Toronto-based photographer Giancarlo Pawelec has a self-taught photography career spanning two decades. He has worked with a wide clientele that includes Jaguar, Porsche, Ford, and Kenneth Cole Productions. Follow him @pawelecphoto or visit his personal site.
There’s nothing better than working collaborative with a team of fellow creatives. As the theme for this shoot was that of a portrait, I wanted to do something truly unique. For this shoot, I needed a crew that understood the story that I was trying to tell – both from a viewer’s point of view and also technically. After putting a mood board together and firing off emails to those that I have wanted to work with for some time (including friends), the responses came back as an overwhelming yes! Within days, I was able to secure the lead subject, the location which turned out to be his home-shop, a digital tech, assistant, one of the best videographers in the city, and a pair of brand-new Indian motorcycles.
The concept for this shoot was to capture the nitty-gritty side of a bike builder in his home garage, with some colored gels to create a dynamic series of portraits. A couple of years ago, I did a men’s fashion editorial titled “Lucky Number 13” featuring custom-built cafe-racer motorcycles. The builder of those bikes was Bram of Shredded Chrome Customs and since then I always wanted to have him in front of my lens. Once I told him about the idea of me photographing him in his element, he was truly surprised and grateful for the opportunity. We often judge a book by its cover and the same could be said about people, including bikers. In order to change that mindset (even if only for an instant), I wanted to showcase Bram and his passion for building beautiful motorcycles in a positive light.
Normally when it comes to motorcycle builders, images tend to be either too clean and staged or lack any emotional pull. For this, I wanted to dive deeper as if I were an observer all while pushing the creative limits with the added elements of strobes, gels, and fog/haze. There’s plenty that goes into building a custom motorcycle for his clients, but that is all a means to an end – for him to earn a living and enjoy riding out on his own motorcycle.
Without question, the biggest challenge for this shoot was the location and the constraints of it. Rarely (if ever) do I go to a location without scouting it or knowing the most essential variables (how much space to work with, any possible dangers to be mindful of, etc), but this was different. Although I have access to workshops across the city, none would be Bram’s own and as such the images wouldn’t feel authentic. The location was set for Bram’s own home shop – a one car garage that was fitted with tools, fabrication machines, and one motorcycle lift. We estimated that the space was about 300 square feet with ceilings maxing out at about 8 feet. As I wanted to light both the subject and the shop, I quickly felt the space constraint and couldn’t take a traditional approach.
I tend to be old school in keeping post-processing to a minimum and getting most of the shot done in-camera. For this though, I needed to push the files to give it a crunchy-gritty feel and dodge/burn parts of the scene. My first step is to make my selects in Capture One v12; thankfully, tethering allows for the files to be saved on the internal SSD of the MacBook Pro. From there, I do simple adjustments and corrections to the image before moving it into Photoshop for more detailed processing like cloning, healing, etc. before sending it back to Capture One for color grading and export.
Shooting tethered is essential to my workflow as it is key to building the shot. By simply connecting the TetherPro cable from my camera to the computer (and in turn through software), I’m able to see everything in the frame. When dealing with multiple strobes and variables (like photographing at an unknown, unscouted location like the small garage), I can take all the necessary test shots before I begin. My starting point is usually a general exposure shot to see what I’m getting and how things are looking on the screen. Moving forward, one strobe is setup and I take a series of test shots until I am satisfied with the light output and what it’s doing (be it placement, distance, or choice of modifier). I then do the same with each strobe until I have everything dialed in just how I envisioned it. The final element (at least for this shoot) was the fog machine. With it being such an uncontrollable variable, tethering allowed me to see what it was doing and find ways of manipulating it so it wouldn’t engulf the subject, but rather add drama to the scene. Furthermore, the digital tech ensured that each shot was sharp all while making selects (favorite shots) as we went along. After a day of shooting on-location, we ended up with just 290 shots within 5 sets – averaging under 60 shots per scene – and a final series of 12 great images. Keep in mind that these shots included variables like fog and sparks from a grinding wheel, requiring many attempts to get it just right and also slowing the camera’s shutter to 0.5-second to capture the trail of sparks.