DPP Home Profiles Gary Land - In the Right Place

Monday, October 8, 2007

Gary Land - In the Right Place

Working with people who are short on time and don't necessarily love a photo session, Gary Land gets the shot fast, then spends the time placing his subject in the perfect 'background'

What Makes The Impossible Possible
In order to realistically combine people with backgrounds, Land and his team make many notes during a shoot. Everything is measured—from focal lengths to tripod heights to lighting ratios and angles. With the right amount of precision, Land is confident that he can shoot anyone, anywhere, any time—and make anything possible.

“We've been doing it long enough that it's almost a science,” he says. “There are rules for every shoot we go on: Do we have this, do we have that, do we have everything recorded? I'm trying to make the impossible possible. I'll give you an example. Nike wanted to shoot the U.S. women's soccer team and they wanted to create in-game action. So they sent me to the L.A. Coliseum for a big photo shoot. I had the whole team there and another team they were playing against, and what we did was re-create this bicycle kick shot in the goal with no fans in the background. So I shot this action shot, and I had to go back to the Coliseum during the David Beckham game a week later and shoot the crowd, from the same exact location, and we put it in. It looks really good.”

Though he takes impeccable notes and relies on the digital camera's metadata to provide accurate information, Land also relies on creative problem solving and simple solutions—like how to mark the precise location on the field where his camera should go when he went back to the Coliseum.

“I actually put golf tees in the ground,” Land says with a laugh, “and I put them in so low you couldn't cut them. So I knew exactly where they were, and I went back and I matched up my legs with the golf tees. I knew exactly where I was supposed to be, I knew what lens I had, I knew what the height of my tripod was supposed to be. So I just went to town shooting.”

Layers Upon Layers Upon Layers
Land makes the whole process sound simple, and in a way it is: match the lighting, lens, angle of view, tripod height and countless other factors, and your shot is bound to line up. But making the pictures fit is only the first step in the process. To get his hyper-realistic look, he relies on complex computer work to composite shots effectively and to polish them off with his own gritty personal style—which he also markets to other photographers through his retouching business.

“It's a whole lot of using clipping paths and feathering techniques and layers,” Land says. “There's so much stuff that we do that most people don't take the time to learn. It's mostly creating layers of shadow, adding layers of colors, layers of textures, a lot of masking. If you look at one of my files, it's just groups and groups of folders of layers; 1.5 gigs per shot is probably normal for me.”

Adds Land, “We make our own brushes, so a lot of times we'll have hairbrushes that we're using to mask out certain areas. Or if I have a bush that needs to be clipped out, I don't use a round or a square or a semi-circular brush, I'll actually go in and make a leaf brush, and I'll use that to mask out so it looks more real.”


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