Unfrozen: The Story of a Photoshoot

February 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

This is the story of a risky photoshoot that went right, then went wrong, and then went right again. A lesson in being adaptable, perhaps?

A mutual friend had recently introduced me to Julia, a local cosplayer and model. We liked each other's work, so we e-mailed back and forth, hoping to find a project we could do that resonated with both of us. Julia suggested the idea of a photoshoot in the snow, and I agreed. I haven't had the opportunity to do a lot of outdoor photoshoots with models, and snow is a unique environment that I haven't really shot in at all-- with or without a model. Plus, she had a cosplay of Elsa from "Frozen" that she wanted to get some shots of, as well as a white queen that would look good in the snow, so it seemed like we had a lot of work with.

The only question was whether there would actually be snow to work with. It's been a warm winter in the Pacific Northwest this year-- apparently New England has taken up the country's entire quota of winter weather. So two weeks before the photoshoot, I went up into the mountains with my girlfriend Lisa to do some hiking, scout out some locations, and figure out what the conditions up in the Cascades were really like.

It was Sunday, January 25, two weeks before the scheduled shoot date of February 7. The day had dawned sunny and cold. The forests up near Snoqualmie Pass had almost a faerie-like quality about them, as the winter sunlight, low to the horizon, filtered down through the canopy of leaves and branches. As we got closer, we occasionally turned off the Interstate to follow pitted forest service roads in my Hyundai. More than once, we had to turn around when the road was washed out by a stream or conditions got too dicey for comfort.

Snow and ice only began to show up on the ground once we were within a few miles of Snoqualmie Pass. But even though there wasn't much, what was there was quite lovely. We found some shaded campsites with snow on the ground, and up at the ski slopes near Alpental, the snow was still a few feet deep. Despite the warm weather, a photoshoot seemed entirely feasible.

Meanwhile, I was also corresponding with Karissa, another cosplayer who I met at PAX last year. I asked her if she had any costumes she particularly wanted to get pictures of, and she mentioned she had an Anna dress. Aha, I thought, I sense a collaboration! We all arranged to meet up at Snoqualmie Pass on Saturday, February 7.

As the day approached, the weather forecast looked increasingly bleak-- rain, rain, and more rain. Even up at Alpental, at the pinnacle of Snoqualmie Pass, the slopes hadn't seen temperatures below freezing for weeks, and trucks were moving snow up from the parking lots to the top of the slope just to try to keep a few of the ski runs open. It looked pretty certain that conditions would be bad, but with no alternative shooting site, I conferred with Julia and Karissa, and we decided to head up on Saturday and hope for the best.

Sure enough, there was plenty of rain on Saturday morning, and the further we got into the mountains, the more constant the rain seemed to get. By the time we got up to Alpental, the rain was constant, and heavy-- at least by Pacific Northwest standards. Despite that, there was still a fair bit of snow on the ground, and the scenery was beautiful. If only the rain would lighten up long enough to give us a chance to shoot! Lisa and I got there early and drove around the area, taking a few test shots-- we also drove past the Alpental Lodge, which had a promising-looking covered wooden bridge that looked like it might be a good place for some sheltered shots.

But when we met up at the lodge, it quickly became clear that that getting delicate parts of the costumes through the rain and into somewhere dry would be a problem. And after a quick scouting run of the lodge-- which was a less promising site than we'd originally hoped-- we decided that shooting here just wasn't worth the few shots we might be able to get.

But none of us wanted to call it a day, so after a bit of discussion, Julia offered up her apartment as a potential studio location, and we bundled back into our respective cars and headed down the mountains. I swung by my apartment to pick up my good lighting rig, and by the time I got to Julia's, she and Karissa were almost ready to go with costumes. We spent a few hours just shooting pictures, some of the original "Frozen" theme, but quite a few other outfits, too.

About three hours later, after we were done shooting, we all agreed that the shoot had been more fun and more productive than if we'd tried to shoot at Alpental-- even if it hadn't been pissing down rain. So all in all, things turned out well in the end. It was an interesting exercise, not just in photography but in organizing a photoshoot with multiple people, having backup plans, and getting it to go right despite the best efforts of the universe. =)

In the slideshow below, you can see some of the results-- the raw pictures, as well as some digital artwork that I produced in post, and a few of the siller outtakes, once we'd been shooting for three hours and were getting pretty punchy. (Be aware, some of the photos are slightly NSFW.) All in all, it was one of my favorite photoshoots, despite, or perhaps because of, the chaos of it all.

Maybe next winter we can really get out and see some actual snow. Boston, will you please share next year?


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