My wife Peggy and I were supposed to spend a week in Paris, France visiting friends later this month. Due to circumstances beyond our control, we had to cancel the trip:-(
We did manage, however, to make it to her family reunion in early May, held this year in Texas. On the drive to the dude ranch where the reunion took place, I noticed on the map that there was also a Paris in Texas. And, doggone it, I was going to get to Paris (any Paris!) in May come hell or haute d’eau.
So, after the reunion, I slipped off for a couple of days to shoot the other Paris. For a rundown on what I found, how it’s inspired a new project, and how I lit my new friend Ray in front of the Texas version of the Eiffel Tower using only my emergency “family reunion group shot lighting kit,” hit the jump.
First, you have to know that Peggy has a LARGE family (here’s this year’s shot) and being the “photographer-in-law,” it falls upon me to do the annual shot.
Most of the time I can get it done outdoors, but I always throw an extra flash and a lightstand in with my usual kit, just in case we have to do something indoors.
Fortunately, this year, the weather cooperated and we did it with flash fill on camera and a remote control. But that meant I had two flashes, one lightstand, and my Portable Softlight setup, which came in handy later on.
So what’s to see in Paris, TX? Well, an incredible privately-owned museum full of top flight American art (it ain’t the Louvre, but it is amazing), a cool winery, a great French-style bakery, some down home Bluegrass music, Jesus in Cowboy boots (don’t ask…just check out the multimedia slideshow , in fact check out that whole section it’s just been updated), a 65-foot-high Eiffel Tower topped with a cowboy hat, and some really, really friendly folks like Ray, the cowboy in the opening shot.
I persuaded Ray to come out one evening at dusk with his lariat. It was a hazy gray evening, so I put the WB on tungsten to pump up the blue in the sky and then gelled the main flash (the one on Ray) with an 85B filter from the handy Lumiquest FXtra filter holder.
The town actually lights the tower, but all the light is focused on the cowboy hat (hey, we’re in Texas, remember). So I put one unfiltered SB 800 on a stand off-camera left between Ray and the tower, and aimed the light at the middle to lower section of the structure to even the light out.
Then Ray and I moved back until he was about as big in the frame as the tower, and I lit him with the gelled, off-camera SB 800 bounced through a small white umbrella (see the Pages entry Portable Soft Light for a look at this rig) held in my left hand. I used the pop up flash of the D90 as the controller, setting the tower light at 1/2 power and the umbrella light at just a skosh under 1/8th power using Nikon’s Creative Lighting System in the manual mode. 1/8th second, f/4, ISO 400.
Then it was a matter of Ray swinging the lariat and me shooting as fast as those puppies would recycle to get a frame where the rope was behaving somewhat. Ray had the patience of a saint, and the roping skills of a rodeo champion. That nice little kicker light on Ray’s left side? I’d like to take credit for it, but it was what I call “streetlight seredipity.”
My experience in Paris gave me an idea for a small side project this year: Around the World in Fifty States (I’ve already got the domain name!). With a lot of domestic travel lined up this year, whenever I’m close to a foreign sounding place, I’m going to pop in and give it a look: Moscow, Idaho, and Venice, California are two places on my radar.
Speaking of radar, the piece de resistance of my little European excursion into the Lone Star state came on the return trip, when I got pulled over for speeding in (I kid you not) Italy, Texas! A whopping $184 fine for going 11 miles over the limit (oh yeah, everything is bigger in Texas). It really made me feel, as they say in Roman slang, like scamorza!