Last week I had the chance to sit down with Jace and Giddi Carmichael. I spent more than an hour with them in the Twin Falls visitor center parking lot discussing and documenting their unique way of life.
After the opportunity arose to purchase a Dodge Sprinter 2500, the Carmichaels decided to pursue their dream of a nomadic lifestyle. They built a bed, kitchen and office space within the van and have been living out of it since Easter Sunday of this year.
Listening to their story was great, but the shoot brought with it a certain set of challenges. I underestimated how small the space would actually be, a rookie mistake that could have been avoided if I did my homework. Because of this, my widest lens was my 24-70 mm.
This will help give a mental image of the area. Their mobile apartment was about the size of my walk-in closet at home, and I’m a single guy with a limited-at-best fashion sense. This was a SMALL space.
Instinctively when I realize I am unprepared for a shoot, I immediately start going into frantic mode. I start shooting without thinking and wasting space on my memory cards for photos that will never be used. I don’t recommend this technique. It’s just a guttural reaction.
Fortunately my time in this profession has taught me a trick or two. I’d like to share these with you in case you ever find yourself in a challenging shoot. First off, stop what you’re doing. If you’re praying and spraying (shooting blindly and hoping for the best), you’re not going to get images you’re proud of. At least not consistently.
Take a moment to collect yourself. Typically when I’m on a shoot, I won’t snap my first frame within the first five minutes of being there. I like to take the time to think about where I am, what my angles are, where the light is and how I can make it work for me.
In this situation, the light was streaming in through the side door of the van. I knew if I was shooting from the door, the van would be evenly lit. Moving inside and incorporating the light into my photo could add a soft glow. I used this with my closeups of Giddi, who’s six months pregnant. By overexposing the background it softened the features of her face, adding a more soothing feel to the image.
Once I figured out my lighting, the next challenge was working with the limited space. There were three of us in this area, and no one had very much room to move. For situations like these, sometimes the best option is to just work your angles.
I systematically made my way around the room, testing every angle I could think of to utilize the space I had. I found that sticking my camera in the corner of the room and using higher angles helped expand the area. With the low kitchen counters and desktop, a high angle better displayed the layout of the room.
The low angle had the opposite effect. The subject was larger, adding to the idea of this condensed space. Both techniques are useful and both helped illustrate the story.
The moment when I failed on this shoot is when I left before getting a detail shot. This particular story could have been a great one to tell with extreme closeups. Bumper stickers on the back of the van, the odometer, the dog bowl next to the door, even the tiny plant on the desk could have all added another layer of depth to my package.
When shooting, don’t just consider your angles, but also your proximity to the subject. Get a wide angle shot to set the scene. Move in closer to get an image of the subjects interacting within the already established scene. Finish with a closeup photo that adds something extra to your story that can’t be captured in a wide shot. These are basic rules that don’t apply to every situation, but they will help flesh out your stories if you’re struggling to find variety in your images.
I hope some of these techniques can help the next time you find yourself in a tricky shoot. You can also follow the Carmichaels on their Instagram @OurHomeOnWheels.