Recently, I shot an editorial portrait of 19-year old Scott Abrahamson. The portrait of Scott accompanied an amazing story in the Seattle Met called, The Kings Of Suicide Hill. Held in Omak, Washington, the 82 year-old race is a horseback contest between Native American riders where they race down Suicide Hill, a 62-percent slope that runs for 225 feet to the Okanogan River. Check out a video of the race here.
The magazine had a hard time pinning Scott down, so I ended up meeting the writer at Emerald Queen Casino where Scott was due to participate in a horse relay the next day. All the riders had gathered at the casino’s track to determine what heat they would race in. After asking around, the writer finally located Scott. I don’t know what I expected Scott to be like before I met him. Quiet and shy didn’t come to mind though when I saw the headline “Kings Of Suicide Hill” and Scott was both. He was also incredibly nice and very smart. Scott’s studying mechanical engineering at Washington State University too.
Ideas Before The Shoot
I always try to brainstorm before any shoot, on my way to this shoot it was no different. In my mind I imagined using strobes to light Scott with his horses. And through my lighting I’d hope to create really dramatic clouds in the background. I was so excited about this idea that I packed every light, light stand, and light modifier I have into my small Honda Civic. Looking back on it I would still have the same again because I didn’t know what I was walking into. My plans quickly changed though (don’t they always?) on our way to the horse stalls. As I started grabbing gear from my car, Scott informed me that I wouldn’t be able to use lights around the horses. Racing horses are rather skittish and will usually determine that a camera’s flash is actually lighting. Instead I’d have to limit my lighting gear to a reflector at most.
Keeping It Simple
I’ll admit I sorta panicked at this moment. I had never been to this location and Scott had just received a phone call from a friend with a flat tire too and was requesting some assistance from Scott. Needless to say our time together was becoming shorter by the second. As is true with most editorial shoots, this shoot had a lot going on that was out of my control. I decided that I had been through this before and my best option would be to keep it simple. Instead of panicking I decided to look for the best natural lighting situations I could find. Looking around the horse stall area I noticed really nice light hitting a row of beautiful wooden slats on the side of a stall. I put Scott in the shadow created by this stall. By doing this I put him into what’s called subtractive lighting. Then with the help of the writer, I bounced the sunlight coming from around the corner of the stall back onto Scott’s face with my reflector. Bouncing just enough light onto Scott to fill in the shadows on around his eyes. In the end I was able to shoot several different poses and locations in a matter of about 20 min. The fact I didn’t have to use my lighting gear meant helped with that because I could shoot a lot faster. Here’s the image the magazine chose to go with.
The Shot In My Book
The art director chose a shot of Scott without a horse for the story and rightfully so. This horse isn’t the one Scott’s won his two races with, so the art director didn’t want to pretend that this horse was the one Scott races with, which I get. However, I LOVE this photo, so that’s why I chose it for my book.
UPDATE: Scott recently won Suicide Race AGAIN!!! Wow! That makes it three wins in a row!!!