Return to Hays Street

I love the Hays Street Bridge. Love it. But there's a slight problem with that. Everyone loves the Hays Street Bridge. 

Ooohhh. Pretty.

Ooohhh. Pretty.

Now, hear me out. That bridge, situated between Dignowity Hill and Downtown San Antonio, is awesome. Such urban landscape. Very lines. So twilight. Wow. It is no surprise that the Hays Street Bridge is regularly plagued by cyclists, skaters, group yoga, and photographers.

Lots of photographers. Go ahead and do a Google image search. You know what? Nevermind - don't. I've done it for you: Google Image Search: Hays Street Bridge.

See? Lots of photos. Lots of good ones, too. Now, there's not a single thing wrong with photographing at popular locales, but you risk doing two things: 1. Over-saturating the market, and 2. Blending in with everyone else.

I admit I hesitated when some fellow shooters invited me photograph some models there recently. "Geez, it's so overdone, yada yada yada..." But I eventually came to my senses and rose to the challenge. What challenge?  The challenge to stand out, yo. 

I mean, c'mon. This bridge breathes inspiration. It's been a conduit for so many amazing images, including that one of Sifu Gabe in the "cool stuff" section. Even if inspiration wasn't striking me yet, surely something would click when I got there, right?

You know wasn't  inspiring? Hiking up that bridge with a backpack full of heavy camera gear; a golf bag with a tripod, a C-stand, two light stands, a softbox, and three umbrellas; and two heavyass sandbags. I have no idea where my muses were, but I'm pretty sure they were livid. 

"But Gonz," you're surely asking. "Why lug a whole movie set up there with you?" Because this: if you're gonna stand out, ya gotta do things differently. 

Can't do that with a smartphone.

I started off with a typical Hays Street  Bridge setup: wide shots, knee-deep depth of field, and off-camera flashes to create an outdoor studio look. I liked what I got. 

really liked what I got. Even those harsh shadows on Anna's left shoulder - harsh shadows are the bane of portrait photographers everywhere - work in this shot. The hard light doesn't look out of place either. We were, after all, shooting at the Golden Hour, when shadows are long and light is strong and warm. All I really had to do was make that harsh light flatter my lovely subject, and a bare speedlight took care of that beautifully. Added another speedlight at  2-o'clock to highlight her hair (and the wind, as it happens), and I was ready. All Anna had to do was look good, and that's not hard for her to do. 

But as much I enjoy doing this sort of thing, I was in the mood to do something a little different. Not radically different, but unexpected. So I did the one thing Hays Street Bridge shooters never, ever do. That's right, y'all.

I ignored the bridge. 

Instead, I decided to take what some people call "environmental portraits," which are essentially on-location headshots with subtle clues in the background. We weren't going for "HEY! I'M AT THE HAYS STREET BRIDGE!!" anymore. We were now going for "What a lovely portrait of a lovely girl. Wait, is that where I think it is?"

Working with Grace was a real treat. A bit on the reserved side, she exudes an elegant calm that delivers on the promise of her name. Grace and Anna both have that rare gift that enables them to do any mundane thing and look awesome doing it. 

Lighting was easypeasy: a single speedlight with dome diffuser shot through a 14" softbox, triggered by Nikon's native system. That's it. 

We left the bridge after dark and set up in front of some graffiti we found somewhere on San Antonio's East Side. Sadly, Grace needed to bow out, but I did get some nice shots of Anna before wrapping.

The lighting here was nearly identical to the enviro-shots above, but with one key difference: I'm lighting Anna from camera left. Hard camera left. Imagine that my speedlight were a firefighter's hose. That high-pressure  jetstream would be running at an absolute perpendicular angle relative to my lens barrel. The light was also a good foot or so over her head and it was pointing down at about a 40° angle; photographers work in three dimensions to deliver two-dimensional images. But I mention this because it reminds me of something one of my photo heroes has said repeatedly in his tutorial videos:

If you want something to look interesting, don’t light it completely.
— Lightmaster Joe McNally

Or something like that. 

If you want to see how I've put that advice to practice, check out that bridal I posted in the "sweet stuff" section. We took that on my living room couch. I've used similar techniques to photograph uniformed Army dudes, and lemme tell ya, it looks badass. Maybe I'll show you those in a future installation of elBlogo.

But for now, I'm looking forward to hitting another graffiti structure with Anna before she dons the uniform herself. I wish her the best!