The Photographer’s Secrets-behind the scenes of a TV story

Here is a wonderful story made more wonderful by the extraordinary work of a KARE-11 photojournalist Bill P. Middeke.   Watch the piece (by clicking on the image) then read the text below the piece.  I asked Bill to explain how he lit this story, how they captured the journey.  I asked about the lighting because there are few things harder to shoot in than darkness, except cold darkness or cold darkness in which the subject is constantly moving.

Boyd had come to me a few days before to tell me about the shoot. We talked about a few details. The major problem we were going to face was lighting. Our runner, Jim, was going to leave his home in River Falls, WI at midnight to make the 31 mile, estimated 8 hour, run to work. Jim’s planned route would take us on many back roads and highways with few, if any, street lights.

Our challenge with the lighting was not wanting to cop-out and use the camera top light. I try to use my top light as little as possible. I feel when you use the top light you lose detail and shadows.

So for lighting (see photo)
I used some “C” clamps to attach a light stand, horizontally, to my luggage rack on the roof of my car. I wanted to lay it horizontally because it would be easier to keep attached to a moving car and I was going to ride in the back of my news car with the tailgate up and didn’t want the door to block the light. I used my light stand because I could adjust the distance I could move the light from the car.

First, I experimented using a tota light so I could “flood” him, then my pro-light from my light kit with the cigarette power converter. But with both lights I popped the fuses in my car. I didn’t want to risk popping any fuses while at 1am in the middle of no-where. So I came up with the idea of taking a lamp from my home work bench and attaching that to a light stand clamp. Then instead of using a traditional incandescent bulb, I used a compact florescent light bulb. With a CFL bulb I could use a 100 Watt bulb and it would only pull around 26 Watts, hopefully well under the converter compactly. I think the softer CFL light worked well too because we didn’t want to overpower him with light. I wanted a softer light; if he was too bright he might get washed out or we could lose background depth. Some have asked about using a dimmer on my normal light kit, but I didn’t want to risk it because I didn’t want to accidently push it too far again.

As we drove out to Jim’s house we followed, as best we could, the route he would take. While driving we were looking for lighting options and landmarks, like city signs, and tried to anticipate him running past those points.
Before Jim started his run we put the wireless mic on him for the interview at his house. We kept it on him the entire night (Burned 4 9volts) so we could talk to him while he ran and I could also get all those breathing, panting, or other running nats.

For shooting, I took all the crap out of the trunk of my Trailblazer, so I could ride in the back. Boyd drove and yelled back questions for me to ask. In an attempt to mix up my shots, from the tailgate, I would sit, kneel, lie on my stomach, put the camera within millimeters from the ground to get as close or low as I could. I would also hang out of the passenger side window and sit on the door window frame. Boyd would joke I was a contortionist. I would adjust the light accordingly to where Jim was.

On a few occasions, I wanted to run behind Jim, so I could get some closer shots I didn’t think I could get from the car. When I would do that, Boyd would also get out and run next to us while holding a hand held light. A light I use is an Anton Bauer cube light, like one would use at the top of a camera, on a separate camera battery plate.

We would also drive ahead and set up at those locations we spotted on the drive out so we could shoot Jim as he ran by. It wasn’t foolproof. Sometimes he would run on the opposite side of the camera from where I expected him to go.

As for the coffee stop at McDonald’s, Boyd called corporate PR a few days beforehand to get permission to go inside. We spent 45 minutes to an hour at the McDonald’s and I rolled almost the whole time. We only used 3 shots. But I recorded the whole time hoping for the right moment to catch on camera between Jim and his wife, Sue. That’s the moment we used in the story.

We didn’t know where he/we would be when the sun came up. So when the time was coming we drove ahead and looked for possible shots. We settled on an oil refinery and waited for him to run past. We didn’t have long between the sunrise and his arrival at work, so as fast as I could I had to get new daylight shots.

Hope this helps,
Good luck and have fun.
Bill

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