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Creating “House of Floods”

“House of Floods” by Brooke Shaden

Three years ago I did a practice run of this image by taking a picture of my walls and then finding a stock picture online of the ocean. I composited them together very crudely and the whole thing looked like a mess. I tried creating this picture 4 more times after that, and each time was equally a failure. The solution eluded me because I never quite thought big enough. I shot the ocean, I again shot my apartment, but the pictures never came together seamlessly enough. Fast forward to about 4 months ago when I thought about this picture again. I had just been talking about expanding the horizons of how I shoot my pictures by building sets and going “all out” instead of trying to fake things from the start, so this photo fell in at just the right moment.

I decided to build walls that I could stand up in the ocean so that nothing had to be “faked”. The water would naturally hit the walls, I would be in the ocean, and it would be a marriage of pre-production gone right along with a finished product that reflected that. That, of course, did not quite happen. Nothing quite goes to plan when elaborate schemes are thought up. I met an amazing man named Doug Lowry who builds sets for the stage and he agreed to donate the walls to my project. He built an extra bit of support for them so that they would stand in the ocean. I rented a U-Haul truck and picked up the walls, which I was overly excited about, and felt giddy the whole day before the shoot.

Since I was shooting with such a large prop in the ocean, I didn’t want to get stopped by anyone telling me to stop shooting or pay a fine (as is almost guaranteed to happen in the ocean with a big prop here in Los Angeles), so I went early in the morning for my shoot. I woke up at 5am and headed out to a beach in Malibu to do the photo shoot. I had two assistants that day (KD Stapleton and Devin Schiro). We got to work unloading the van by the ocean, screwing the re-enforcements into the walls, and then putting the walls together so that they would stand at an angle (since I wanted the walls to look like the corner of a room).

Everything was going oddly smooth, aside from the cold weather (it wasn’t too bad, about 40 degrees [F], but it was very windy too). When we stood the walls up we had a game plan. I had my camera set up partially in the water and kept a hand on it while I directed my assistants into the ocean with the walls. The second the walls hit the water, they collapsed. It was a fiasco. The walls could not sustain the push and pull of the ocean, and we couldn’t either. Now mind you, we were only in up to our knees, so we only took a few steps in, but it was enough to break the walls and make them go adrift. We caught one and pulled it to shore, and the other one washed up too, but was broken and unusable.

Given that my shoot had lasted about 30 seconds and in that time everything had managed to go wrong, I felt myself making a decision instantly. It was clear that my original plan wasn’t going to work. On top of that, the sun had come up and bright light was spilling all over the ocean. So, instead of using two walls to make a corner, I compromised. I used some compositing to put the picture together, but it was still all shot on location. I took a picture of the one wall piece that we had and then took a picture of it again from a different angle. I had KD grab my camera and “man” it so that it didn’t get washed away, and I went to pose.

By this time we were rushed because it was difficult to hold the one wall piece in place, but it was still manageable. The next task that I had to overcome was the cold of the ocean, but to be honest it was barely an issue. I was so set on getting the shot as fast as I could that I jumped in, dunked my head, and posed…the same pose that I had been dreaming of for 3 years. I shot 5 pictures of myself being beaten by waves against the wall, and called it quits after that. I didn’t even look at the pictures. I just knew that the wall couldn’t be held any longer and everyone’s tolerance for the cold ocean was running out.

Luckily I did get the shot that I wanted and everything came together, despite…the walls breaking, the sun flooding everything (I had to use shots caused by natural shadow from the wall, see below), the cold ocean and wind, and the tiresome task of pulling giant 10-foot-tall water-logged walls out of the strong tide. It was an adventure to say the least. The lifeguards watched out for us thankfully, so we stayed safe throughout, but it was quite a rush and something that I will never forget.

The giant wall, Devin holding it, the sunshine warming the ocean...

The giant wall, Devin holding it, the sunshine warming the ocean…

{ 8 } Comments

  1. wheaton mahoney | February 21, 2013 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    my favorite yet! Hats off to you for trying again and again and I think it came out beautifully.

  2. mark boucher | February 21, 2013 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    wow one of your best photos. It was a great adventure!

  3. Di | February 21, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    You must be crazy! I was with you last time you went into the ocean…you had to be pulled out by the lifeguard! Okay the truth is, you always were EXTREMELY persistent, and this was worth the insistence of getting “The Shot”. Beautiful dear<3

  4. Denise Jensen | February 21, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Dedication and vision at its finest! Love the feel of the final image.

  5. Sukalyan Chakraborty | February 21, 2013 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    Indeed a superb composition. The way you shot the image is really an inspiration for people like us. :)

  6. Sunni | February 22, 2013 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    Your vision and dedication is a thing of beauty! The image is breathtaking, I have had so many dreams of flooding houses (as I’m sure you have) and it’s gorgeous to see the essence of those dreams captured and brought into this world. Flooding house dreams can be thought to be a metaphor for the great force and mystery of life pushing us out of our comfort zone, and what a perfect reflection that your shoot for this image was just that. :) love love xo

  7. Bruce | February 22, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    your are 9/10th’s creative and 1/10th CRAZY – great shot!

  8. Rosiah Marie | February 28, 2013 at 4:58 am | Permalink

    Love the story!! the process makes us appreciate the final product so much more, Thanks Brooke.

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