Americano Dream Photography Adventure, The Bahamas
The Lone Tree, Harbour Island, Bahamas
Camera: Olympus OM-D, E-M1
Lens: Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8, 24-80mm DSLR Equivalent
Focal Length: 12mm (24mm equivalent in 35mm DSLR)
Shutter Speed: 1/200
Camera Mode: Manual
White Balance: 3200K
Lighting: Profoto B1 Monolight fitted with Rosco Full CTO then attached to a Chimera three-foot OctaPlus light modifier
This was the first of our Americano Dream Photography Adventures, which varies from my traditional photography workshops in that a very small group of photographers attending watch my model and I create for our fine art photography collection. The attendees will apply what they learn to capture their own photos of Heather plus additional models provided on the adventure. The idea is to experience what it takes, from planning, lighting and execution.
The Story Behind The Photo
My photography has taken me to 43 countries plus most of the U.S. states in the past four decades, including the Bahamas, but this was my first trip to Harbour Island. The original attraction was the “pink sand beaches” and the “Lone Tree,” seen in this photo, plus the fact that Sports Illustrated Swimwear, Victoria Secrets, H&M fashions, and others have utilized this island for photography shoots. Noted past visitors include Elle Macpherson, Kate Moss, Julia Roberts, Naomi Campbell and other famous photogenic icons.
We are scheduled to return in 2016 for one more visit and while it’s an interesting island, it’s also very expensive. The people there are very friendly and everyone is willing to help everyone out. We only found one gas station that helps keep the golf carts fueled, and even though you’ll find some small cars and trucks, the preferred method to get around this three-and-a-half-mile-long by one-half-mile-wide Caribbean island is golf carts.
It is estimated that approximately 1500-2000 people live on this tiny island located around 2 miles east of Eleuthera, which hosts a small airport and is the faster way of arriving to Harbour Island via a water taxi once you land in Eleuthera—however, we took the long way in and out in what we thought would save a little money. Basically we flew into Nassau, overnighted then caught the early morning “fast ferry” which took about two and half hours to get to Harbour Island with one ten minute stop at Spanish Wells.
The return back took longer and was extremely interesting—the fast ferry was cancelled out of Harbour Island due to inclement weather so we caught one water taxi to Eleuthera, then a taxi from the dock to another water taxi dock on the other side of the island, then a small ferry to Spanish Wells where we boarded the original fast ferry back to Nassau. The best part was the hotel we stayed in Nassau the last night of our journey had an “honor system” bar, and after all that traveling, we honored that system well before leaving the next day to the Nassau airport.
But even with basically taking a day and half to get there and another day and half to leave there, we had some fun going after the photos we wanted and the Lone Tree shoot we scouted out the afternoon when we first arrived to Harbour Island. The tide was in and so Brian, one of the attending photographers, walked out to the tree, then we began to discuss some ideas. Along the way back, “Doc,” also an attending photographer, showed us some horses him and his wife had seen in a cemetery. We stopped, but no owner to talk too, so we figured we’d check on the horses later in the evening.
Shortly after dinner we went back to the cemetery, found the owner sitting on his golf cart, and we began our negotiation. The original discussion was to obtain the horses for the next morning’s pink sand beach shoot as we were saving the Lone Tree for sunset the next day. As I talked to the owner of the horses, I asked him if they were OK getting near the ocean surf and his enthusiastic response was that he could ride them into the ocean neck deep with no problem. The light bulb came on that instance and I challenged him, “Can you ride them to the Lone Tree?”
“Of course,” he responded, and so we made the arrangements to have one of the horses there by 4 p.m. because the sun was setting at 5:30 p.m. and I wanted time to prepare everything and be ready, plus part of the deal was that I’d get him a portrait first, with his horse.
I had no problem with this because I prefer the last 30-45 minutes of the Golden Hour, this portrait shoot of the horse owner with his horse and the Lone Tree gave me the opportunity to “burn time” while getting my camera adjustments fine-tuned. This also gives the horse time to get used to the flash going off—something I recommend when working with flash and animals.
Once that was accomplished, we began our shoot getting Heather Carden in position—we had one problem, the horse we were using was a little uncooperative, so on two occasions where Heather stood on top of the horse, she had to literally “drop” in a riders position to keep from falling into the ocean or hitting the Lone Tree. In the end, we got our shots and took notes on how we’d make it better the next time.
The first challenge was walking in knee-deep water out to the first tree, as unlike what was found on the Internet, there are two trees out there, the tall one we used for the main photos, and a shorter one nearby. Apparently the original Lone Tree had been washed away so the locals had literally planted two new Lone Trees out there. When I say planted, these are “solid” dead trees that appear cemented in as the locals learned over the years that the original Lone Tree provided a great tourist attraction.
The problem with the tall Lone Tree, it’s literally too tall and when you try and incorporate the entire tree in a vertical shooting format, you have to shoot with a wide-angle lens, thus making your subject small in perspective. On my next trip I will not focus so much on the entire tree and more on my model, but I’m still happy with the photos we were able to capture.
The second challenge was the horse we chose was a little feisty, so the horse owner brought out another horse to help calm it down—not a problem until the horses decided to defecate during the shoot, so we were all trying to do our best to avoid the floating feces along with the blue crabs that were roaming around in the water around our feet.
The third challenge was that the sky was a boring grey, so I decided to place a Rosco #3407 full CTO gel on Brian’s Profoto B1 500 battery powered monolight. Basically the gel drops the color temperature, or Kelvin, down to almost 3000K, thus when shooting manual white-balance, we adjusted our camera to around 3200K which turns the sky a deep blue. The flash is corrected through white balance on the model, so this effect brought the image, and sky to life with nice color saturations.
The biggest challenge is when you have a subject backlit by the sun you see a silhouette through the viewfinder making it difficult to focus and you can’t see your model’s facial expression much less if her eyes are open. Fortunately Heather has experience so after each flash she would change her facial expression and did her best not to blink until after the shot was taken—Heather knows I don’t spray and pray when I shoot so she knows she has a little time between shots to blink, adjust her facial expression, and even change her pose.
When you photograph your subject over the years, going on three now for Heather and I, you eventually build a shooting harmony with each other. She understands my method of shooting and I understand her modeling habits of being ready for the camera. You could say we “sync” together when it comes to our shoots, thus making it easier to accomplish our shots.
The final challenge was that when it came time to photograph Heather, I only had about 45-minutes left of the Golden Hour, my favorite time to shoot, especially when it comes to sunsets. So while we worked fast, we also worked safely.
Safety is key especially when working in knee-deep water plus with a horse you’ve just met. Heather is a trained horsewoman so handling the horse wasn’t an issue and we had the horse owner their to help during the entire shoot, especially when she would mount the horse. We also had help from one of our other models that day, Ashley Lester, who is also trained well in handling horses.
We were careful not to drop our cameras or lighting into the water. I don’t have to explain much there. While some will argue about the “human light stand” effect, I wasn’t too worried about that because the Profoto is a self-contained unit and battery operated—the only time high-voltage is apparent is when the flash tube discharges for a fraction of a second. However, as a disclaimer, I do not recommend anyone holding any type of electronic device while working with water—leave that to the trained professionals.
While we had a few blue crabs come check on us, we had no sharks around us in such a shallow depth of water and the water was clear enough for viewing down to the bottom, but always be on the lookout for any type of sea creature, from urchins to sharks, they do exist. With a total of six people involved with the shoot, we had plenty of eyes on the lookout for one another.
In all of our photo shoots we take every safety precaution, and I encourage any photographer in any situation to do the same, always make safety first.