This Friday an expected 10,000 people will gather at the the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds for the annual Relay For Life and I am proud that I have had the opportunity to shoot the portraits for the Relay For Life Issue of Gwinnett Magazine for the past two years now. The Gwinnett County Relay for Life is something else and is best described with the following direct quote from Dana Urrutia... the writer of the article in Gwinnett Magazine:
"Relay for Life is the signature event of the American Cancer Society, held in every state and around the world to raise money for cancer research, education, advocacy and patient services. Gwinnett's Relay for Life is the single largest in the world, with a 2008 fundraising goal of $2.6 million. Also this year, the Gwinnett event will surpass an incredible milestone -- raising more than $20 million in 15 years."
So... it always feels good to take part in something to help promote an event that does so much to help others out... and shooting the portraits for the article is no exception to this. In order to get the shots I had to go out to the homes of each of the people featured to photograph them in that environment. It is kind of a good thing because people will always be more at ease in there home than anywhere else, I think. Through doing all this though... I get more of an idea of who it is I am photographing and have spent as much as an hour just talking with some of the people before I start photographing them... kind of puts them even more at ease, allowing me to try and capture their personality. By the time it is over with I feel like I have more of a emotional attachment to the way the shots turn out than I do with my normal day-to-day assignments. It seems that I just want to put a little more of my heart into it since it is for a good cause... know what I mean?
So the following portrait is one that I actually love of Caroline, one of the featured people in this year's issue.
Caroline was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer when she was just 24 years old and has gone through a double mastectomy and began reconstructive surgery as well as chemotherapy since then. I was unsure of whether she would be comfortable not wearing a wig or a bandana on her head for some of the shots... thankfully it seemed that she was even more comfortable this way. I knew that the shots would have far more impact if she was willing to show the effects of chemotherapy on what once was head full of hair... well sure enough those are the shots that stood out to everybody including myself. I love the above shot because it is somewhat void of emotion, yet she looks so at peace with her situation at the same time, and to me is a more in-your-face testament to young people about not being immune to things such a breast and prostate cancer... something that some people believe is not an issue until you are older. I think the above photograph conveys just how wrong that line of thought is. The photo below is the one that was actually printed in the magazine and used on the cover. It really seems to convey the positive spirit that Caroline showed to me through the whole photo shoot as well as what she obviously conveyed to Dana, the writer of the article. She was quoted in the article as saying, "Cancer is not going to be our life. It's just this thing that interrupted our life." What a great attitude to have. Anyway... the following shot captured what I think is a beautiful smile and attitude.
Ok... so my point behind this post is to get people to go out and show support for your local Relay for Life however you can. Please make an effort because it is a worthwhile cause... one day somebody you love may benefit from the funds raised at it. If you would like to see how the article actually looked in the magazine it can found here on my website. If you would like to actually read the article it can be found here on the Wiki Guide to Gwinnett.
For those of you interested in how I made these shots. Here goes:
I did each of the shots without actually hanging up a dark background... something that I will try and do if I shoot this same assignment next year in the same style. I tried to find a blank wall in each person's home that I thought would work best for the look I was going for. Sometimes this meant actually moving furniture around in the house and removing framed pictures and such from the wall. I then had to pull the subjects away from it as much as possible so I could try and let the wall itself go as dark as I could get it. Not an easy thing when you are working in a room with white walls and low ceilings that want to reflect light everywhere... including the wall which I was using as a backdrop. So I lit each person with a large Octabox at camera right and a had a 28" softbox several feet behind them at camera left to give the highlight on the right side of each subject. I then placed a flag on a light stand between me and that light to prevent lens flare. My shutter speed stayed at a constant 1/250 for each of the portraits and my aperture and strobe power varied from location to location. I had to darken down the walls in Photoshop for some of the shots and I even totally extracted a couple of people from their environment and placed them into one of the other location because I just could not get the background tones right. My main concern while shooting everybody was to just get the light on them and their expressions right... the background was secondary to me. I would try my best to get the background as close as I could get it... but I did not want to let it interfere with the flow of the shoot. Make sense?
Be Good Y'all