at Full Throttle Atlanta-based commercial photographer David Stuart received the call from his rep on Monday. The advertising agency for Coca-Cola’s energy drink, Full Throttle, was in a rush to engage a full service studio capable of creating a five-image campaign featuring celebrity hip-hop artist Big Boi (from the hip-hop group OutKast)—within a matter of days. “Such is the nature of this industry,” smiles Stuart. “One of the biggest challenges in commercial photography is the time constraint. You get in the door with the right look or proven experience, but then you’re up against a tremendous turnaround schedule, super challenging logistics and shrinking budgets.” This was exactly the case for agency Carol H. Willams’ client Full Throttle. Complete campaign imagery needed to be delivered within 14 days. “Even after being hired, we found ourselves waiting for the client to determine a final direction. The art approval did not come until two days before the shoot was scheduled to commence.” Stuart had received rough sketches outlinALL PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © David Stuart
ing what the ad needed to convey prior to bidding. He rapidly put together a detailed budget and timeline, which he returned to the agency. “Full Throttle signed on Friday and we kicked into gear with a schedule that had photography starting the following Monday; final product to be camera-ready in two weeks,” he shares.
least 4000 RAW files. For in-studio, and sometimes on location, he relies on his Apple Mac Pro with dual quad-core processor, 10 GB RAM, 10,000 RPM boot drives and 750 GB data drives. “As we do a shoot I’ll process out some low-res selects to drop into rough comps. Other than that, nothing gets processed out on site; I generally give the retoucher the RAW files as opposed to processing them out.”
Roughs showed Big Boi in various poses on stage in a dimly lit nightclub with the teaser “Don’t Push the Envelope. Tear it Up.” Final artwork included the placement of the Full Throttle product image, Big Boi logo and a corporate tagline. The scope required creation of five complementary ad images, including looks for billboard, POP (point of purchase) and print. “There’s almost always back and forth negotiating when it comes to the imagery details,” says Stuart. “During these pre-production talks we discuss perspective, angles and lighting. I had a vision for the final product and was able to convey my thoughts and gain an agreement with the client in advance of setup. The more I can bring to an assignment that allows the client to better understand my interpretation, the better the final result. There have been instances where a client presents a concept and execution that does not quite hit the mark. I make suggestions to improve it but not every client wants to budge, and sometimes the final campaign is not as strong as it could be. Collaboration and communication are important. Both can save a lot of time and money.” Stuart’s proposed plan required 60 extras, security, rental of a large sound system, a custom-built stage, a background location shoot, a full day of pre-lighting and all of the other details that normally go into an advertising shoot, including coordinating the catering, crew, wardrobe, props, etc. Engaging Additional Eyes Knowing production for this endeavor would require a complicated series of images shot on different days in varying environments, plus a complex stitching of composites, Stuart pulled in the expertise of retoucher Scott Dorman of Small Dog Imageworks in Atlanta, GA. “My job is to scout, stage, light, direct and take photos. Scott pulls it together in the digital file. He not only offers a second set of eyes, but is the essential element capable of making the final look as if all elements were captured in a single frame. His guidance is imperative when it comes to continuity that keeps perspective, angle and lighting on the mark. Consulting him in advance is something I always do,” says Stuart. On Monday morning Stuart and his freelance team headed to PC&E Sound Stage for pre-lighting. “I arrived with the crew at 7:00 a.m. The crew consisted of
60 Becomes Hundreds On Tuesday, Stuart’s crowd of 60 arrived. Over the next seven hours he posed the crowd, moving them en masse on a slightly angled platform from left to right in relation to where they would be when placed in front of the stage. “The final looks had to show a ‘high energy, upclose and personal’ connection between Big Boi and his fans—eyeballs peering up, crowd cheering,” says Stuart. “One challenge we anticipated and tackled early on was making sure all eyes were focusing on
“Winston Salem.” Client: Forbes. Portrait of Don De Bethezy (CEO of Targacept).
one digital tech, four assistants and one carpenter. While the carpenter started building the stage, we got to work lighting and rigging,” he shares. “I knew I had to take into consideration illumination for two separate scenes—the crowd shots and then Big Boi’s private session,” says Stuart. He reasoned he’d need to shoot the crowd from nine different vantage points with the camera in just as many positions at varying heights. When it came time to shoot Big Boi, he locked the camera down and shot from one spot. For most work Stuart uses Profoto lighting gear, particularly the Pro-7A, for its super fast recycling time, plus D4s or B2s. On this particular job he used Profoto 7A packs and heads. As far as light modifiers, the job required a regular reflector, beauty dishes and Magnum reflectors. He enlisted a Has-
selblad H2 with a Phase One P45 back tethered to his Apple Mac Pro. Lenses of choice for this job were the 28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 100mm. Stuart estimates he spent about 12 hours on test shots to determine the lighting scenarios. “Once we kicked into gear we employed blue and green gels on the lights, plus a couple of hazers to simulate smoke in the club, so that of course had to be factored in,” he says. Stuart keeps it light and flexible. “With the exception of my Mamiya RZs, a Gralex 4 x 5 and light meter, I own very little equipment. I rent what I need for a given job and really can’t say that I have a favorite piece of gear I use regularly. Every shoot is different so I approach and tailor the lighting and setup accordingly.” During the entire in-camera production time Monday to Thursday, Stuart estimates he captured at
the same point as we rotated through various depths of field and stage positions.” Chuckling, he shares that he asked a team member to bring in a large red bag and suspend it above the crowd in the position where Big Boi would stand—the bag doubling as Big Boi. “Maintaining the correct eye position for everyone in the crowd was critical. By the end of the day all referred to the placeholder as ‘Big Bag.’ ” Stuart even hired a hot DJ for the shoot to keep the crowd energized. “A couple hours into the shoot we got a complaint from the adjacent studio to turn the music down!” Keeping files safely in motion is second nature to Stuart. “I’ll shoot onto one of the data drives and back up via Chronosync to a secondary internal as well as one or two external drives (one of which I normally hand off to the retoucher). But, before that, I’ll look at the rough comps then go through all the files and edit them down. As a precaution, I’ll generally give the retoucher all of the files shot during a job— just in case.”
A minimum of 10 crowd images were pulled in to produce a single, final photograph. “I keep shooting until I think I have all I need, and then I shoot more,” Stuart says. “Some frames may be useless, others may have a good expression. My retoucher, Scott, may just grab an arm waving overhead from one shot and blend it in with several other files. The edit work is a truly complex process that takes a lot of patience and blending mastery. Having worked with Scott for many years, we have a solid understanding of each other’s needs.” Basic edit work Stuart does himself with Photoshop and often Hasselblad’s FlexColor software for image capture and processing. Entourage Arrival “On Tuesday afternoon we cleared the deck for Big Boi,” Stuart says. “We moved operations over to the second set and retested all lighting.” Given just an hour and forty-five minutes with the artist, Big Boi was quickly prepped upon arrival by a personal stylist and dressed in his own wardrobe. “The ad campaign shows him on stage performing, so we had him lip sync and move around on the platform to his latest CD— delivered at full volume by the DJ who happened to be a good friend of his.” The music put Big Boi in the groove and enabled Stuart to grab the high energy moves and expressions he needed. “I had to direct him somewhat for stage position and gesturing, but he’s a pro so I got what was needed in the allotted time,” shares Stuart. The end result: 1000 frames, culled down to five Big Boi poses that were eventually cut down to one select image. Stuart’s last two days of image acquisition took place Thursday and Friday with the help of a location scout trolling for appropriate background looks. “I needed interior shots of clubs—trusses, a ceiling, dark room—on which to layer. I also snagged interesting detail images I felt may be needed in final cuts.” On Saturday Stuart sat down to organize files, then initiate and piece together rough comps to hand off. Phase One Capture One processed RAW files and Bridge was used to preview. Stuart does preliminary edits and adjusts his work using Photoshop, Bridge and Capture One, preferring lo-res files to preview, move “Belugas.” Client: Georgia Aquarium. Agency: Grey Worldwide. This image was one of a series used for an ad campaign. The image appeared in print, posters and billboards.
““Wrong Turn.” This image is part of Stuart’s personal work.
and do preliminary compositing. He sends these comps, verbal instructions and RAW files to the retoucher. Adds Stuart, “For this particular job the retoucher was not on set, so after an initial rough edit I sat down with him at his studio and showed him the rough comps and marked files.”
“T-Rex.” Client: IEEE Spectrum. This image was used for the cover of IEEE Spectrum Magazine. This was one of two pieces commissioned to illustrate the technology called “Augmented Reality.”
AFTERCAPTURE • APRIL/MAY 2009
Good For One Year “An ad campaign like this is probably viable for about one year max,” says Stuart. “It took me roughly 120 hours over the course of a week and a half to plan and photograph all elements needed for the five looks—and that does not include the retoucher’s hours.” Part of that time was spent dialed into the workflow and vision working side-by-side with Scott on Monday of the second week. “We had some basic art direction to begin with and started building the image from there,” Stuart says. “As the retouching proceeded we emailed comps to the agency to get their approval along the way. The crowd and club took the majority of the time and those were the first parts to get approved. It’s imperative to get feedback as you go, decisions ASAP, approval in writing.” For the final, the image was uploaded and a color proof was sent to the client overnight. By Friday, two weeks
after the contract was signed, Stuart sent the final layouts to the ad agency. He adds, “Originally it was going to be five variations of Big Boi, but the client changed the decision to just one look with a version of just the crowd and no stage.” Personal Projects Intense schedules and creation within narrow parameters, as with the Full Throttle project, are often the norm in commercial photography, says Stuart, who is definitely making more time for personal projects. “It’s essential to any artist to have time and space to create their own vision.” One such project Stuart relished working on is the image “Girl With Dolls” (on his website). With this specific work, he allowed his thoughts and vision to come together piece by piece over a few years. “The vision started with the background— a wide-angle lineup of old abandoned brick factories shot in Atlanta. Once I shot the background, the next step was deciding on the concept. I was not sure where this would lead but after throwing ideas back and forth with Scott we finally decided on a concept.” Stuart began adding to the vision by taking element images—shots of a dirt foreground, moody skies, a little girl and her wagon. “I leave the interpretation up to
the viewer,” he exclaims. Keeping grounded with personal projects such as this keeps his wheels turning, he says, commenting that his business is a constant uphill battle. “You do not remain in a comfort zone for very long and you must constantly evolve. There are more photographers out there than there are jobs, so obviously this translates into plenty of competition. ” That said, Stuart is constantly marketing himself through a methodical and steady stream of direct-mail pieces, email promos and fresh updates to his website. He also relies on rep agency Visu Artists. Since 1998, he has produced commercial works for clients such as ESPN, Fast Company, Forbes, TIME, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, BBDO, Grey Worldwide and Sony Records. Stuart is a recipient of a PDN PIX Digital Imaging Award in the advertising category and a winner in the PDN Photo Annual 2008 for his personal work, and his work has been featured in Communication Arts magazine. He began his photo career by assisting other shooters, gradually transitioning into fulltimework.Formoreinformation,visitwww. davidstuart.net. Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant. www.renegade-pr.com.
Published on Sep 17, 2009
The advertising agency for Coca-Cola’s energy campaign featuring celebrity hip-hop artist Big service studio capable of creating a five-imag...