April 7, 2011 

Covering last Saturday's zombie flash mob at Columbia Park was the most fun I've had on assignment in quite a while. Usually shoots that I'm that excited about beforehand fail to live up to expectations, but this one manged to — even though only 150 or so people showed up when more than 500 signed up for it.

Going in, I knew the zombie walk would be photographed to undeath, so I was extra determined to work on visual variety. It's easy to lean on the fact that people are dressed insanely at costumed events, collecting straightforward snapshots. A look through my photo gallery will show that I did plenty of that, but I'd like to think I managed to spice it up a little more than your average shooter did.

The walk was scheduled during a sunny, albeit windy, afternoon, and the pretty day made for an aesthetically undesirable setting for a zombie apocalypse. I overexposed the already bright day, hoping to create some stark and creepy contrast between this girl's pale skin and the bright red fake blood, figuring it might make a good gallery thumbnail and opening shot:

Moody clouds, dusky light or even a colorful sunset would have made for better backgrounds, so I gelled my flash with a full CTO filter and set my camera's white balance to "tungsten." That white balance setting adds blue to counter the orange hue of tungsten light, which the CTO gel mimicked. Underexposing the ambient sky with a powerful flash popped from below the subject, sometimes called monster lighting because it's unflattering, gave the sky a somewhat unnatural color and saturation:

I used the technique on a few people, but was a little frustrated that the windy day prevented me from setting up a couple lights for a location photo booth that could have given me a little extra power to further darken the sky. An added surprise came from me being an idiot and forgetting that I was still in a tungsten white balance after ditching the flash, though I kinda liked the weird blue tone I got in this frame of Killian Tufnell, 6, of Richland, working on his undead ambling:

You don't really need a creepy sky when you have a zombie baby chilling with a severed foot, though:

And aside from trying out some slow shutter speeds to go for a disastrous and disorienting feel,

throwing in some sun bursting through the arm of somebody stirring a pot of fake blood,

and focusing on some details,

I shot the rest of the walk using available light in a pretty straightforward manner. I like the drip and reaction as organizers Cheyenne and Nathan Ockerman add some finishing touches,

and Ronn Campbell's platter of gelatin brains was a fun element:

Chet Norman did a good job of playing crotchety old Bill from the zombie video game Left 4 Dead, putting a lot of energy into his survivor role:

But my favorite of the day was Jesse Pennock romping through the Playground of Dreams:

What I was hunting for the whole walk were interactions between the zombies and regular park-goers, but hadn't gotten anything I liked. I camped out at the golf course for a bit, but the best I could muster was this meh-level juxtaposition:

The same goes for the mild encounter at a swing set along the way:

What I liked about the Playground of Dreams scene are the mixed reactions to the crazy kid in zombie makeup mobbing through. It was perhaps not the most representative of the event, since only about five zombies out of 150 made it to the playground after the 1 1/2-hour walk from the Edison Street intersection, but I felt captured the spirit of doing a flash mob the best — especially since I had envisioned a zombie mob targeting surprised park patrons like in this classic Japanese TV prank.

In this case, capturing what I thought was a good moment trumped the gimmicks I had employed early in the shoot in order to spice up my take. A couple days later, I photographed Jeff Lyon as he had two years of growth chopped off for Locks of Love. Needless to say, one guy getting his hair cut is not as visually interesting as 150 people dressed like zombies.

Working mirrors and reflections is a favorite gimmick of mine and a good go-to in visually uninteresting situations like this. I tried some more standard angles, but didn't like the background I had to work with:

Lyon watching stylist Jennifer Casados wrap up his hair is OK,

but his sectioned hair looks goofy. This straightforward detail would have been fine to include if there was an accompanying story or need for multiple photos,

but I ended up going with this mirror shot:

The reflection and layered moment makes up a bit for the messy background. It's often my job to make something out of nothing as I try to eek out something that looks interesting enough to encourage somebody to read the caption or story. While a combination of great moment, composition or lighting is what I'm always hunting for, sometimes you need to lean on a gimmick to get the job done.

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