Even in the seemingly sunny summer months, photographing outside in the Midwest can be unpredictable due to rapidly changing weather conditions. Chicago-based photographer Max Thomsen’s advice is to be prepared for anything and have plans A, B, and C ready for when things don’t go according to plan.
Max’s recent shoot for Milwaukee Magazine features local athlete Aaliyah Covington, a woman who traded in her basketball career to start her own business as a fitness instructor during the pandemic. The shoot took place outside during a day where the forecast quickly turned from sunshine and clear skies to drizzling rain, but the photographer was able to pivot and work efficiently to capture the images needed.
The project was for the July cover, so the creative direction was to have it be sunny and green. We picked the shoot day based on the weather, but the day of the shoot, rain cropped up suddenly, and we had to be extra mobile.
The shoot took place in Lake Park on Milwaukee’s Eastside, a beautiful park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also designed New York’s, Central Park). The location is seemingly perfect, offering lots of space, lush greenery, and vistas of Lake Michigan but the vastness of the landscape also meant that Max had to trek through it with all his photography gear.
Visually it’s a great spot to shoot in, but logistically not so much. There is one parking lot that was near the location, but we still had to walk about a .5 mile with gear and talent to our first location in the park. It’s just another example of how important it is that the photographer be ready for anything.
Max has been working with Milwaukee Magazine for the last six years, and he has a great relationship with the editorial staff. When the skies turned dark on the day of the shoot, he and the art director made the last-minute decision to ditch their lighting set up and mainly photograph the talent with natural light instead.
By the time we got our lighting setup for the shot, it had begun to rain. We decided to eliminate capture stations and strobes to make us able to move through the shoot list quickly and effectively.
During the shoot, Max utilized the trees in the area as cover during quick bouts of rain. He moved quickly when the rain stopped at intervals and used the clouds above to get nice even lighting.
Luckily, Lake Park has high old growth trees that made for a great refuge. The rain would be on for fifteen minutes and off for ten to twenty minutes. After the first rain delay, we all moved back into position and shot the cover image that you see.
Then the team moved to a second location within the park, where Max shot two images in a ravine within one of the trails in the area. It was getting darker, and a break in the rain allowed them to switch up the lighting to create a different tone.
We had an opening with the weather, and at this time, the sun was starting to set, which made the ravine get darker, so we decided to use a strobe on the last two shots. We finished the last two shots, and then the rain started to really fall hard!
The photographer’s flexibility and that of the talent and crew paid off as the resulting portraits are beautifully lit, crisp and lush. Max’s experience photographing activewear brands like Under Armour for companies like BonTon is evident in his ability to direct Aaliyah and capture images that showcase her physical abilities. In the photos, she’s shown enjoying the outdoors, stretching, and running with her dog, which adds a genuine personal touch to the photographs.
Aaliyah was so amazing and fun. It just made for a lovely afternoon, and the images came easy. She really toughed out the poor weather!
Photographer Max Thomsen
Art Director: Paul Higgins
Client: Milwaukee Magazine