Womanwise - Sarah Jane

The lighting setup for the in-car photo of Sarah-Jane Gopaul was simple enough, but carried some special complications. One small softbox with a 580 ex strobe connected by hard cable to my camera with a 20mm lens.

The shoot with Sarah-Jane Gopaul, was a perfect storm of things gone wrong.
Let's start with the storm, or at least the cloudy wet day and the actual rain falling when I got to the garage in Couva where her beast machine was being prepped for racing.

"So," Sarah-Jane says when we meet for the first time, "where are we going to take the pictures?" I get the hint implicit in the comment. I'd hoped to photograph her car on the open road at sunset. With no sun visible and water spattering the ground hard, that idea must have seemed quite dead to the hard driving lass.

I eye the Mazda, which isn't so much small as it is stripped and purpose-built. In between the piping for the rollbar cage, fire extinguisher system and bulky instrumentation, the chairs seem like a half-hearted afterthought, a passenger, a laughable notion.

I explain my plan to photograph her driving from inside the vehicle. Sarah-Jane shrugs good naturedly, with the kind of wry smile that in retrospect suggests that I have no idea what I'm getting into.

Twenty minutes later, we're at Brechin Castle, the rain has let up, but the overcast sky is losing light rapidly. After formally requesting permission to drive up and down the bumpy road, I shove and twist my six and a half foot frame past the roll bar cage, over the extinguisher and into the seat next to my subject.


Along with me comes my Canon and a 16 x 22 Chimera softbox that suddenly feels huge in the constrained space. I quiely curse my forgetfulness in leaving behind an even smaller Lastolite light modifier and we're off. Well, the car is off, I'm bouncing up and down like beans in a chac chac, vainly trying to read settings on the camera to match the light outside with the light the softbox is providing and waving the camera around in positions that seem like they will capture the driver at work.

We drive about half a mile before turning to come back before I start smelling something really sharp and electrical which quickly turns into a choking cloud of white smoke with the distinctive tang of burning wiring. Of course, with my gear in this space, I can barely move and twist my head desperately, hacking and gasping for air toward the window.

Sarah-Jane pulls the car over and we fling the doors open, and for a long moment, it seems to make no difference at all. Then the wind pulls the smoke away and I can breathe air, even if it tastes funny. For a shot moment that lasted far too long, I have a good sense of what drivers must deal with when their cars go wrong at high speed and I have to tell you, it's pretty damned scary.

The rest of the shoot is uneventful, is brisk. The light is disappearing fast on this rainy evening, but the darkening wet road looks even better, I think, than the golden sunset I originally had in mind and Sarah-Jane, bless her roadcrushing self, is an absolute sweetheart about waiting on the gear to get set in the soft drizzle for the final photos of the evening.

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