the mountains and clouds.
Anytime you want something to pop out of your photo, you have to make it different than everything else in the photo. Most of the time, people use a bight color to do this. More subtle is using a different texture of perhaps a different pattern, etc. Notice, he is also wearing a tomato shirt. That helps him stand out in every photo. But the lighting is the real key to creating that extreme difference that is still subtle enough to make one question their perception.
Now for the rest of the photo shoot. When he is far away from the camera we obviously can’t light him with a flash, so a little dodging in the post production fixes the shadow of the face. Fortunately, distant shots like these don’t require as much lighting, because they are more about composition. Besides, we still have our two lights working for us: light one and three.
Before we went out for our location shoot, we also did a few shots in the studio. Kevin is great for expression. I posted a set of these expressions in a previous post, but here are a few larger shots I loved from the session.
You may be wondering what I did to the photos here. What photoshop action did I use? The coloring effect is done completely in Adobe Lightroom with the click of a button. It is one of many presets I have created for toning my images. This one reminds me of an old 1970s photograph of my mom and dad in horn rimed glasses and a few of the kids up in the mountains. The color is faded and the paper is yellowed and some of the silvers are oxidizing. It is a nice effect, but who wants to wait 30 years for that. Anyway, most people make these color presets with the color balance changes, but that sometimes messes up the photo itself. Making presets correctly is important. I am finishing up a second set of presets, which will be available for purchase by WPPI 2010 in Las Vegas (where I will be teaching a master class on Lightroom and if you are coming, I will teach you how to make this preset). The first set of presets is called the Essential Lightroom Preset Collection, which is a set of work-flow centered presets to get you through the editing process quickly. This new set is called the Top Secret Collection, which is a set of effect presets to compliment the Essential Collection. This effect in particular is mostly based in the split toning panel of the develop section in Lightroom. There are some other settings in Saturation, Vibrance and Clarity etc that help to make it look just right, but the bulk of the effect is there in the split toning.
By the way, if you are going to be at WPPI and want to take my master class, but can’t get in because it is full, email [email protected] and ask to be placed on the waiting list. If there are enough people on the waiting list, they will open another class. And more importantly, they will book me in a platform class next year, which they should have done this year. So if you are going to WPPI, email and ask to be placed on the waiting list.
And finally, a nice black and white at 1600 ISO. This Canon 1D Mark IV is incredible in the higher ISOs. I can’t say enough good things about that ISO. I turned off the flash slaves and simply used the modeling lights, raised the ISO with impunity and shot. With this camera, I will never fear the ISO. Never.