Last week I had the honor of shooting a full day for Staplegun and their client, Dell Computers. Partnering with an ad agency represents a significant milestone for my business, and the process varies somewhat from shoots on which there’s no “middle man,” so I thought I’d share some behind-the-scenes info and what I learned.
Since there are more parties involved, the planning process is naturally a little more complex when shooting for an ad agency. In this case, I met with Staplegun staff twice prior to the shoot, once to scout the location with our contact at Dell, and once at Staplegun’s office to go over details with the Art Director.
Staplegun’s assignment was to redo Dell’s “Wall of Inspiration.” The Wall hangs inside the main entrance of Dell’s OKC headquarters, and features 10-12 outstanding employees. The current Wall is comprised of basic, tightly cropped headshots on a black backdrop. For the replacement version, the AD wanted to make it more colorful visually interesting by creating a collage of multiple images for each employee, including a headshot (but not on a black background) and two “action” shots representing each employee’s personal interests and activities.
The Art Director and I exchanged ideas about how to express each employee’s interests (i.e. props? mime? indoor? outdoor? same location? different locations?). The AD was very open to my suggestions, making it truly a collaborative creative process (this might not always be the case with other ADs/projects). We agreed, in order to create synergy in his final design, to shoot each model 1) in a single location, 2) holding a small handheld prop(s) that they could bring from home, and 3) using the same basic camera settings/position. Specifically, the headshot would utilize an existing wall or backdrop in the building, and the action shot would showcase their “personality item” via a shallow depth of field.
Based on our scouting trip, I knew the Dell facility had horrible lighting and only few areas of natural light. Unfortunately, being February, the weather is somewhat unpredictable. I had to be prepared to shoot both indoors and out, and also travel lightly so we could move around the facility as needed (I was working without an assistant). Here’s what I packed:
- D700 (and backup)
- 50mm f/1.4 (24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8 as backups)
- SB900 and Nissin battery pack
- Pocket Wizard wireless triggers
- Cheetah Light Stand (highly recommend, love these!)
- Interfit 24×24 Strobie Softbox
- iPad2 with CF card reader for previews if needed
- Backdrop and stand in car, just in case
- Extra batteries and chargers for everything
- Extra memory cards
- Shot list and model appointment schedule
I neglected to discuss releases with Staplegun and Dell prior to the shoot, which was my mistake – so I brought copies for each model with me. Our Dell contact discussed it with HR, and we agreed it would be each individual’s personal choice, excluding any images with Dell branding. By the time we agreed on this, I only had time to get three releases on location. Lesson learned: in the future, I’ll know to address this well in advance in a situation like this when HR has to be involved.
Our Dell contact scheduled back-to back 30 minute appointments with 11 models beginning at 9am with a break for lunch. I arrived at 8am to set up in the large room she reserved for us, which (blessedly) had large windows. I set up two camera stations: 1) headshot and 2) action shot. The head shots were taken in the area shown in the photo below, using the edge of shadow and natural light as a hair light, and my SB900 with soft box as the main light. I used the other end of the room (not pictured) for the action shots. The wall over there had a large Dell logo painted on it, which provided a nice color pop for the background.
This iPhone shot (below) shows my simple setup, including my camera settings jotted down on a sticky note on my flash battery pack and my stool (very important for petite togs like me, especially with tall men!). I positioned each model where the light meets the shadow on the floor, so the natural light rimmed their hair and/or provided another light source to balance out the off-camera light.
While shooting, I had to think about quite a few things:
- Position. I taped off camera and light stand positions, since I had to move my gear to each station for each model.
- Settings. Writing down camera and flash settings, since they were roughly the same for each model at each station.
- Exposure. I watched my histogram like a hawk the whole day, checking for clipping and blown areas. I also was checking for problems like uneven shadows in the background, nose shadows from the off-camera light, etc. Staplegun is doing the post on this shoot, so the last thing I wanted was to give them improperly exposed or composed RAW files. Eek.
- Light. Changing light for the headshots. As the sun moved, the shadows moved across the room, and the quality and strength of light changed throughout the day. I therefore had to periodically change the position of the model, the camera, and the light stand.
- Power. I was particularly worried about the flash lasting all day, so I charged the flash batteries and battery pack over lunch.
- Organization. I changed memory cards every third model. When shooting a long day like this, I always change cards during natural breaks in shooting to avoid disrupting my flow if I suddenly run out of space. Doing so also helps organize files and reduce the risk of corrupting the entire shoot’s data. (If one card fails, at least everything else is still good!) On this shoot, I shot two models on each card, then swapped while waiting for the next to arrive. I write the # of the card on a piece of gaffers tape on the card case, and then later at home, I offload them in that order. This keeps my own archive more organized, but also helped me deliver files to Staplegun in an organized fashion according to each model’s name and the order in which they were photographed.
Camera and Flash Settings
As I mentioned, I had to adjust these somewhat as the light changed, but my basic settings were as follows:
- Headshot: Camera at f/4.5-5.6, ISO 200, 1/80th; Flash on manual at 1/4 power at 45 degrees camera left
- Action Shot: Camera at f/1.4-1.8, ISO 200, 1/160th; Flash on manual at 1/32 power at about 65-70 degrees camera right
The shoot was a blast! Our Dell contact did a great job planning the day; everyone was on time (yay!) and brought their props (double yay!). Staplegun is doing the post-production on the final Wall of Inspiration design so I will share that with you later, but here are a few sample images (with the Dell logo on the wall cropped out in some!).
A huge thank you to Staplegun, Dell, and all of the employee-models! I had so much fun on this project and it was an honor! Thanks for being so fun to work with and for trusting me. I can’t wait to see the finished “Wall!”