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Posts tagged ‘Photographer’

How to Light a Football Player

Firstly, I want to thank those that sent over emails or messaged me on FB and Twitter about the new ASU campaign. It was a ton of fun to produce, and when my readers enjoy the shots, it is icing on the cake.

As happens a lot, many of the emails had the age old question, “how did you light it?” buried in there somewhere (often thinly veiled as an “oh, BTW”). So today I thought I would take a bit of time to talk about that, some lighting theory and show some RAW files from that and other shoots because I think this sort of thing needs to happen more often.

To be honest, this idea has been in the making for some time now. I have had the good fortune of meeting with quite a few agencies lately and have begun to see two very distinct approaches to photography emerging. The first approach contains a lot of lighting and a technical appreciation of what a purist would consider painting with light. The second one concerns me, it is an approach that more or less says flat light everything and …. (my most despised line) “fix it in post.”

I enjoy the approach of fixing things in post as much as I love listening to heavily auto-tuned music. Then again, for me auto-tune might make my singing voice a bit more angelic, but I digress…

Today I want to talk about a return to lighting because our clients deserve it, our medium deserves it, and we deserve it. Now there will always be things that can’t be done in camera, perhaps due to a location that makes it impossible to travel the subject to, or an action that endangers the subject or crew, and for this there will always be comping, and for those reasons there is nothing wrong with that approach.

So let’s talk about lighting, specifically for mood.

The first place that I went to develop my approach towards lighting theory was not a photo book, but rather my psychology courses in college. It was a common theme that as humans we feel comfortable when we know what is around or in front of us. A quick Shark Week analogy… I went for a swim last Saturday during the day. It was at my neighbor’s house, the pool was clear, I knew what existed because I could see it. Now put me in that same pool at night and we have a different situation. Even though all logic tells me, “Blair, you are in a pool,” I still am 99% sure that Megalodon has come back from extinction and will be remaking the beginning of Jaws with me any second.

Sharks aside, lighting is much the same way. The eye finds discomfort and intimidation in the unknown, and the unknown is where the light is not. The approach to making a subject intimidating should not be a mass of lights cranked to 11, but a single focus of direction where one light dominates and the remaining support the fear. An example of this that I shot a while back is this portrait of a football player.

bigpic

As I promised in the beginning, here is the RAW image from the shot to show where we take it on set before it goes into good ole Photoshop.

HerringRAW

And the lighting scheme: (notice that the powers of the support lights never go above the singular direction of the key, if we broke that rule, the eye would become comfortable)

topview

On the most recent shoot we approached things with the same idea, but incorporated action, so the singular direction source had to be broadened, but still contained. There are many people that approach lighting or even teach the one light approach, which I enjoy for it’s simplicity. However, if I may add an addendum; I think that it should be more of a single direction source approach (doesn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly). Remember, as photographers, we are telling a story, not just telling our viewer that our subject exists.

The final with smoke and plate:

ASU TRY2

The RAW test before smoke. This shot is actually a prep shot for the main image that involved smoke from a machine (camera left), but shows lining of subject and a disregard for any details that I don’t want my viewers to see:

pre smoke RAW

Believe it or not, one of the most important parts of lighting is the camera, and your knowledge of it. To best light a subject where you want to play dangersouly with shadows, you have to know and trust the sensor that lies at the heart of your camera. I was shooting on a Nikon D3x which lets me shoot more contrast out of camera with the safety that my shadows will exist when I open the file. I only know how far I can stretch the contrast ratio with my camera from practice. There will always be those that measure the heck out of a camera and it’s sensor, but to push one on set with a job on the line is an act of trust in the equipment you are using.

As with the need for consistent sensor performance is the need for consistent lights. For campaigns, I trust Profoto 8′s with my livelihood. The power is always sufficient to close down and delivery is quick enough to avoid blur. From there the rest comes down to build, reliability and standards that make it easy for me to tell an assistant what is needed, even when they speak a different language.

With an approach to technical lighting, and equipment that can deliver you will actually become more financially efficient. In what might take you five minutes on set to put up a light, you will save yourself hours if not days in post trying to create a texture that doesn’t exist because the photo wasn’t lit correctly. As photographers, we should crave perfection and do everything in our ability to create it. These are details that your clients deserve, and that will make you proud of your work.

ASU Football : 2014 Photoshoot

Photoshoots are not made by a photographer alone, they are a result of everyone that set foot in the studio that day and sat on the endless preproduction phone calls the weeks prior. When the campaign is released, it will carry the name of the photographer, but I would give anything for it to carry the names of everyone that stood behind and alongside us as we create.

Today’s blog will be a bit different that others as I want to talk about what others did to make a shoot possible, rather than ramble on about how I did this or that to make an image…

ASU TRY2

For the ASU campaign, the images start at the beginning of our working relationship when I was just a teenager. An ASU new hire named Becky trusted me to create imagery of athletes when I definitely had not earned such trust. Over the years she rose to the position of director of marketing and I am grateful to continue producing campaigns together, often with the simple direction of, “make something awesome.”

ASU TRY1

The next person on the set is the Creative Director, Chris. He usually stands on my right side and tosses out ideas for images and it is between us that the imagery forms. Periodically we will take a couple moments to step into a side room and discuss if we want to steer the emotion of the athletes in a different direction or continue on the given path. I trust his opinion and he trusts mine, it is a relationship that must exist between the AD/CD and photographer that makes a campaign successful.

ASU Runner

My assistants Rob, Brian and Ramsey worked to make the vision exist in camera. Not that they don’t always work hard, but on this shoot they did their job, and so much more. The first day on set was actually the day that I was announced as an Ambassador to Nikon and I was trying my hardest to respond to emails, texts and phone requests, all while prepping lighting and shooting. I can’t tell you how impressed I am watching how hard they work, and am grateful to have them on the team.

ASU TRY 3

Last but not least the athletes. Awesome, just awesome. One thing to note is that they are not models, and for many this was their first photoshoot ever. It is easy to take being on set for granted, but for some of them (the rookies especially) it can be insanely intimidating. While it is my responsibility to give them direction in a way that gets the shot that my client and I want, it is still on their shoulders to deliver the level of intensity that I need, and they did.

I am very proud of this year’s campaign, and want to thank those that made it, and hope that you all enjoy the 2014 ASU Football campaign.

GO DEVILS!!!

River Monsters

:   With all the recognition that this image has received lately, between the CA Photo Annual and Archive’s Top 200 Ad Photographers, I figured I would re-share the story that was the River Monster’s shoot   :

Lighting as a thought process is fundamentally easy to apply to schemata, water is not. Sure there are the physics that govern the drops via gravity and pull them back to Earth properly, but the abstract way that this is done is a logistical nightmare when combined with good ole electrons. Sure water makes for dynamic imagery when lit well, but what doesn’t get seen is the grey hair that the photographer grows as a result of the set.

When the call came from Discovery to shoot the ad campaign for their show River Monsters, I was thrilled. The concept was strong and the comps that we were to key off made visualizing the final image easy. However, creative potential and potentially dangerous walked hand in hand on this campaign. The idea was to have the show’s host Jeremy Wade wrestling a giant fish in the shallow waters near South Beach, Florida. Now by giant, I mean the kind fish that hangs out with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the weekends… probably having a glass of wine with its flippers and talking about the delicacies of krill. Where things get complicated is that we wanted to have Jeremy and mega fish in the water thrashing around…. lit. Obviously we didn’t want a bathtub with a toaster situation, so safety would come first, creativity second, after all electrocuting an actor is not a good way to land another job (the industry tends to look down on this).

River Monsters photographed by Blair Bunting

 

Knowing that this set would be determined by the quality and work ethic of the people on it, I flew assistants in that I had worked with on previous shoots. We approached the lighting situation with Photoflex Tritons, for their safety, weight, and flash duration (we would be freezing splashing water). We had a scout look for beaches with long gradations to the shore line and went to multiple locals just to walk into the water to his waste level. Background would not be important, as we would fade to black behind the subject. For cameras, I brought both the Nikon D3x and D3s to back it up.  Never on a shoot had I expected to destroy a camera more than this, so redundancy would play key to making sure I came home with the shot, even if the camera was a paperweight.

With lighting, safety and concept behind us, it was up to Jeremy to make the action, and he did it masterfully. Often he would bring advice and reality to the table that we could not have thought of in our wildest dreams… mostly because I have yet to catch a 350 lbs. grouper, and also because I don’t fish. However, one comment amongst all the others stood out to me… All of us (7 people, 1 fish) were waist deep in the water at night in the Florida ocean and Jeremy looked up at me and said, “you know, these are perfect conditions for a Bull Shark….” to which I replied, “haha, and when’s the last time you caught a Bull Shark?!?!”…. he replied, “I caught one here….. last night”. At that point, without any direction from me, the entire set moved about 10 feet closer to shore.

We shot for only a couple hours, not due to a time crunch, but because Jeremy, the creative director, and rest of the crew worked so well together that in two hours we had a solid 30 images that would work for the ad. Since we were in the ocean, laptop previewing would be impossible, but seeing the shots out of the back of the D3x, the CD was able to see that we had the shot directly out of the camera. Although this image was not the final one chosen because of the main subject’s address to the fish, it shows the strength of a RAW file, and gives an idea to the situation around us:

Jeremy Wade

Also, here is a short video to show how the prep work went. We had originally wanted to have a complete behind the scenes of the shoot, but with the dangers at hand (be it lights, sharks, groupies, sea turtles) we decided that everyone would contribute to make the shot. My assistant Matthew Coughlin made this video of the prep, and may I warn you, once you have seen this skinny, pale photographer without his shirt on, you might wish you had never watched it…

[UPDATE: Unfortunately the video offended some animal rights groups and out of respect has been removed]

I wish I could take 100% credit for this shoot, but, as in every shot, it is the quality of the people around you that make the image. So, Jeremy, Mike, Linas, Bryan, Matt, Grant, Paul and Lisa, here is your shot and thank you.

 

Communication Arts : Photo Annual

I was standing in line at baseball game, buying a beer and some peanuts…

For many years I have looked at the Communication Arts Photography Annual and wondered what it would be like to be in it. Truth be told, I have only entered it once before, back in 2008. Even worse, I only entered the 2014 competition because I had enough wine to convince myself that I should.

This competition means a lot to a photographer’s self validation, but knowing how hard it would be, I passed up the entry year after year for fear of disappointment. Sadly, I’ve even pictured the moment that one finds out they were accepted into the annual…. I saw champaign flying everywhere and probably some over the top dinner where the sashimi plate rivals a house payment.

I was standing in line at a baseball game, buying a beer and some peanuts when I got accepted into the Comm Arts Photo Annual.

To everyone at Communication Arts, the judges, and those that put together the magazine, thank you for this honor. To my family and friends (including all of you that I have never met), thank you for your support.

To Mike, I remember looking through CA many years ago while we were on set, talking about how crazy it would be to see one of our images in it…

This one’s for you.

 

Communication Arts Photo Annual Blair Bunting

Reddit /AMA

With all the craziness that has been the release of the Thunderbirds video last week, there is one request I have received on many different occasions that I wanted to help with. I got quite a few people that asked if I would do a Reddit AMA (for the non-Reddit savvy, that is “Ask Me Anything”… don’t worry, I just learned that as well). I am always around to answer questions people send over, but am looking forward to having a proper forum to do it in this time around. So whether you want to know how to light a photo, what watch I wear around the house or if I passed out on the F16 flight, please free to ask away. I will be answering questions every spare chance I get until there aren’t anymore. Hope you enjoy it, and here is the link for the thread:

Blair Bunting AMA on Reddit

 

Flying with the Thunderbirds

To all those who have ever wondered…. what is it like waking up in the morning, knowing you are going to fly with the Thunderbirds?

It is SCARY AS HELL!

Perhaps as some sort of twisted joke, the Thunderbirds flight surgeon told me that I needed to get a good night’s sleep before my flight….. Let me put this into perspective… Sleeping the night before flying is like a kid trying to sleep the night before a Christmas where Santa brings him an F-16. Not Happening.

Nonetheless, after whatever sleep I could muster, I got in the car and headed to Luke Air Force Base. As the passengers in my car will attest, I listened to heavy metal for the entire drive, as it was the only thing that calmed me down. Upon walking into the briefing room I was immediately informed that the flight had been bumped up and that I needed to brief with my pilot right away. We would step to the jet in 30 minutes. Sitting there listening to Thunderbird 7 talk about everything from how I would need to sit if we had eject, to how I could stay conscious through 9 G’s was completely surreal. Before I knew it he said, “that’s it, let’s head to the jet.”

USAF Thunderbirds

A quick mental image to tell you how crazy this moment was….

I remember very vividly walking down the flight line and there sat all the Thunderbird jets (the absolute pinnacle of the F16 fighter jet), lined up perfectly in a row. The last jet in the row had the cockpit canopy open, and no sooner than I could take in this sight, one of the flight engineers kindly said to me, “sir, your jet is ready.” Please forgive my swearing, but the moment you are informed that your F16 is ready is UN-FUCKING-BELIEVABLE!!!

With the Thunderbird crews standing around the jet, I walked up, put on my G-suit and went to climb up the ladder, only to realize that not only was this my seat for the next hour, but the plane also wore my name on the side. There is no way that I deserved any of this, and I can’t begin to tell you how humbling it was.

Bb in Jet 2

Larry Reid / USAF Thunderbirds

Sitting in the jet, G-suit, oxygen mask and seat belts hooked in, the nerves disappear. At that moment the world fades away, nothing goes through my mind. All this time thinking of what it would be like gives way to reality. The moment to wonder if I would stay conscious or get sick was gone. As the jet engine fires up, I know that I am along for the craziest ride of my life…. time to sit back and enjoy the ride… and take a selfie.

After a short taxi we sat at the end of a long runway on an airfield that we had all to ourselves. The pilot asks if I am ready. I could barely get the word “yes” out before the engine starts to run up, almost as if the rocket we are strapped to has just woken up and is angry. He releases the brake and we are starting to move… quickly. Not long after that, he ignites the afterburner and I find that this thing goes even faster. With the wheels up we stay barely off the the ground blazing like hell down a runway as he is calling out speeds to me…. 100 miles per hour, 200, 300 miles and hour, 400, 500 MILES AND HOUR! and then he says the most insane words that I can remember…. HERE. COME. THE. G’s.

No sooner than I could start my breathing he pulls the jet in a straight vertical climb and we scream away from the Earth. Where I could once see my friends and family cheering on the side of the runway, only a moment later we are punching through the clouds as the world curves. I am speechless, as any words that I could write down would never do the view justice. In short, it epitomizes every essence of the word “beautiful” in its most primitive form. As the pilot pulls jet from vertical to inverted I could breath, but was breatheless.

Leveled out, we head north to a range where the pilot can show me “what the jet could do” as if the takeoff wasn’t life changing enough… At this point I just kicked back and tried to fit my smile behind the mask. With no effort whatsoever, the jet tears through the sound barrier. I am sitting in peaceful bliss as the world breaks behind us in a 1000 mile per hour combustion that is heard for miles around. If I had a pen and paper, I could sit there and check off the bucket list items as we did them.

A couple maneuvers down and the pilot asks for a status update. At this point I am just laughing hysterically and every question of, “would you like to try?” is immediately answered with”YES.” Then comes the question that I had been dreading the most, “would you like to see if you can make it to 9 G’s?” Part of me wanted to say, “you know, the 8.5 we pulled on takeoff were good for me,” however, reluctantly I answered, “HELLLL YEAH!”

Now let me try my best to explain what 9 G’s feels like… Firstly, in no way is it comfortable, not even close. I began to feel my face melting away as the skin in my cheeks pulled down to my mouth. The color from my vision was the next thing to fade away, first the reds, then the greens. Squeezing like hell, I did everything I could to get air into my lungs as the G-suit wrenched it out. With all the color of a 1950′s television set, the next thing I noticed was that waves were starting to develop in my vision and a vignette appeared. All the while I am listening to the pilot’s breathing and trying my hardest to match it. At any point I could relax and immediately be unconscious, only to wake up and wonder where I am, but I had trained too hard to let this happen. Then, just as G’s set had set in, they  began to leave and normalcy appeared. However, if I were to relax at that point, the blood would leave my brain too fast and knock me out as well, so I continually squeeze as the G’s lift and my body slowly returns to what sanity it had left.

With the chaos that maneuvers gave, a balance came as we traded G’s  for the world’s craziest site seeing tour. Dropping down to the lowest altitude we were allowed, we decided it would be fun to give someone else a story that no one would believe. We found the highway that runs between Phoenix and Las Vegas and flew along it at a significant speed with the smoke on, topping it off with crossing a bridge low, for all the traffic to see and for none of their friends to believe.

From there we had reached bingo fuel (the max limit that can be used before returning to base). I took a couple minutes to take some pictures with my iPhone and send my wife a text as we flew home. While the engaging portion of the flight may have only lasted an hour, it was already starting to hit me with what I had just experienced. I thought about the kids like myself that looked up every time a jet flew by and the cadets at the  academy striving to be the next Thunderbirds. However, more than anything, I thought about the honor that had bestowed me to be sitting in the seat of a Thunderbird jet.

Bb in Jet 1

Larry Reid / USAF Thunderbirds

Upon arrival, I watched as my friends and family came out to the jetway along side the many Thunderbird crew members. It was like a homecoming party for someone that had been gone for years, all excited for someone who had just sat in a seat and enjoyed the ride of a lifetime. It was the kind of celebration that the men and women that serve our nation deserve every time they come home, not me. I am thoroughly grateful for this experience and will always be in debt to the Thunderbirds for this. Every person, friend, family and crew member felt welcome and important and I can’t thank the entire squad enough.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing another video of the photoshoot I did of the pilots and all the training that went into the flight. In the meantime, I encourage you all to head over to the Thunderbirds website and check out their schedule. Who knows, they might be in a town near you soon. I guarantee you, just watching the show will be one of the most incredible experiences you can have.

To the Thunderbirds, my crew and everyone that made this happen… Thank You.

Bb: Nikon Ambassador

If you think there is a chance that I typed the title of this blog without laughing with excitement like a child, you couldn’t be further from the truth. Just reading it draws strong emotion… it is an honor, it is a privilege, it is not deserved and I will forever be humbled to announce that I have been chosen as an ambassador to Nikon. With all the composure I have to have on sets of great responsibility, I had none when I got the call with the formal request to be a part of the Nikon family. I was choked up in the brief conversation that proceeded, and after I hung up I just sat on the couch staring blankly out the window.

Being an ambassador to Nikon means so much more than having my name and picture on their site. It represents validity that what I am doing has been enjoyed by others, and for that I am grateful. Money removed, I would still do this job because it excites those around me, it gives us something to talk about. Recently I learned that the father of a man, for whom I have great respect, is going through a very tough health struggle. The father, in the hospital, asked that one of the photos I took be displayed above his bed. This man, is the reason why I create. He and the many of you like him are my pride and my inspiration.

It is for this reason that congratulations to you all is in order. For without you I would not be a Nikon Ambassador. This honor rests on the shoulders of you that wrote me an email, tweet, text and said you enjoyed a photo. It is because of the people that picked up a magazine that had my imagery on it or showed a friend my website because it had a cool car or famous person on it.

For all that you guys do, Thank You so much.

How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb

Catchy title, huh?  That’s exactly what I thought when I saw a short review on the book by Peter Kuran titled, wait for it…. “How to Photograph an Atomic Bomb

To understand me, you must first know that I have a lot of free time, whether it be on planes or just sitting around the house, I try and spend at least a day each week reading about random hobbies/interests.  One such interest is nukes… go ahead and say it, “Blair has lost his damn mind.”

I promise I haven’t, but rather find them and how they were created thoroughly interesting.  Then I happened upon Mr. Kuran’s book and the world of nukes and photography collided, I was smitten.

Images such as this one captivated me:

Which brings me to my reason of this post…  I have only one piece of art on my walls where I edit (painting of Michael Schumacher), and need to spruce up the place.  When I saw this print of the men who built the bombs, lit by a nuclear bomb, I decided I must have it!

So with that said, if anyone can help me find where to order a print of this, I will get a print (of one of my photos) out to you…

1 of 1 Maserati

Today’s post is a truly special one. Before we chat about the specs of the Maserati Birdcage 75, let’s break down how rare this car is… For comparison, the Michael Schumacher Ferrari I photographed was one of almost 20 that he used in 1998 alone. The McLaren F1 GTR, like the F1 car was one of about 5 that exist from that team. Heck even the > $30,000,000 Ferrari GTO has at least 15 brothers and sisters. There are not many cars from Ferrari, McLaren and Maserati that can be preceded by the word “THE”… this is The Maserati Birdcage 75

Maserati Birdcage

Pretty, isn’t she?

While it looks like a current car, or even a future model, the Birdcage 75 was made in 2005 by Pininfarina (the company responsible for many of Ferrari’s greatest cars ever made). It resembles autos seen on the Jetson’s more than those we see on the road. If your asking yourself the same question I did, the answer is no, it does not have any doors. But why should it? I mean if you are going to make a car that is batshit crazy, it only makes sense that the top should lift off like a fighter jet for it’s pilot to enter. Speaking of drivers, the guy sitting behind the wheel better know his driving before giving it the beans. Like the insane styling, it also has an insane engine, a v12 that produces 700 horsepower… making it ever so easy to be the owner and the guy that wadded it up while telling the passenger, “hey, look, no doors.”

Which brings me to my general thesis, “at what point does the line between car and art get crossed?”

At some point the photographer of such automobiles becomes close to an old school art reproduction shooter. I mean there is a definite skill in lighting one of these beauties, but so often I walk on set with a car like this or the F1 sitting in the middle of the studio thinking, “damn, my life is going to be easy today.” What is ironic is how tough a shoot of one of these cars is, not out of technical challenge, but from pressure and responsibility that I tend to put on myself. I feel that I need to show the car’s absolute beauty, and anything less means that I will have let the car and its creators down. Perhaps it is unneeded stress, but it has to exist for a shoot to come together.

Life is perhaps an existence of controlled stresses, and the ability to use self imposed pressure to drive creativity. If you could only see how nervous I am sitting in the passenger seat on the way to a big shoot. Headphones on, I am not thinking about lighting or the image that I need to create, as all of that was planned far in advance. In all honesty, my mind is blank, focusing more on the music from my headphones than the world that exists around me. The drive to set is the last moment that I will exist as myself, and not the photographer.

Graphis Advertising Annual 2014

Just a quick post today while I try my utmost to adjust back to my regular work routine after one crazy weekend.

I wanted to say a big congratulations to the team at Mekanism, Cytosport and the crew guys and gals that helped us create the Muscle Milk campaign. I got the call this morning that they were featured in the 2014 Graphis Advertising Annual. The imagery only exists because of the planning and support of the entire team, and I am grateful to be the person to have pressed the shutter button.

For the behind the scenes (including RAW images) from some of the shoots, click the link here

Congrats again guys!

Graphis 1

Graphis 2