Shoot: 2017 Addy's Winners with AAF-DC

I’ve been a member of the D.C. chapter of the American Advertising Federation (formerly the Ad Club) since I moved to D.C. in 2010. Joining an organization that is adjacent to, and often interacts with, your own industry is an easy way to understand how your own profession fits into the greater scheme of things. I personally love elegant communication strategy and execution in all forms whether it’s written, visual, aural, or all of the above.

I was (and am) a member of the committee that promotes and puts on the yearly “Addys” awards banquet, held each spring. One of our goals is to raise awareness of the awards and encourage more agencies and groups, of all sizes, to enter their work. One of the strategies we came up with was to interview previous award winners and make engaging portraits. The results would be shared on the AAF-DC blog and social media. Through mentions and tagging, our strategy as to get each subject to help us in spreading the word using their own social media channels. As past winners, they served as our evangelists.

The trick with this shoot was to come up with a studio set-up that I could drag, alone, into different agency offices. It had to be small, easily replicable, and have few moving parts. The theme was “unexpected” so we also needed a mechanism that allowed people to be fun and unique, but not so much that it required an intricate production. After some experimenting, I came up with the idea of a white (light gray) background and a white tabletop. I would intentionally have the subject on a low stool so they would be forced to interact with the white/off-white line formed at the intersection of the two. That was it. Everything else in the image would be up to the subject.


First a Few Self-Portraits to Nail Down the Lighting…


And, a few of the resulting images… . (Click for larger images.)

The Technical Stuff…

The set was pretty straightforward. I had picked up a Lastolite Hilite a few days earlier and that, with a Profoto A-1 inside, gave me a fairly uniform front. The key light was a Profoto B2 with a 22” beauty dish directly over camera. The white table top doubled as a bounce. This way the subject would have pretty much unlimited movement within the space and still be well lit. Everything was shot with a Canon 5D Mark 4 and a 50mm prime, tethered to Capture One Pro. Everything was around f7.1. Black and White Conversions were done in Capture One 10, using my own secret sauce.

Michael Douglas for Science News

No, not that Michael Douglas. 

Here are some outtakes and "sketch" images (see below) for the last of a three part shoot I did for Science News earlier this spring. Michael Douglas, who was adopted, has a genetic disease called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. As a result of this, his blood vessels don't constrict properly and he has had a constant migraine for over years. Using three different testing companies and some sleuthing, he found his birth family in southern Maryland, and was able to learn more about his family's medical history. We shot these images on a perfectly cloudy day on Solomon's Island.

I like to "sketch" images from shoots. These are basically just quick stylistic treatments that aren't necessarily how I imagine they'll be used by the client, but nevertheless provide a good way to explore different "feels". Increasingly, I am previsioning shoots with different post production styles in mind. (Look at me getting all artsy!)

Most often for these sketches I'll use Analog Efex Pro 2 by Nik software (recently purchased by DxO). I rarely save recipes because I want to avoid being in a rut, utilizing the same "tricks" time after time. Having said that, I do have a few basic recipes that I start with as a base and I will individually salt to taste each image afterwards.

Big thanks to assistant Steven Wesley for humoring me, arriving 2 hours early to scout the location and listen to me mutter, "it's gonna rain any second now..." Also big thanks to Erin Otwell at Science News for the assignment and for being so open to creative interpretations on this and the first two parts of the assignment.

Tech specs, because people ask: All of the portrait images were made with a Canon 5Dmk4 with the amazing Canon 85mm f1.4 IS L series lens, EXCEPT for the first image, which was made with Sigma's 35mm 1.4 ART lens. Both of these lenses are really really pretty in their own way. Lighting was via a Profoto B1 and their collapsible 22" beauty dish. The latter of which, while it feels flimsy, is a pretty nice little modifier. All images put through CaptureOne Pro and processed in Nik Analog efex Pro 2. I don't think any of these ever hit Photoshop.

Acadia Institute of Oceanography

After finishing the shooting for Try This: Extreme, my second National Geographic Kids book last summer (see how I name-dropped right there?) I had something of an epiphany: I really like photographing kids as they learn and explore. Witnessing kids tackling a problem and solving it (in often unexpected ways) is really fun. The experience of shooting both books reminded me of my two summers at the Acadia Institute of Oceanography in Seal Harbor, Maine. The experience had a huge impact on me– not just because of what I learned, but because of the kids I met, the music I heard, and the overall experience of getting out of my small world and exploring a larger (and wetter) one.

Reflecting on all of this, I contacted Sherry at AIO in the summer of 2016 and arranged to head up there to make some images. I was surprised at how it still seemed so familiar—the ping pong table, the salt water tanks, even the tie-dyed shirts! It seemed like very little had changed about the program in the 25 years or so since I had been a camper there. I don't know if the lack of cell phone reception in the area kept most of the modern world at bay or if it was just that the camp philosophy that I remember—relying on your intelligence and observation rather than technology, has held true. However refreshing, this anamnesis presented a challenge right off the bat. Was I photographing kids doing science or just documenting a mirror of my own childhood?  I only had a few days to shoot, so I was worried about tackling too much and coming up with an incomplete story.

In the end, I kind of punted. I decided to pursue the science/learning aspect of the camp, and only document the lifestyle, more personal side of the summer camp experience as it came up. I figured that I could always revisit camp in a year or two. The idea of poking around tidal marshes, climbing mountains, and snorkeling on the most beautiful coast in the world? The things I do for my job.

You can find many images in the Learn and Explore section of my website.  Here are a few other favorites showing the more personal side of camp.