Sometimes you get an opportunity to just to experience the joy of doing photography—it’s still work, with getting up at 3am, or pulling 16 hour days chasing sunrise and sunset, but getting to be on a glassy alpine lake for early light? Or to be in a beautiful location all day long—even the parking lots are stunning 😉
I was awarded the project to do a multiday shoot for the Central Oregon Visitors Association (COVA) —the goal was to create family adventures, and to bridge the gap between the intense rock climbing extreme adventuring and the sit-at-the-pub beer adventures that Central Oregon is known for. We spent 3 days chasing sunsets and sunrises, working around thunderstorms and downpours, waiting for perfect sunsets and working two real families—who were amazing and great to work with!
I’m looking forward to our next campaign—it’s always fantastic to head to Central Oregon and find new beauty with my camera.
It’s a good day when the photo editor from the Washington Post Magazine calls to ask me to create a COVER IMAGE for the publication. Crossfit founder Greg Glassman lives in Portland, and the Post wanted a punchy vibrant image to accompany a story about Greg taking on “big soda”; his campaign wants to get soda out of the school system, and he’s not talking about soda machines. The biggest in the industry are setting health and nutrition policy and influencing actual classroom lessons; e.g., there’s an emphasis on physical fitness, but very little on sugar. To be clear, Greg’s fight isn’t with the existence of soda, or sugar—it’s about their overreach and lack of accountability in the rise of obesity, pre-diabetic and diabetic statistics.
My instinct was to pitch a “reverse Godzilla” idea—I’d have Greg standing in Soda City as a heroic giant, ignoring the attacks from Soda City—soda tanks and soda plane ineffectively trying to stop Greg from stomping all over their city. It was a ‘punchy’ metaphor—nothing subtle about it, but it felt fun and eye catching.
I remember watching Godzilla and King Kong movies on after-school TV. You sometimes rooted for the people—it was their city being attacked and their friends that were being stomped on, but kinda secretly, you always were rooting for the monster.
My goal was to flip the script—make our hero of gigantic proportions, facing impossible odds and yet winning. After all, Soda City is HUGE—they have more money, more lawyers, more resources—so you definitely need to be equally huge, in some way, in order to fight this fight.
My editor greenlit the idea right away (!) so off to the cash-&-carry we went, to buy hundreds and hundreds of cans and bottles of soda. My art director Ron, producer Therese and I spent about 3 days building our view cityscape, and first assistant Galvin killed it doing double duty building our pop fighters.
I decided an very ‘real’ look to our set—I wanted to be anti-CGI, to have some rough spots where the boxes had some wear and tear, imperfections in the materials and build techniques; very wabi sabi. Not sloppy, just hand made looking. Leaving in things like the fishing line on the pop fighters, or the flare on the boxes, the ‘dents’ in the 12 pack boxes from the cans—all of that stuff added some needed grit to the image.
On the day of the shoot, after everything had been nailed to the floor, lit, and ready, we go word that Greg had decided that he couldn’t break away from his office across the river, to come to the studio. We were, however, invited to come over to his place and get our shot. A very very fast scramble ensued! We quickly documented the camera placement, distances and angles, and lighting direction, packed a studios worth of gear in the Xterra and whipped across the river. We built a studio in Greg’s driveway, and recreated our lighting and camera setup on the fly, so that I could composite the portrait with our studio shot. Pack and back to the studio to shoot some new plates with a few lighting tweaks to make the shadows fall correctly, and then directly into an intense composite session to merge it all together.
I’m pleased with the result—it’s solid idea that comes together nicely, and there’s nothing obvious about the composite. It’s punchy, striking and eye catching. Mission accomplished.
Always fun, always crazy, always reaching for newer & bigger ideas—that’s every shoot with improv troupe J-Names, and that’s why I always say yes. From concepting to execution, there’s a ton of creativity going into every moment of these projects. The goal with every J-Names project is to entertain & engage, and to do so at the highest status we can achieve. It’s a great exercise in doing more with less, letting the story be the focus, and keeping a focus on production value.
For J’s Garage the concept was to create layered story—our vignette takes place in a garage—we spent a lot of time finding a place with the classic look we were after. Story layer one is garage business—customers, salesman, mechanic, management. Layer two is that nobody there is who they seem to be—there’s a level of suspicious behavior going on with each character. Level three reveals that every one these people are there as undercover agents from myriad of acronymed spook shops, intent on busting the nefarious business at hand—which of course is all cover stories.
Part of the creative work is establishing a look—for J-Names this meant building on our last project, and continuing with our cinematic blue world. Blue wardrobe, blue lights, blue walls, blue lifts, and using neutrals as our complementary palette—silvers, grays, whites—this all pushed the visuals into a specific place, heightening the story. Even if it’s subtle or subconscious, selling the small story elements this way communicates to the audience that there’s intention and thought going into this.
“What would happen if everyone in the scene is an undercover agent?”
The driver for the video portion was to create a faux “one shot” combined with a faux “bullet time” — in other words, the video was going to feel like the camera never stops moving, and the ‘action’ of the talent was going to feel frozen. The faux part came from 1 part moving the camera into blocking objects—ala Alfred Hitchcock—allowing me to stop and start the take, and 1 part having the actors simply pose and not move. With the ability to stop and start a take, we could simply progress the story. I did spend many hours doing a flowchart to diagram out what the camera actions would be and what the actor actions would be, so on set we could literally fly through the shots.
Add in a handheld Ronin camera stabilizer, shooting 60FPS and ample use of speed ramping in DaVinci Resolve and whammo, we have successfully created a killer low budget/high production value video! [more nerd details at the bottom]
Lighting for both situations was key—having enough punch in the lighting to pull a fast shutter speed and decent ƒ-stop for the stills camera; this also worked to our advantage for the motion capture since over-cranked footage + fast shutter means a light hungry camera.
The deliverable goal was to have both a killer set of photographs and a dynamic video bumper that would family together and deliver the story to the audience. Memorable, dynamic, puzzling, bizarre — these were all keywords that we wanted delivered, so that J-Names would deliver effective posters, social media posting and festival promotions.
“Even small story elements communicates to the audience that there’s intention and thought going on.”
Nerd stuff: Directed by Andy Batt Produced by Therese Gietler DP Dustin Tolman: shot with our Canon C300M2, over-cranked to 60FPS, 2K capture, Canon 35mm AF lensing, mounted to a Ronin gimbal. Grip & gaffed by Galvin Collins: lit with a combination of Gemini LED panels, Lowel Celebs, Kobold HMI, + smoke FX (supplied by Kai Shelton) Edited/Colored by Andy Batt: in DaVinci Color Resolve 15. Wardrobe: Becca Therkelson Hair/MU: Janet Price