How NOT To Do a Snowy Mountain Top Boudoir Shoot (and steps for a successful Photoshoot on location)
When you think snow and the great outdoors, a lingerie photoshoot might not be at the top of your mind but there I was, invited by model and friend, Miho-chan for an overnight excursion to the snowy mountain prefecture of Gunma to do exactly that. It was going to be a first for me, a new challenge and I had no idea what to expect but I can safely say I wasn't as prepared as I should have been.
In this blog post you'll see the final shots of course and while I'm more than happy with the end results there were plenty of mistakes, mishaps and potential disasters. So read along while I list out the things I would definitely avoid and what I would do better. Like all good things, photography is an exercise in planning as much as it is execution.
Lets dive in.
1. Scout your location.
In short, if you're going to be on location, know your environment well. It's not always possible to pre-scout your location with a physical visit but the better you understand where you'll be shooting and in what conditions the smoother things will go. But more importantly, the safer you'll keep yourself and those joining you. We might not think of photography as dangerous but I can assure you that things could have gone awfully wrong for us both when we reached the top of the mountain after 2 hours of hiking and the model was to get into her lingerie and nude in -15 celsius weather!
If you can't physically pre-scout, you can find plenty of info online and use things like Google street view to get a better understanding of your environment. In our case, we had found a few blog posts with a lot of information online.
2. Prepare for the worst (to achieve your best).
What's the worst that can happen on a shoot? Prepare for that! If you're doing a street shoot around your neighbourhood then that might be different than hiking up a mountain but at the minimum we should be prepared for the simple things like:
- are my batteries recharged and ready? (remember that batteries lose charge quicker in cold so keep them in a warm place).
- do I have spare batteries for not only my camera but any other electronics like lights?
- what about time of day? Will it be full of people or will we have time and space for what we are trying to achieve?
- what about temperature? Will it be too hot and I'll be working with a sweaty model? Bring a towel, change of clothes or and fan. If it's too cold, bring some extra layers, gloves, etc. between shots.
If your shoot location is more extreme think about the above points but you'll have to be even more considerate and cautious. For example, I didn't factor in that we would be fatigued after 2 hours of hiking and already extremely cold. Having the model strip down for a photoshoot, we could have easily invited disaster such as hypothermia. In the worst case, where can you get help if need be? No need to take unnecessary risks. In our case, we brought a warm blanket which would be dually used as a prop. I had also bought a lot of heat patches (absolute lifesaver).
Things I would have considered in retrospect? By the time I reached the top my one pair of gloves I brought were already wet and became frozen icicles making my hands pretty much useless with them on. The only other option was taking them off so I could hold my camera but let me tell you that my fingers were hardly functioning at freezing temperatures. Next time, bring a spare set.
Small emergency items like water, band-aids and tape should always be in your pack.
Energy bars take up little room and provide a quick power-up on the trail. Charge your phone fully before your trip and turn it off to save the battery for emergencies.
3. Keep it Light
Do I really need 5 sets of lenses? Visualize the kind of shots you are aiming to produce that day and know exactly how and with what lens you will achieve those looks. Maybe carrying a bunch of extra stuff isn't such a big deal if you're in the city and close to home but bringing the unnecessary on a long hike is definitely burdensome.
You may think you can't get through the shoot without X, Y, Z but in reality you can. At the most basic, all you ever really need is yourself and a camera no matter what you're shooting. Go into it with that mindset and add only the essentials from there.
Hopefully these simple steps can guide you on your next outdoor shoot and help avoid any disappointment or worst, dangers.
On to the shots!
Our starting point was at the base of Akagiyama where we found a collection of ice fishermen angling for what I learned were small little sardine like fish called wakasagi or Japanese pond smelt on Lake Onuma. It is a caldera lake, or a lake formed in the crater of a volcano.
I quickly learned that this hike was not going to be possible without Crampon spikes. Speaking of preparation, I almost opted not to rent these and if that were the case it would have been near impossible to get to the top and extremely dangerous. One way to feel like a complete noob!
The journey to the top started here. According to our research this climb was supposed to be a beginner friendly hike. We find this claim to be quite suspicious!
After nearly 2 hours of upwards climbing we finally reach the summit and find a charming Tori Gate...a reminder you're on a Japanese mountain afterall!
When we reached the top we had to find an appropriate location that was a little bit off the main path and somewhat flat. We quickly found out that anything off the main path was far from flat and steeply rolled down the mountain. Realizing this, we had to settle for a spot just off the main path. And of course, just as we are about to start and Miho chan had gotten into her lingerie, a group of Japanese hikers started to roll in one by one! This was equally funny and awkward because we hardly encountered any people on the way up and thought we'd be safe. They absolutely knew with Miho chan's exposed bare legs under her big parka and my light stand setup that we were not usual hikers. With a sly smile and a quick 頑張ってください！(good luck!) they were off and finally we could start.
With the freezing temperatures, my fingers like icicles and more importantly with poor Miho chan freezing her tail off and starting to shake we had to work fast and wrap up the shoot in less than 15 minutes! Yes, 15 minutes!! All the planning, hiking and expense for what would turn out to be the quickest shoot of my life! But there was little choice and my main concern was Miho chan not getting hypothermia.
1st set we did in a red lingerie and dark parka to contrast against the snow. Gotta say, I'm really happy with that choice. The thing that made these shots that much more magical was the frosted bushes and leaves that you can only get at the top of the mountains (as opposed to the base).
And the 2nd set was completely nude (what a warrior!) with a white fur blanket.
There was quite a bit of post processing done primarily to put colour back into Miho chan's skin and lips which were looking quite blue and pale in the original shots as to be expected but I'm more than happy with how they turned out considering how quickly we had to work! I don't know any other model personally that would have endured what she did so a huge amount of respect to her!
And one last signature shot of Miho chan! Love it!
We wrapped up quickly and started our descent down.... slowly but surely. This gives a pretty good idea of what the path looked like downhill.
And finally that's a wrap! お疲れ様です！かんぱい！！ Hope you enjoyed the write up. It was definitely an experience I don't think I'll ever forget but next time, I think I'll rent a car ;)
Thanks for reading! Let me know if I missed anything in the write up or what you thought of the shoot in the comments below!
Stay creative (and stay warm!)