Browsing Category

Lighting Scenarios

Sports and fitness photography with Kate Upton for Strong4Me Fitness

Model and actress Kate Upton photographed at her home in Houston, Texas for her new fitness brand, Strong 4 Me Fitness. ©2018 Robert Seale

I recently had the really cool opportunity to work with supermodel Kate Upton for the launch of her fitness brand, Strong4Me Fitness.  Strong4Me is the brainchild of Kate and her personal trainer Ben Bruno and is designed to provide strength training and nutrition solutions for busy women on the go.

We were originally going to use a studio, but at the last minute, the shoot was shifted to Kate's Houston area home which she shares with her husband, Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander.  The brief was to shoot portraits and workout shots that could be title and dividing pages on the Strong4Me site and app.  Other models would fill in the blanks with the actual “how to” sequence shots.

Working in a home, no matter how well equipped and nice, provides some challenges, chief among them, finding enough wide open space to create light, bright, and open fitness scenarios.  I was reminded of environmental portrait photographer Arnold Newman's famous quote:  “Photography is 5% inspiration, and 95% moving furniture.”  That was certainly the case for assistants Travis Schiebel, Michael Klein and I as we cleared out spaces for these photos.

We created this look by covering the window outside with an 8×8 Scrim Jim, and firing some strobe from outside.  The indoor key light was a Wafer Hexoval 140.

Once Houston makeup artist Misty Rockwell got her ready, we started with a white seamless background setup.  One of the rooms in the house provided us with almost a perfect wide doorway scenario and lots of white walls, so we could set up a traditional white seamless without the need for cumbersome v-flats.  Kate had her own ideas about the lighting and was very involved….after looking at a few frames on the digital tech's monitor, she suggested a more contrasty look, so we switched gears, used a smaller key-light source (a medium sized Wafer Hex 140, instead of the huge box we were using before), and placed a large black velvet fabric on the ground in front of her to soak up some of the bounced light and create more shadow under the chin and neck area (her suggestion – which worked out great!).

Shooting someone of her talent and stature is an incredible thing…I've shot lots of models, famous athletes, and celebrities over the years, but no one like her.  One second she's talking to you, and everything seems pretty normal, but when the camera is raised, she brings it…..all the while making subtle adjustments to her pose, chin height, arm position, leg angles, to create perfect photos.  It goes without saying, but she's an incredibly talented pro….all I had to do was show up with a pulse and keep firing the shutter.

Kate's dog Harley offered his own exercise tips to help us out with the photo shoot

After the white background scenario, we moved on to a “light and bright” airy high-key location in her dining room to do some shots with a workout bench and mat.  Kate's friendly boxer, Harley, who has his own instagram account, btw, wanted to be in most of the photos, so eventually we just went with it.  Sometimes the spontaneous stuff is the most fun.

We next moved on to an outdoor setup, shot some exercise photos there, and finished with some shallow depth of field photos modeling the Strong4Me yoga mats available through her site.

It was great working with her, and I wish her the best with both her fitness business and the recent birth of her daughter Genevieve.  Harley might just have to share the spotlight next time around.

Check out the main portfolio site to see more of Houston Sports and Fitness photographer Robert Seale's work.

Model and actress Kate Upton photographed at her home in Houston, Texas for Strong 4 Me Fitness. © 2018 Robert Seale

I don't often do it, but this shoot called for a couple of crew photos with Kate. She was nice enough to oblige. ( L to R: Michael Klein, MUA Misty Rockwell, Kate, me, Travis Schiebel).

Kate Upton and Robert Seale….she's really tall!

Heroic Group Photo of Life Flight Team for Memorial Hermann Foundation

The finished piece, designed by Pennebaker and retouched by Avenue Sixty7 in the UK.

Earlier this year, we worked on a very cool project for the Memorial Hermann Foundation.  Memorial Hermann is one of the largest healthcare providers in the area, and they pioneered the use of helicopters in emergency medicine.  “Life Flight” as it became known, was the brainchild of the Dr. “Red” Duke of the Memorial Hermann/UT Health Science Center.  I had the honor of photographing him with a Life Flight helicopter a few years before he passed away for an editorial assignment.

Sometimes editorial assignment lead to commercial gigs, and it when it came time for a fundraiser for the Memorial Hermann Foundation, I was lucky enough to get the call to recreate the feel of that photo, albeit with a much larger group of people.

We worked with a stellar team of creatives at Pennebaker, including Halina Dodd and Stacey Hodge. Many ideas were tossed around during the planning stages, among them: taking a group shot on the helipad of the entire Life Flight team (over 100 people!), helicopters parked, a helicopter hovering in air over their shoulder, among other ideas.  In the end, we opted for a representative sample of members of the Life Flight team:  a nurse, a pilot, an ER trauma doc, etc….to show all the different folks that make the program work.  The goal was to make a “Heroic portrait” ,movie poster-style featuring a selection of the Life Flight team.

If you’ve ever been around helicopter operations, you know that taking a group shot of one person, let alone 13 people, can present quite a challenge on a helipad with the rotor wash of helicopter blades.  Add to that, uncertain winter weather, uncertain helicopter schedules (they can be called away on a real mission at any moment), and a windy helipad located many floors up on top of a high-rise hospital and you’ve got a very high possibility of failure.

Despite my desire to “nail it in camera” in one shot and avoid composites, it was obvious that this was not a plausible or safe scenario in which to photograph a large group of people with a ton of lighting equipment.

The solution:  A 6am group shot inside the hospital combined with plates of the helipad, helicopter, and sky.  John Lewis, Travis Schiebel, and Michael Klein agreed to help us on the shoot day with a ridiculously early 4:30am call time.  I bribed them with promises of a giant diner breakfast after the shoot.

Reference group shot with a 24mm wide angle for the retoucher.

Individual shots from the same height/perspective with a longer focal length (105mm).

We knew one of the final uses of the photo was going to be a poster, so we wanted a super high resolution image.  We used the 50 MP Canon EOS 5DS for the job.  After nailing the arrangement in one frame (mostly as a reference frame for the retoucher), we kept the camera in the exact same position, then turned the camera vertically, zoomed in, and photographed the group in smaller pieces of 3-4 people at a time.  The lighting setup  (We used Profoto B-4 packs and heads, and a Plume Wafer Hexoval 180 as the main light source), and 20×20 white background were both rolled on large high-roller stands left to right in front of each smaller group of 3-4 subjects to maintain the same lighting look on everyone.  When pieced together with the background elements, this yielded a huge final file size.

The helicopter/helipad plate.

The clouds/sky plate, from an earlier shoot in New Mexico.

We also used a rental special effects wind machine to blow the subject’s hair and lab coats to make it look as if they were really on top of the rooftop helipad.  In reality, the rotor wash would have caused hair to go everywhere and for everyone to freak out rather than holding a steady hero pose.

I went back on a separate day to photograph a helicopter hovering on the helipad at dawn, and the concrete helipad.  We used an existing photo I had of a stormy gray sky as the background plate.  All of these elements were brilliantly fused together into a believable final composite image by Craig Roberts and his team at Avenue Sixty7 in the UK.  I love the foreground/background scale of the different subjects. We really wanted that look, with some of the subjects much closer to camera and Craig made it look great.

At the end of the project, our foundation client was pleased, the poster was a big hit, and we came away with an exceptional image that was the result of an entire team of people working together beautifully! (Larger version of the poster tearsheet here on my website).

Here's the final shot without the graphics.

 

 

 

Creating a football concussion Photo Illustration

I was commissioned recently to create an  photo illustration for Houston Methodist Hospital Foundation’s Annual Report  Photography for a story on concussions in high school football players.  This is a big issue not just for the NFL, but also in youth sports.

I think that originally we were just going to shoot a simple portrait of a young athlete in football gear, but after giving some thought to the issue, the art director and I collaborated on a few other more illustrative ideas.

A few years ago, I had photographed Matt Schaub, the Houston Texans quarterback at the time for Methodist's Leading Medicine publication.   We did a couple of different versions:  one was using a projected background created by a computer and an LCD projector of MRI brain scan imagery and another photo showing medical illustrations of nerve synapses in the brain.

I thought we might appropriate the brain projection idea, but add some other elements to it: a silhouette of a generic kid in a football helmet this time to keep the illustration anonymous; and a multiple exposure strobe effect to look like a violently shaking head.  Our art director helped us in researching a suitable stock photo of the brain that we could use in the projector.

After doing some testing in the studio (do we need a white helmet or black helmet, for instance?), and ordering some props (youth sized football helmet, jersey, and shoulder pads) we booked a young male model for the shoot.

(If we were truly going to be literal here, the concept probably should have been a brain bouncing around with multiple exposures/blur INSIDE a sharper helmet image, but I quickly decided that would have just been a blurry mess and would not have been as easy of a read as the brain inside a shaking helmet.)

This is an early shot, showing the strobe on the background (gelled orange), the projected image on the helmet foreground, but without the multiple exposure/multiple strobe on the background effect.

The key was to tripod the camera for the “brain exposure”, keeping it absolutely still for this exposure provided by the projector, and then with the shutter open, firing multiple strobe bursts (with strobe lighting the background seamless only) with the model's head in slightly different positions to show the silhouetted helmet with movement.  Although I liked the randomness of the head movement in each photo, we finally settled on zooming the lens smoothly and evenly to create the multiple strobe head images.

The intention was to do this just like the film days, creating the entire photo in camera, and we were successful with this for the most part.  Some of the images admittedly had some “unintended brain movement” from the long exposure of the projector (I think it was around 1/4 to 1/8 of a second), so we ended up retouching a couple of the selections with a “sharper brain” from another exposure.

Changing the color of the gel on the background strobe created some cool multi-colored silhouettes during multiple pops of the flash. I think it's especially interesting where the colors cross over and mix. Not a new idea, but fun to try nevertheless!

We used a Canon 5DS, and tried it with two different methods:  leaving the shutter open and firing the Profoto strobe manually, and also with the multiple exposure feature engaged.  We also tried two different methods to create head movement:  having the model shake his head around during the multiple exposures; and also leaving the model still and zooming the lens during multiple exposures.

We even tried this with different gels on the background strobe, but in the end my favorite was a monochromatic look with just the brain projection in color.

Another example with different gels and changing the color balance.

I prefer this monochrome version with lots of exposures created by zooming the lens.

Robert Seale speaking at Asian American Journalists Association convention

I'll be speaking at the 2018 Asian American Journalists Association annual convention at the Marriott Marquis, 1777 Walker St, Houston, Texas, Room 2734.

In addition to the regularly scheduled lineup of writers, editors and TV correspondents, longtime AAJA member Darrell Miho has organized an additional educational curriculum for still photographers over the three day convention.  I'll be doing a lighting talk from 11:00-12:30 Friday, August 10th.

Here's the list of speakers and subjects for the still photo program:

Thursday, August 9

11:00am Lisa Krantz, San Antonio Express-News:   Photo Stories

4:00pm Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Minneapolis Star Tribune:    Images from the Rohingya Crisis

Friday, August 10

9:00am Karen Warren, Houston Chronicle :  Baseball and sports photography

11:00am Robert Seale, Houston Commercial photographer:   Lighting for Impact

2:00pm Laura Elizabeth Pohl, freelance photographer:A Long Separation. Families Divided by the Korean War

Saturday, August 11

3:00pm Chang W. Lee, New York Times:2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics

4:30pm Portfolio Reviews/Photo Critiques

The Photo Hangouts are FREE to all AAJA18 attendees! If you're not attending the convention and interested in just attending the Photo Hangouts please call or text Darrell Miho at 626.975.6349 or email us at aajaphoto@gmail.com

Trade magazine covers for CDW

A recent cover of BizTech from a DNA testing lab.

Like most commercial photographers, we do a lot of work that is not necessarily viewable by the general public.  Even though the work might be viewed by thousands of people, it's not something you might see on a billboard or on the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble.  This B2B corporate photography work can take many forms: a multimedia presentation within a corporation, an annual report to a corporation's shareholders, a sales brochure, or in some cases a specifically targeted magazine with a carefully chosen audience.  These are called “trade magazines” in the photography business, and they often lead to fun and interesting assignments.

CDW has been producing a group of these magazines for quite some time, and I've been fortunate to shoot for them quite a bit.  Their technology solutions business is targeted to education, business, government, and healthcare customers, so they have a magazine for each industry titled (logically enough) EdTech, BizTech, StateTech, and HealthTech.

Over the years, I've been able to create cool environmental portraits of doctors, cops, and business executives.  I wanted to share a couple of covers from some recent issues of the magazines.

For BizTech, we photographed a high tech DNA testing facility.  The place was just as you would expect, a slightly mundane lab with lots of test tube vials being sorted by techs in lab coats, but with few good photo opportunities, as most of the techs were working at tables facing a wall.   Ugh!  I became fascinated by a large machine on one end of the lab…..it was a big blocky thing, but had a window looking through to either side.  Inside were vials in banks on both sides, and in the center was a little robot arm, doing it's thing – retrieving vials according to an automated program and moving them to be tested.  I decided it would make a cool photo if we could get some light inside, but it proved fairly difficult.  We ended up placing the subject on one side of the machine, booming a small strip bank above the machine, and then cross lighting the vials from each side in VERY tight quarters (with a slight green gel added), which also outlined the subject from behind.  It was really tricky, since I was shooting through a window on the other side and trying to avoid window fog and condensation on the glass.

For the StateTech cover, we photographed local constable Alan Rosen for a story on body cameras.  (It just so happened that our PR guy for the job was a former colleague, the famous Houston Chronicle political writer and generally great guy Alan Bernstein!)  We picked an abandoned building with lots of character not far from my studio in downtown Houston and shot several setups with Rosen and a group of his deputies all showcasing their new body cameras.  Most of the shots were horizontals and intended for an inside spread, but towards the end of the shoot, I remembered one of my old editor's mantras:  “No matter what you're doing, no matter what the assignment is, ALWAYS GET A HEADSHOT!”  That voice haunts me some days, but it's really good advice.  Your assignment might be to shoot a panoramic cityscape with an architect in the foreground, or an athlete in his home, or whatever – but remember that you'll be the designer's best friend if you give them a tight portrait they can run on page 3 or 4 of an article, or on a table of contents page, or in this case, if the story budget changes and your story ends up on the cover!

A recent cover of Constable Alan Rosen for StateTech.

Chuck Norris put me in a headlock!

Actor and martial artist Chuck Norris on the family's Lone Wolf Ranch in Navasota, Texas.

When the Boogeyman goes to sleep at night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live.

Chuck Norris has counted to infinity – twice.

There is no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard.  There is only another fist.

I've loved reading these “Chuck Norris Facts” for years.  It was pretty awesome when we actually got to meet the man in person recently when we photographed Norris and his lovely wife Gena for Houstonia magazine.

Actor and martial artist Chuck Norris and his wife, Gena Norris, have developed a new private-label bottled water manufacturing company called CForce Bottling Company on the family's Lone Wolf Ranch in Navasota, Texas.

Part of the hook for the story was that Gena had recently fired up a full blown water bottling plant on their giant ranch property near Navasota to bottle water from the natural aquifer they found on their property.  The plant is a state of the art facility and there is a charity component to their H2O endeavor.  You can read more about it in the Houstonia story here.

Since we were there in sort of the middle of the afternoon on a sunlit partly cloudy day, we needed a big light and lots of power for the outdoor shots.  We used a Profoto B-4 and a Plume Hexoval 180 for most of the outdoor shots.

Although we shot the bottling plant and did lots of still life shots of water bottles, the highlight for me was getting to make a cool environmental portrait of the former Walker Texas Ranger star and Gena on his awesome Texas ranch.  We also shot in their horse stables, which had amazing light.  Gena was a professional model, and the two of them together have a lifetime of experience in front of the camera and were just wonderful subjects to photograph.  I don't think I've ever dealt with two nicer, more accommodating people.

Actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in beautiful natural light in the horse stables on his Texas ranch.

Actor and martial artist Chuck Norris in the horse stables at his Texas ranch.

I couldn't resist taking a romantic silhouette of Chuck Norris and his wife, Gena in the horse stable.

As we were loading the gear back into our vehicle, he came back out of the house and gave everyone in the crew a paperback copy of a Chuck Norris Facts book.  I think he gets a big kick out of the cult hero status from all these “facts.”

Before we departed, Norris was telling us a story about going to Iraq to visit troops there.  He was standing at the front of a long line of soldiers eager to meet him, shaking hands, posing for photos, signing autographs and such.  When one of the soldiers (who was a particularly big strong guy) got to the front for his turn, the conversation went like this:

Soldier:  “Ok, kick me in the chest!”

Chuck: “I'm not going to kick you in the chest…”

Soldier:  “No, really, I want you to roundhouse kick me in the chest!”

Chuck:  “Come on, I'm not going to kick you in the chest.”

The soldier wouldn't let up, and was just dying to go back to the barracks and tell all his buddies that he survived a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick to the chest…..the line was starting to grumble from the delay.

Finally, Norris quickly grabbed the soldier, and in one quick motion the (at the time) 70 year old martial arts veteran spun him around backwards and put him in a choke hold and dropped the big guy to the floor like a sack of potatoes.

At this point all the other military guys standing in the autograph line, full grown men trained in combat, were yelling like little kids, “Put me in a choke hold too!  Put me in a choke hold too!”

Of course….after hearing this story, what do you think I did?

“Put me in a choke hold!  Put me in a choke hold!”

Here's the layout of the article by (then) Houstonia art director Tanyia Johnson. She has an excellent eye for design, and I'm forever in her debt for sending me on such a cool assignment!

 

Sports Portrait shoot with Houston Texans star JJ Watt for Sports Illustrated

JJ WATT COVERIt's been under wraps for a few weeks, but we're finally able to show some cool portraits from a recent JJ Watt cover shoot for Sports Illustrated.  We were lucky, in that we were able to get a little extra time with Watt since he was featured twice in the magazine.  JJ's been tearing it up as the star of the HBO behind the scenes series “Hard Knocks” featuring the Houston Texans during training camp.

For the first set of shots, we wanted to create a memorable and “tough” looking portrait of him.  We were stuck working in the Texans practice bubble, which is not my favorite location, but sometimes you have to roll with it, and in this case, a studio portrait was in order anyway.  In addition to JJ, SI commissioned four other regional covers for the NFL Preview issue:  NY Giants receiver Odell Beckham, Chicago Bears RB Matt Forte, Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, and Seahawks QB Russell Wilson.  SI art director Chris Hercik and Director of Photography Brad Smith wanted these to look consistent, so we needed lighting schemes that other photographers could duplicate in other cities, without worrying about backgrounds or ambient outdoor lighting.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  Photo by Robert Seale

We utilized several different lighting schemes to give the editors a few looks to choose from.  They ended up using a photo  lit from the back on both sides by Plume Wafer 140 strip banks with Lighttools grids inside, with a small Chimera strip Bank coming from below on JJ's face, to give him a “sinister” or intimidating  look.  Or, as Todd Rosenberg, the Chicago based photographer who photographed the Forte cover said: “Vincent Price lighting.”  All the lights were Profoto – a combination of B4's and one legacy 7B.

Our other setup was for a feature story where the editors of SI asked several different NFL players what position they would like to play, other than their regular position.  JJ, of course, said he wanted to play quarterback!  This led to a secondary setup where we ran JJ through a variety of quarterback action poses.  He had a lot of fun with it (I'm pretty sure he had practiced these before – he looked REALLY GOOD!  He even had the telltale slick QB crossover footwork on his drop back down cold.)  For lighting, we knew the imaging department would be dropping the action shots into action scenes from actual games, therefore, I shot from a low angle (just like I would shooting game action on the sideline), and used one Profoto B4 with a Magnum reflector to simulate outdoor sunlight.  We placed a 6 x 6 Scrim Jim in front of the Magnum reflector a few feet out in front of it to soften it somewhat…similar to what a movie crew might do.  It worked great, and gave us a wide open, evenly lit area for JJ to do his thing.

JJ Watt quarterback

Check him out! JJ Watt at quarterback. I'm pretty sure this is every defensive player's nightmare. Note the fancy crossover footwork on the drop.

Our crack assistants, Lauren Swanson, and Travis Schiebel had the lucky job of playing catch with JJ:  Lauren threw the balls in to JJ, and Travis played receiver.  I think JJ had a good time with it.  He even did a Peyton Manning style scramble while pointing at his “receiver” (Travis) downfield.

Sports Illustrated even sent a video crew down to document the shoot.  You can see the behind the scenes video here.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

I tried a few dramatically lit black and white shots of him as well.  

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

Tight study of JJ Watt's chiseled profile in black and white.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

Another look we tried:  flare coming over the shoulder.  In the parlance of the great Joe McNally, assistant Travis Schiebel served as a VOL, or  “voice operated lightstand”  on this one.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

Happy JJ goofing off between shots.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

This is the cover shot, as originally shot: minus the red background.

Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt posing for portraits in the practice bubble across from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

Look!  I'm taller than JJ!  Seriously, he's got a great eye, and is fully invested in collaborating on great photos.

Lauren_JJ

Lauren with about half the gear we used on the shoot. Travis brought a truckload of stuff too.

Medical Healthcare photography project for Houston Methodist Hospital

Seale_Methodist_01-001

Dr. Brian Butler, working with 4-D images in Plato's CAVE facility at Houston Methodist Hospital.

We recently completed a big Healthcare photography project, completing principal photography for six annual reports for Houston Methodist Hospital.  We spent about 10 days shooting in and around several of the hospital’s buildings in the Texas Medical Center.

Moving around a giant medical complex with our usual plethora of lighting gear was a challenge, especially with tight and ever changing physician’s schedules.

Seale_Methodist_01-002

Dr. Lidong Qin with the “V-Chip” at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.

We even ran into a couple of situations where we couldn’t use our lighting gear at all. For example, we photographed a doctor and patient near an MRI machine, which meant that we couldn’t put any lighting equipment in the room for fear of damaging the imaging machines. (We were told that our cameras, tripods, and light stands would be sucked into the machine’s magnetic vortex during an actual scan!).

Fortunately, the machine’s lights were adjustable (somewhat) from outside the room and with a tripod in the doorway we were still able to get some good pictures. Another lighting challenge was shooting actual surgeries (we were able to photograph three of them, obviously with patient consent). We had to utilize the overhead surgical lights in the room, since you can’t exactly do flash photography while a surgeon is operating. Fortunately, halogen and LED surgical lights are bright , dramatic, and many doctors prefer to turn off the ugly fluorescents in the room, which creates dark backgrounds and makes everything very dramatic in photographs.

One of our “lighting tricks” in the hospital to match today’s flat screen LED monitors is to utilize (and of course hide) various LED sources in the room to make the subject look like they are only lit with only LED screen light. One of our main tools in this, believe it or not, is the 9.00 dollar Larrylight 8 LCD flashlights . We carry lots of these, and can stick them under and around computer screens to light things up when necessary.  One of my favorite shots from the entire project was a shot of Dr. Butler in “Plato's CAVE”, an area in the hospital with LCD projectors, and a giant interactive Ipad-like device in which doctors can combine imaging technologies into one interactive scan.  We placed these small LED lights all around the room to light the scene.

Seale_Methodist_01-003

Surgeons working in the operating room during a kidney transplant.

I always try to dress appropriately for the job. In sports, we often wear shorts and running shoes, for executives, we wear suits and ties, and in the oilfield, we wear Nomex coveralls, steel toes, and hard hats. To shoot surgeries in a hospital, I was able to fulfill my lifelong quest to wear scrubs to work!  At the Scrubs Store, near the hospital, I learned that medical duds now come in all colors and patterns, and I narrowly resisted the urge to buy Sponge Bob scrubs and stuck to basic black, to keep with my photographer persona.

Once you spend a day in these, you realize why doctors and nurses wear them all the time, even when they aren’t in surgery.

Sometimes that comfort comes at a cost. While pulling the drawstring tightly closed on my pants one morning before an important surgical shoot, I managed to snap and break the string on the scrub bottoms. Did you ever have a pair of warm-ups in high school gym class, with the string trapped inside the warm-up waist band with no hope of ever fishing it out? Well, that’s what this was like. Oh yeah, this happened with three cameras around my neck about two minutes before I was slated to be inside a surgical suite. For those who don’t know, scrubs are big and baggy (I think these had a 72″ waist or something). Without a drawstring, my scrubs would be useless, sitting around my ankles, and well…..that wouldn’t be good. Fortunately for me, a quick thinking nurse dug around in her desk drawer and found some binder clips and helped me tighten the pants up to the point that I could move around and still work without flashing the surgical team.

That harrowing incident aside, the reports turned out to be beautiful. I consider it a real treat to work with very smart people, and the staff at Methodist are all first class, from the PR and Marketing staff, to the physicians and researchers themselves.  The layouts were landscape format, with several full bleed photos of our best work. An added treat: one of the photos from our annual report shoot was selected to be in Methodist advertising.  We're hoping to do more medical and healthcare photography projects in and around the Texas Medical Center in Houston.

I can’t wait to don my scrubs again, and this time I’ll be more careful, ensuring that the only flashing going on is from my portable strobes.

Seale_Methodist_01-004

Neurosurgeon Dr. Gavin Britz, removing a tumor from a patient's brain.

Seale_Methodist_01-005

Examples of the full-bleed horizontal layouts in the Houston Methodist Annual Reports.

Seale_Methodist_01-006 Seale_Methodist_01-008

Seale_Methodist_01-014 Seale_Methodist_01-013 Seale_Methodist_01-012 Seale_Methodist_01-011 Seale_Methodist_01-010 Seale_Methodist_01-009 Seale_Methodist_01-015

 

 

 

 

Skyline Portrait of Houston Rockets James "The Beard" Harden

Portrait of James Harden in front of the Houston skyline on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.  ©2015 Robert Seale

Portrait of James Harden with the Houston skyline on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015. ©2015 Robert Seale

I’ve dreamed about shooting Houston Rockets guard James Harden for a long time. How can you go wrong with THAT BEARD? He’s just awesome looking. I wanted to pose him with ZZ Top for the last couple of years…or at least with Billy Gibbons, but alas, no one has bitten on that idea yet. (You hear that Texas Monthly? It would be a great cover, trust me….).

Anyway, the call finally came a couple of weeks ago from Sports Illustrated. Harden had a super tight schedule with the All-Star Break coming up, and the editor asked if we could put together something with the iconic Houston skyline with only 24 hours notice.

I suggested a view from the traditional western side…there are great spots along Allen Parkway and Memorial Drive where the buildings separate and line up well. Yes, it’s been done, but it really is a great angle.  (Sidebar:  I may sound like a homer, but Houston's western skyline is among the best I've seen in the world – right up there with Dallas, Chicago, Shanghai, and Doha in the manner that the skyscrapers line up and separate in a photograph.  It's the result of a late 70's-early 80's skyscraper building boom that hasn't been matched in the US since.)

The editor already had a specific view in mind (slightly north a bit, but also very nice – and much closer to the buildings), and we referenced a rooftop fashion shot I had taken a few years earlier from that same spot.  On the plus side when using a parking garage roof, you can control access which is a plus when working with a pro athlete.  If we had done this out in the park, we might have gathered a crowd and needed more security guys.

While the editor was pitching the idea to the Rockets, I called the building with the rooftop parking deck we had used a few years earlier to ask for permission. Then I went by to see the manager in person and deliver a check for a location fee. Done.

I researched the shoot from a few years earlier and put in calls to my Plexiglas shop and found out they didn’t have what we needed, but could ship it in by noon the next day from Dallas. Done.

James Harden SI cover by Robert Seale.

James Harden SI cover by Robert Seale.

Then another call to a GCG Productions, a stage company I used previously on that fashion shoot to build another stage platform for the Plexiglas sheets. I keep all my emails so I just looked up the email from 7 years earlier and found my stage company buddy George. George is awesome – and luckily he was available. Done.

I booked Travis “cowboy truck” Scheibel and Michael “MacGyver” Klein as assistants. Two of the best in Houston, or anywhere for that matter. Done.

After all that scrambling to get ready in record time, the weather took a turn for the worse, and the shoot was moved to Saturday (on the Rockets suggestion, no less!). Actually, it was a good thing….I knew that our first window on Thursday would be cloudy and our chances were looking much better for good weather on Saturday. The shot wouldn’t really work on a totally cloudy evening. We had to then rebook everyone for the Saturday evening shoot….fortunately the stars aligned, everyone was available, and the location was still ours.

Travis rigged up an ingenious method for transporting the large sheets of Plexi vertically in his truck between sections of heavy MDF board with lots of clamps and ropes to keep the Plexi from bending or getting bowed. I leave the rigging/knot-tying Eagle Scout stuff to Travis and Michael, since I never made it past my Webelo badge.

The James Harden spread as it appeared in SI.

The James Harden spread as it appeared in SI.

We set up Saturday afternoon several hours before the shoot to test. You may be asking why we built a stage with plexiglas on it?  The simple reason is, parking garages, or most roof structures for that matter usually have a waist or chest high border around them, which destroys your look for a full length photo.  Building a stage solves the problem, and puts the subject up high enough to get rid of the unsightly “lip” around the edge of the building.  Why plexiglas?  Because the parking garage is white concrete, and it's ugly….that and I'm a sucker for reflection pictures….just ask Travis.  He jokes that if there is a 1′ x 1′ mud puddle on the ground somewhere, I'm usually laying next to it trying to shoot the reflection.  I'm a weirdo, I know.

We also set up a separate backdrop off to the side of the platform, just an 8 x 8 Scrim Jim to do some tight portraits of James as requested by the editor. The skyline would make a nice spread, and the tight portrait showcasing the beard would make a great cover (if we were lucky!).

It was super windy on the roof by the appointed shoot time, and I was fortunate that a couple of strong guys from George’s stage company agreed to help us out to steady ropes and function as human sandbags for us. Michael Klein, who literally has an entire grip truck in his Toyota SUV, dug around and came up with rigging for a wind break around our backdrop so:

A.) Harden wouldn’t freeze, and….

B.) So our background and lighting gear wouldn’t get blown off the roof.

He also built us a super boom, which came in handy considering Harden is 6’5”, and he was over 4 feet in the air on the stage platform. Getting the lighting up high was critical.

About the lighting: on the Plexiglas shot, I used a Profoto B4 on a Plume Wafer 100 with a 30 degree grid. We could have gone with a bigger light modifier, but I wanted the light to fall off and not contaminate our plexi reflection with a giant hot spot. On the tight cover shot, we used all Profoto (one B4 and two 7B’s I think).  There was no power on the roof, but with all the battery powered Profoto units, we were ok.

Our crew setting up the plexiglas stage on the rooftop parking garage.

Our crew setting up the plexiglas stage on the rooftop parking garage.

Timing was critical – we only had 20 minutes with Harden to get both shots, and predicting the cool after sunset glow on buildings is not an exact science.  I figured it was ideal somewhere between 6:12 and 6:23pm.  If Harden arrived early, we would start with the tight headshot portrait, and if he was late we would reverse the setups.

We had an audience for the shoot, including Harden’s bodyguard, his nephew and mom (who’s a fun lady!), my wife, who was shooting some BTS video for us, the Rockets media relations director, and finally, James himself.  He was a little early, so we got the plain backdrop out of the way first, and then moved on to the plexi platform.

After watching cloud cover all day, we were lucky and the clouds parted just an hour before sunset for a fabulous magenta purple afterglow. The magazine repro’d a bit on the blue side, but that’s printing. SI Art Director Chris Hercik did us proud again with a nice classy layout for the cover and spread.

After Harden left, the crew had fun taking turns taking photos on the stage.

Now, if I can just find Billy Gibbons’ phone number for the next time…..hmmmmm.

Here's the simple Scrimjim backdrop with windbreak to keep it secure on the roof.

Here's the simple Scrimjim backdrop with windbreak to keep it secure on the roof.

Robert Seale on faculty of 2014 Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar

ATL_Seminar

Photo by Bernat Armangué / Associated Press

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been invited to speak again at the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar Nov. 13-15, 2014. I’ll be doing a couple of workshop sessions on lighting on Friday Nov. 14.

I attended the event in 1992 as a young photographer at my first real newspaper job, and also spoke there previously in 2004. It’s a real treat to be invited back to such an awesome event. The staff that puts on the workshop (all great photographers in their own right) do a hell of a job putting this thing together every year. It really is a first class event.

Among the other Friday speakers: my old sports photography colleague, Jamie Squire from Getty Images, speaking about (logically enough) Sports! Eric Seals a photojournalist with the Detroit Free Press will be leading a session on GoPro and drone photography. Also, I’m really excited that Judy Hermann, from ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) will be speaking on business practices for photographers.

Saturday speakers include National Geographic contributor Amy Toensing, Scott Strazzante (San Francisco Chronicle), Al Diaz (Miami Herald), Ken Lyons (Denver Post), and freelance photojournalist extraordinaire Matt Eich.

Thursday is devoted to video presentations, and in addition to Eric Seals, other speakers include Wes Pope (University of Oregon), Lauren Frohne (Seattle Times), Oliver Janney (CNN), and Amani Channel (Visual Eye Media).

The Atlanta Seminar has been around for quite some time – here’s an overview from their website:   “The Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar was founded in 1973 by a group of photojournalists representing newspapers, magazines and wire services. Its reason for being is to promote the highest standards of photojournalism through an annual educational conference and a photography contest judged by working photographers.

Speakers throughout the years have included Pulitzer Prize winners, Photographer of the Year winners, major magazine and wire service photographers, influential directors of photography, important educators in photojournalism, academia, and others important in this profession. Founded as a regional event, the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar has grown to become one of the most prestigious photojournalism competitions, with participants from throughout the world.”

You can see the entire schedule, list of speakers, contest information, and registration information at: Photojournalism.org.

Hope to see you there!