Sunday, December 2, 2012

Anatomy of an ad shoot

Hey there everyone.

Been a while since my last report, but finally have some free time and thought you might enjoy this shoot break down from  a few months ago.

Earlier this year I got a call from a trucking company to shoot their promotional calendar. Each year they do a large calendar with an image of their truck somewhere in the NW, since that is there main service area. After a few phone calls with them and looking at their past calendars, I felt I had a good idea of what they were looking for and offered up a few ideas for locations.

After getting a number for their budget, I started brainstorming if it was even doable, and how. Like most smaller companies now a days, they didn't have much to spend, so I had to cut out location scouting and really couldn't have a crew, so shooting the truck on location was out of the question. Permit costs, traffic control, hotels, grip truck, lighting ect all were not possible with their budget. Not a huge problem, just makes it tricky and limits what your able to do. So, given what we had to work with,  shooting the background and striping the truck in later seemed like the best way to go. That way I could do it most all by myself and cut a lot out of the overall cost. They are a great company and the client was super cool to work with so I wasn't worried about the budget. I just needed to work within it as best as possible and hopefully give them a great shot to use for there calendar.

The first thing to think about when looking into a location for the shoot was the size of the truck. What ever background we choose needed a big section of open road and lots of room to get back far with the camera. Having shot hundreds of bike and car ads over the last 20 years, I had a ton of location files to pull from, but very few would work because of the size of the vehicle.

Well, since there was no budget for scouting, picking a location got a little tricky. Just looking at location files and web pics gives you an idea of what the overall look of the location may be, but a semi trick and trailer take up a lot of room and it's really hard to tell if it will work without being there in person. Since we were going to be stripping the truck in later we didn't have to worry about things like bridge weight limits, low overpasses, vehicle length limits, permit issues ect so that part was good.

After doing some research and offering up a few suggestions, a Mt scene was decided on for the background. They were very open to about anywhere I would like to go, and for the most part left it up to me to pick a good spot. Well, around 10 years ago, I had worked on a shoot in the North Cascades and knew of a great shot up the Mt Baker HWY with a view from Picture Lake with  Mt Shuksan in the background. I was shooting ads for Yamaha up there and couldn't remember if a semi would fit on the road? So I started looking online for shots of the lake and the Mt. The problem was, most all the pics out there don't show the road to the left of the lake. Even the Washington film Commission didn't have a shot that showed if there was a road there or not. But, after much looking I ran across a shot online that showed that yes, you could see the road, and it looked like a big enough area for a semi truck.

Once I had seen this I felt the area could work, but was still a little skeptical since there is nothing in the shot to show scale. Without a budget to go up and tech scout it I was a little nervous, but the client lived up close to the area and said he would go check it out. Before he left, I gave him a list of things to check for while he was there.
#1, Compass reading telling me which way the camera would be pointing.
#2, General distance from where the camera would be to the open section of the road.
#3, Record what focal length lens his pics were shot with.
#4, Put his vehicle in the shot so I could get an idea of scale and how big the opening was on the road.
#5, Turn and shoot a wide angle shot of what was behind the camera. That way I could get an idea if there were high Mt's behind, thus telling me if the sun would be going down early and the light leaving the lake.
Since we had already decided to shoot the truck separately and strip it in later, we didn't have to worry about checking out the road for weight, height and length limits.
A week or so later, after the client got back from checking it out, we talked and went over his pics and info. Everything looked and sounded good so I was given the green light and I started making plans for the shoot.

Since Mt Shuksan is about an 8 hr drive from my home in West Linn, weather was my biggest concern. Mt weather is always a big worry on photo shoots, especially when its a scenic shot and pretty much requires a good day with a clear view. I could always strip in a nice sky, I just need to make sure I could see the Mt, and at that high of elevation, you just never know!
So after closely watching the forecast and satellite images for a few days, I woke early one Sat morning, double checked the forecast, packed my gear and headed north.

I will freely admit that I got pretty lucky here. There drive up took WAY longer than expected and I started getting worried I may not make it before the light left the road and the lake, leaving me with a super contrasty scene. That can be overcome with multi exposures, but I wanted to get a good variety of looks, and direct late light on the water and road was something I for sure did not want to miss.

As it turned out, I arrived just in the nick of time. I quickly parked my Jeep, grabbed my gear and ran as fast as I could down to the the edge of the lake. I got set as quickly as possible and fired off a quick bracket, and then just that quickly, the shadow from the Mt behind me came over the road and I lost the direct light. I did get the shot, and it was with the latest light of the day, so I guess I at least saved myself some editing time!

Now the big rush was over, I had lots of time to look around for other shots. The photo was still doable, I just needed to do a wide bracket and layer them together.
Obviously, this next image is way to contrasty in one exposure. The road and area where the truck would be is way to dark. So, shooting off a tripod to keep the camera perfectly still, I shot a wide bracket of exposures to get both the detail in the bright sky and detail in the dark shadows.

Now, having these different exposures, I would be able to layer them together in photoshop to show a scene that would work great for the foreground and the background.

My plan had been to shoot the late light till into the evening then stay the night and shoot sunrise the next morning before heading back home. So after a few hr I ran out of light and headed down the hill for some dinner in Glacier. After some great pizza and live music, I headed back up the Mt and slept in my Jeep in the parking lot by the lake.

I got up an hr or so before sunrise and shot some star trails and fun night exposures for my stock files.

This shot above was in almost total darkness, and with the naked eye, it looked totally clear out with no clouds in site. When the first 30 sec exposure came up on the back of the camera I was really surprised to see all this color. Ever since I had woke up I was thinking it would be a clear and boring sunrise, but this gave me hope. And as luck would have it, it just got better and better. More and more clouds came up from the backside of the Mt just as the sun was coming up. I don't think if I ordered a sunrise it could have been any more amazing than the one I was getting. A few 5 stop brackets from 2 different locations, and I new I had a shot my client would be really happy with.


And here is the final sample blended image with nice soft morning light on the road for the truck.

Similar to what I had the client do weeks before, I took some notes before I left to make sure I had all the info needed. That way when it came time to shoot the truck, everything would look just right and I could make the strip look seemless.
#1, Color card the changing light while I shot so I had something to go off of when color matching the truck shot later.
#2, Camera and road hight. This was somewhat easy as I was pretty much level with the road so I just needed a camera hight. If there was much of a hight difference I would need to adjust for that later when shooting the truck. If I shot to high or to low then the final striped shot would not look real.
#3, Lens focal length.
#4, Compas reading
#5, Camera info. That info is embeded in the image, but I always write it down anyway. Just a little old school I guess.
#6, Distance to the road. This part was tricky as I couldn't just pace it off, what with the water and all. So  I made a guess as to the distance, but more importantly, I parked my Jeep on the road where I felt the truck would go. Then I shot an image from each of the locations and each focal length I had used. That way I would have something good to use as a scale when I set up the semi later.

Next up, the semi.

Well, first thing is finding an area thats REALLY big...... and flat..........and open!
I had a few ideas from past shoots over the years around the Portland area, and set out one day to check them out. A few I felt could almost work, but the areas were just not quite big enough, or didn't have open areas facing the light to make it work correctly. Another area would have worked great for the light, but there were to many things around to worry about reflections in the side of the truck. So after a few calls and some more brainstorming, I came up with a great spot, and it was even free. They had a huge parking area that was very seldom used, it was pretty level, and I could angle the truck perfect to match the light I needed for the direct light strip. The other two were not near as critical since the light was so soft, but the direct light shot needed to be really close to make it work right.

So after running out one day to tech scout it (always a good idea when shooting something so large) we set it up for the next day when the weather was looking good.
I arrived plenty early this time and set up the camera and used traffic cones to section off  the angle and area where truck would be. This was a huge benefit since the driver was over an hr late. But since I had got there early and had all my info from the background shoot, we were able to pull him right into place and start shooting within minutes.

When I started shooting, I slowly worked my way from a profile view to the front of the truck, shooting about every 10 feet or so as I went. This way I would be able to match up the exact angle I would need for the road later. This is really important because if the angle of the truck was off just a little, it would look like it was not sitting correctly on the road. Always better to have to many options than not enough.

After the sun went down and I felt we had both direct and soft light from the parking lot, we moved out to the access road to shoot another setup. While the light here was great, I couldn't get back as far without getting the grass coming up into the tires. So I went as far as I could, knowing this was just a bonus set up.

Now I had everything I needed.
A good variety of backgrounds and trucks to strip. Each with the correct lighting, distance, focal length and angles.
After the client picked their favorite background, the rest was somewhat simple. The multi exposures were layered together and the truck was lined out and color corrected. Then we just layered it into the shot and added a reflection.

After the final file was sent to the client, the designer laid out the calendar and it went to press.
Just got mine in the mail the other day and now have it hanging on the wall in my office. I am really happy the way it turned out.

How to get there.

The Mt Baker HWY and Mt Shuksan are located about 2 hr east of Bellingham Wa.
The upper parts of the HWY and the road to artist point are some of the most scenic areas I have ever been to in the entire country. The views are amazing and truly must been seen for your self to really understand the beauty and wonder of the area. An absolute must do for anyone who loves the outdoors, photography, hiking and climbing.