Behind the Scenes: "The Mirage" shoot.

July 8th, 2011 I recently did a shoot involving a lot of location research, specifically targeting endless desert roads for a fashion editorial story titled, "The Mirage".  The idea was that the viewer/reader was has the point of view of  being stranded along a desert highway, in the middle of nowhere, and enduring incredible heat.  Your (the reader's) mind starts playing tricks on you, and mirages appear through the heat.  Instead of the mirages being water, or refuge from the heat, it's chic styling being worn by a playful and seductive model.  She pulls you in closer, but becomes transparent and eventually fades away as you get within reach, only to reappear again further along the road, tempting you to continue.  Essentially she's everything you want; beautiful girl, fresh fashion, a cold canteen or glass of ice water, but none of it is real.  You can see the works in my editorial gallery

Finding the locations took some effort, even though the New Mexico desert has lots of great endless roads, it's almost impossible to know where they are since maps don't show you what they actually look like.  Enter the iPad with Google street view.   I could take my iPad and look around using Google satellite view, then zoom in to street view and see what the road looks like.  Once I made my selections to what locations I wanted to see, I could take the iPad and use it for navigation for seeing where what roads go without actually spending time and gas driving down all of them.  Although not all small roads in the middle of nowhere are available on street view, it gets you close enough to know whether you want to check it out or not.   I chose several locations, mostly around the old abandoned Route 66 highway complete with cracks in the road and faded paint, stretching to the horizon.  Theirs almost a magic in those areas, and when you're alone out there driving around, you can almost feel the history still existing, and the spirits of those who used to be there watching you.  Very cool.

What wasn't cool was the tremendous wind that showed up on every day that we wanted to shoot.  I needed sunny skies to produce the heat on the road and horizon, and on those days the winds were around 60 mph, gusting and blowing sand in everything.  I brought along a really sweet, patient and talented makeup artist named Stephanie Walsh, model Shannon Murphy whom I've shot with several times before, and my assistant Sarah.  We had to make use of every day as best we could, and the wind  caused a one-day shoot to turn into a four-day shoot.  Once it was all finished however, we were pleased with the results.  Here's some behind the scenes shots from that shoot.  Enjoy!

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Swimwear Shoot at White Sands

September 23rd, 2010

Rounded up the crew and all the gear a couple of weeks ago and headed out to beautiful White Sands National Monument to shoot some swimwear for a couple of days.  It's really a great location to shoot, with the only hazards being a tremendous glare and instant sunburn since the sand acts like a giant reflector of the sun.  It' super-bright out there- I was shooting at ISO 50 and around f/16 in the high sun because it's so bright.  The sand is as white as snow, and in fact, it turns out you can buy sleds out there and ride them down the my assistant Brian didn't think twice about getting one.  I mean, you're going to get sand (actually gypsum) all over you anyway, so you might as well go for a sled and a good wipeout at the bottom of a 40-foot dune.

With the primary focus being on fashion swimwear rather than glamour, I blocked shot concepts based on showing the designs and the cuts of the suits, while at the same time emphasizing the beauty of the location for natural effect.  I also worked with some of my own styling designs on this shoot, with one look using a net as a wardrobe accessory and another shot using a bikini I designed with glitter.   When given the chance, I like to produce my own styling concepts in my shots.  For some looks I'm very specific on what I want. Everything from hair, makeup, wardrobe and styling as well as shot design.  On other shots I like to let someone else create the look that they see, and yet on others it's a collaboration of ideas.

To capture the detail and natural texture of the environment there, lighting and exposure are really critical.   The sun is extra harsh, and again the sand acts as a giant reflector which bounces harsh light all around.  The tendency is that for most of the day, the sunlight is so bright that it makes it hard to see and capture the texture of the wind-blown waves of sand on the dunes.  You end up with what looks like 255 blowout, just blank-white all over.  Compensating by dropping the camera exposure can result in a bland-looking, colorless grey sky, as well as an under-lit model.  So a lot of diffusion screens, reflectors, mixing of artificial light with natural light, plus a bunch of metering gets put to use to get the model lit well while at the same time retaining the natural look of the environment on digital film.  If you can't get the look and feel of the environment itself correct in the shot, what would be the point of going there?

A year ago I made a trip down there and we were plagued with problems, including a totally overcast sky once we set up to shoot.  This time actually went off without any hitches.  Well, there was one, we sorta ran out of water 1/2 way through the second day and had to drink the beers just to stay alive.  Hey, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.  We had more time to relax on this shoot since it was two days.  I like the crew to be able to have a good dinner, and enjoy some relaxation back at the hotel.  The makeup artists and models had to be up early the next morning, before the sun came up actually,  so we could get back out to the location and get the early light characteristics.  White Sands is one of the most quiet places on Earth.  If there's no breeze, you hear nothing.  At night it gets really dark there- I mean pitch black- because there are no lights out there and the nearest town is about 30 miles away.  Great place to meditate, if you're into that sort of thing.

While the models were busy in makeup and hair, my assistants Brian and Sarah along with myself had time to get some sledding in as well.  Poor Sarah, she doesn't weigh much so she couldn't get going very fast.  Me on the other hand, could get going so fast that I'd go shooting-off the bottom and crashing into whatever was in my way.  We took some videos of us sledding the dunes, maybe when I figure out how to put video on here I'll add it in.  It's a good time shooting down there, just be sure to pack your SPF 86 sunscreen and some good canopy shades. Thanks to my crew and models for working hard to get the shots by getting sun-stroke, as well as sand in every crevasse!  Ah, what we do for pictures.  Here's some behind-the-scenes shots. Hover your mouse over an image to see caption, click to see full-version.  Enjoy!  (Photos by Sarah Rohr/Matt Timmons)

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Fashion Editorial at the Very Large Array

April 26th, 2010 Here's one that I was actively working on for quite some time.  It started about 5 months ago with the idea to do a shoot at one of the really interesting locations here in our own backyard, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Very Large Array (VLA) near Socorro, NM.  Finding the outfits was one of the hardest things, but after a couple of months I was able to stumble upon some designs that I thought best fit the idea I had in my head of bright, flowing vibrant colors against muted desert tones.   The array itself provides a unique environment that isn't over-saturated with photography (aside from the numerous movie appearances it's had), and lends itself to a story-line of exploring what a fashion model would be doing out there in the first place.

For our model, we selected new-comer Megan from Albuquerque.  At 5'9", she's got every requisite a designer would want showing of their latest work on the runway.  For me, I cast her previously for the Project New Day ad shoot (see previous post) and saw then someone who really wanted take direction and do the best job they could.  I can tell you that I made no mistake casting her this time either, as she again blew us away with shot after shot of usable frames.  For me in particular, I enjoy working with someone who actually has a vested interest in the modeling/fashion industry and is a goal-driven individual who works hard at everything, yet is humble and like a sponge at learning.  We've gone over just about every bit of advice I can give a new model, and I'm always happy to share all I can.  I don't know everything there is to know about being a highly-paid model in the fashion world, but the information I do know is good information.  How to look professional and be impressive on camera is one of those things, and it makes a long day go so much better when there is a constant positive-energy on set and your subject is being such a professional.  Megan's got a future in anything she wants to do- mark my words.

Her folks not only came along on the shoot, but brought their RV to provide a place to do hair/makeup, a place to change and just get out of the wind and dust.  Really nice people that you don't meet everyday.  Very helpful with providing anything, and Megs' mom even provided lunch by making delicious croissant sandwiches for all of us.  This was a very different shoot for me- not my usual situation, nor my usual modus operand of always being the one providing the hospitality, refreshments and food.  But I was welcoming every bit of it.  In fact, maybe I should ask more models if their parents can come to the set and bring some sandwiches or something. Might help the expense reports numbers at the end of the year.  All kidding aside, it was really a breath of fresh air to have such good people and positive supporters for their daughter along to see how this all comes together and how to capture a compelling, energetic shot in expensive dresses- not something anyone can just walk up and do- trust me.  If anyone wants to know the fundamentals to being good at modeling, it starts with always being on time, dedication, and keeping a positive energy and willingness to understand that it's not about having your picture taken, but rather, bringing the photographer's vision to life.   That's how professional models get the large checks.

Here's the behind-the-scenes, and I do apologize for the quality, but I did not have my usual behind-the-scenes shooters with me (unavailable) so we were stuck with iPhone cameras and pocket cameras.  We just enjoyed the day, hung out and got some great stuff.  The results can be seen on my main website, in the fashion gallery.  Oh and I totally faked my logo on the side of the RV, I just had to see how cool that would really look.  :)   Mouse over the thumbnail image to see the photo captions.

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Shooting for Charity: Project New Day

March 15th 2010

I was honored to be asked by the Project New Day committee this year to shoot the official ad campaign and the photography for the runway show for this years event.  For those who don't know, Project New Day is an annual event organization that hosts the largest fashion runway show in New Mexico to generate proceeds to help A New Day Youth & Family Services.   They are a multi-service agency providing clinical services, educational programs and emergency shelter to low income, at risk youth and their families.  To be a part of something that helps kids in tough situations is something I'm not only eager to do, but gracious that there even is a place like this to contribute to.  I personally feel that everyone should give something of themselves to help others who need it- especially kids who need adults that will give them something positive to look forward to while growing up.  So when they asked me if I would be interested in shooting for them, I was quick to answer a whole-hearted, "You betcha".

The ad concept was designed by a team of people made up of contributing businesses in New Mexico including fashion retailers, an ad agency, a modeling agency and many other companies who put it together.  They wanted two models photographed laying down, inverted to each other, shot from overhead.  Hair, makeup, models and wardrobe were all provided, I just had to get the shot.  So after putting together a scaffold-type rig to shoot an overhead from, we set up for an all-dayer.  Here's where it gets interesting.

The day of the shoot while I'm on my way to the studio, a guy backs into by truck at a stoplight and crunches my front fender.  So I'm almost late to the shoot from having to do the whole insurance exchange dance, and it didn't put me in the best of moods to start the shoot day.  Next I arrive at the studio and one of the committee team members informs me that the color theme changed and as of right now they're going to do this other thing instead.  So I'm handed a list of exactly what models are supposed to wear what and how it's supposed to look.  Ok cool, I can switch gears fast.  Next, the construction workers in the loft above mine begin their ultimate teardown and start sending chunks of concrete and dust through the plumbing holes right into the hair and makeup area.  Models and hair designers are scattering and refusing to go over there (can't blame them).  So I call the building manager and they send over a maintenance worker to help me move my hair/makeup studio into another room where the workers aren't above us.  Next my assistant Jason calls me and says that he is stuck at an insurance meeting and can't make it for another 2  1/2 hours and I'm on my own for awhile.  Rats!  Only that's not the four-letter word that I'm thinking.  The thing is, whenever things are going the wrong way, you still have to pull off a good shot.  People are counting on you.  So I never did lose my cool, I knew that if I didn't keep a positive energy going, that there would be no excuse for a failed shoot.  So we commenced with the shoot, and everything went according to plan after the initial disasters of the day.  We had fun, the client was happy, the ad agency was happy, the models were happy and all-in-all it was a great end-result.  It's like prepping your bike for a motorcycle race.  Even though everything might be going to hell in a hand basket in your pit area before the race, it doesn't matter as long as you cross the line in first at the end.

I'm excited to see the ads when they come out in our local magazines, television ads, posters and whatever else they do, but I'm even more excited to be a part of something that helps kids who really need it.  More to come on Project New Day event, for now here are the behind-the-scenes.

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Gertrude Zachary Billboard Shoot

March 6th, 2010 Here's some behind the scenes from today's new Gertrude Zachary billboard and print ad campaign.  We had an 8:30 am start time, and basically went all day shooting about a dozen or so different styling concepts for their various ad medias.  I know the quality of these behind-the-scenes shots kind of sucks, but the battery in the little camera we use was dead (forgot to charge it the night before) and so some of the shots I had to take with my iPhone.

They brought in about a hundred pieces of jewelry ranging in stone type and color.  The jewelry is just gorgeous by itself, but when we put it on our beautiful model Alma, it really gives it life.  The makeup, hair and styling can take some time, and amounts to about as much time as the actual shooting of each sequence.  As part of my job I decide whether the hair should be still, fanned, wet or brought up.  Our makeup artist for the day Whitney works on all the makeup designs and touchups, and Gertrude's staff does the jewelry selection and styling, with input from me on what's going to work best with the general shot concepts or sequence themes. The model follows the direction I give to bring out the energy, mood and overall essence of each shot as I see it in my head.  Is all a collaboration of creative and technical aspects that molds together to become what you see out on the freeways and in magazines.   Around noon we broke for lunch and had some pizza brought in, which always makes everyone happy.

As always, big thanks to the crew for such positive energy on set and for doing such a stellar and professional job.  Look for the finished billboards up around the end of March or so I'm guessing. :)

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Behind the Scenes: Swimwear & Jewelry at White Sands Natl. Monument.

So we took a trip down to White Sands to do some shooting with two different purposes.  One was some swimwear and the other some jewelry ads.  It was an early call time at 6:30 a.m. and we were on the road.  I love location road trips, even though they are a lot of work.  But as the saying goes, a bad day on location is better than the best day at the office.  We pretty much took everything, and other than a few issues with the sunlight going in and out of the clouds making keeping up with the exposure settings really tricky, it was good fun.  We had food in the production tent, but by the end of the day the crew was starving.  We made our way over to the local Chili's and tore it up.  It's about 7 hours round trip from Albuquerque, and we got back in around midnight, a 19-hour day for us (well the girls at least got to sleep the whole trip).  I recommend getting down there if you can, but bring some sunglasses and some sunscreen because you can't even see it's so bright on that sand without eyewear.  Definitely a repeat next spring. [gallery link="file" columns="5"]

Behind the Scenes: Swimwear in the Tropics

Well, ok- it's not exactly the tropics, but it was a nice spot and you won't be able to tell in the final shots.  The weather was slightly chilly and very breezy- not the best combination for putting a model in water.  Brrrr!  Today we were being hit from all directions with pitfalls- some were overcome, some weren't.  But if you don't get out and try, then what does that say for your experience?  Hand-carrying 300 pounds of gear a 1/4 mile along a hiking trail to a waterfall did suck, but it's all part of the process that is complicated location photography.  Sure, we could go up there with a camera and a small flash, but it wouldn't look like the image I had in my head when it was done.  The gear is just to meet the needs of the creative idea, not because it's fun to break people's backs.  I'm glad to have some good help today, and what counts is having a common interest in creating unique ideas, putting them on paper (or web) and getting out and enjoying the day in the outdoors.  Experimentation is the mother of all invention. [gallery link="file" columns="5"]

Behind the Scenes- Albuquerque High Fashion

The sun sets high atop downtown Albuquerque as we begin shooting. Shooting fashion editorials can be a lot of fun, and they can also be a lot of work. Getting eight people, 700 lbs of equipment and several thousand dollars of wardrobe and jewelry on top of four downtown skyscrapers is a heavy task- literally.  The elevators went to the top only on one building, and the other three- well, my assistants and I carried every piece of gear up many flights of stairs.

Once on top, we set up scaffolding rigs so that the models would appear on the edges of the buildings once the shots were lined up.  In the above sequence, we literally had to have Kevin, my 2nd assistant stand just off-frame to keep our model,Lauren from getting near the edge in case she stumbled off the scaffold rig in high heels.

Setting up for night #2.

Shooting for magazines requires a well-planned idea of how each shot is going to be composed.  If a shot is going to be a vertical full-page shot, a double-truck horizontal, a half page or a cover affects how each sequence is going to be set up and lit.  In this sequence we were setting up for a shot with downtown Central avenue in the background.

Ready to go in the first of two sequences that night.

The wall around the top of the building was about ten feet high.  So in order to get our model Tiffany high enough for it to look like a normal-sized wall, we had to build up a scaffold rig and make it safe for her to move around on.  My assistants know all too well the potential of wind when out on location, so everything is strapped down to sandbags that weigh hundreds of pounds when linked together.

Working late.

It's good that they did this, because at about 11:00 PM, the wind went from zero to 55 mph in about 10 seconds.  Stuff was blowing everywhere.  It absolutely came out of no where with no build up at all and lasted the rest of the shoot.  I normally will use the wind to my advantage when shooting on location but this was like,"aw come on!".  We ended up with some really spectacular shots, especially after the compositing was done. But it made for a rough time during the shoot, especially for the guys who had to hold down the lights since the sand bags weren't even enough.

Finally, an easy roof to get to; but the models had to stand on the railing.

Each evening was beautiful to begin with, but later would turn into gail force winds as we shot.  On the third night, we had 3 models each with their own sequence.  Alexx did a great job doing 3 different hair and makeup looks that took him several hours.  Once one model was done, we would take her to go shoot and he would start on the next.

Dinner break.

A big part of keeping your crew happy is keeping them fed.  So I always make sure we have meal breaks on any shoot that lasts over 4 hours and supply the models and crew with something good to keep the mood positive.

Alexx touches up the makeup before we start another sequence.

Our model, Shannon had to stand on a railing about 14 stories above the street.  There was a safety thrust just off the edge of the railing that would keep her from falling (that later would be composited out), but none the less it was pretty nerve-racking being up there, especially with the wind blowing us around.  I'm all for getting a great shot, but I wont compromise anyone's safety or comfort when it comes to things like this.  I gotta hand it to these girls and the crew though for being so willing to do some scary stuff in order to get the shot.  My hat's off to 'em.

Our final sequence of the shoot, and a tiring week.

This was one of the more laborious shoots, starting at 4:00 pm and going until 3:00 am.  It just takes that long to set everything up and even to do the load out.  A shoot sequence might only run 30 minutes, but everything in between from frame setup, to makeup and hair to loading all the gear around just takes a toll.  But when you love what you do, it's always a good time.  You can view the shots from this in the Fashion/Editorial gallery in my Portfolio.  We didn't get many behind the scenes shots on this one because everyone was so busy holding down everything from the wind.  But thanks to Kevin and Dustin for getting a few shots. And thanks again to Lauren, Natilee, Tiffany, and Shannon, Alexx and the whole crew for doing such a tremendous job so late into each night.  It was still a beautiful experience.

Run!! Mattzirra monsta!

Oh yea, had to throw in this obligatory shot. ;)