Karma Builders...

Before I left for Montana and Utah I had just completed a shoot for Karma Builders.  KB is an organization dedicated to the reintegration of formerly incarcerated men and women back into society and transition them from the life they once led to the life they hope to have in the future.  Their mission is to break the cycle of unemployment and re-incarceration.  They hire, train, and pay these individuals to provide a range of services for local sustainable companies.  There is a holistic approach to what they do designed to instill a positive long-term shift in confidence, dignity and mental attitude that will ultimately drive those who work within the program to a much brighter future.

The photography that I had created for them was designed to illustrate this transition.  Setting up a studio on location has been something of a hobby of mine and I've always loved photography where you can clearly see pieces of the set or studio.  Annie Leibovitz would probably be the most notable example of someone who has used this technique extensively.  You can see some of her stuff here...  We set up shop in the space that would later be converted from an abandoned loft into the KB headquarters, but for now it was a simple and huge open space.  When dealing with a lot of space drawing attention to your subject can be a challenge but it's important to bring the focus clearly to that person or group.  There are many ways to accomplish this, you can use depth of field, lighting, and converging lines among many others techniques.  I decided rather to build a set that would simplify the background on which the subjects would stand.  Simple and effective especially when dealing with such a large space.  The two photographs below were created through a fairly simple lighting setup that I'll explain a bit later in the post. 

By setting everything up and having the entire set locked down with either sandbags, clamps or duct tape we were able to have the "models," who in this case were actual Karma Builders employees, change not only their clothes but their mindset as well without disturbing the set.  This aspect of the shoot was very important as the client wanted to have a "before and after" effect and this needed to be conveyed in a very positive manner.  Having previously asked the karma crew revisit a dark time in their life for the first photograph, it was a very tricky process bringing them back out from that for the second shot, as those times can vary from one individual to another.  But a lunch break and some good conversation can do wonders for your subjects.

Below are a couple shots of the lighting set up I used for this project.  Nothing too ground breaking here but a few technical aspects are worth noting.  When photographing a large group of subjects it's pretty important to have a large light, otherwise you can get odd shadows and it's easy to lose people in those shadows.  To the left is my Paul C Buff 86" parabolic reflector hooked up to a X1600 (sorry guys but it's not a Profoto 8a and Giant Reflector) that was softened even further with a diffuser.  Centered in the frame is another X1600 shot through a simple Photoflex softbox that I used to mimic the daylight that was coming in through the windows directly behind the camera.  And the small ground flash is a background light with a simple 7" reflector used to bring up the background behind the seamless.  As usual I shot with my trusty Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II and the 24-70mm f2.8 hanging off of it.

This setup is fantastic for shooting groups or individuals on any number of scales and best of all was that everything fit into the back of our trusty rental car.   My studio manager Erica was a champ in dealing with all the logistics of prepping the gear, renting cars, and coordinating castings, pretty much making me look like a rock star out there on shoot day.  My stylist Kate Powell brought her talents to further help visualize the transition of the Karma Crew from one place to another.   When you take the time to do all the tedious bits of preparation any shoot will go so much smoother and will help you deal with sudden changes or obstacles that may arise. 

I had a blast working with all of these guys and you can see more of the work being done at www.Karmabuilders.org

- JD

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