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Panoramic Portrait Photography for ExxonMobil Annual Report

Cover of the ExxonMobil Summary Annual Report.

I've been really fortunate to work with ExxonMobil on their annual report photography and other corporate photography for the last ten years or so.  It's a great gig, and I've been able to document photographs of people and assets for their shareholders all over the world.   I'm particularly proud of the work we did on this year's version.

Cover of the ExxonMobil Financial and Operating Review.

Over that time, the books have been fairly consistent, with a vertical format layout, and often featuring traditional spreads of sprawling petrochemical complexes at dusk or at night.  Although there's always been quite a few people photos as well, this year was quite a departure in that the focus was completely on employee portraits.  The marching orders were to create panoramic portraits of employees utilizing technology in their work environment.  We've all seen the typical oil and gas photography, and it was fun to take it in a different direction and focus on the super smart people that make the company work.

Some spreads from the ExxonMobil Annual Report.

The format of the book was horizontal this time, to maximize the effect of the panoramic photos over a full two page horizontal format spread.  The layouts were also adorned with quotes from the employees and helpful stats about the company.  In the end, they used a mix of traditional environmental portraits, and some reportage working shots.

During our travels, we created most of the photographs with the 50 megapixel Canon EOS 5DS, and in several instances, we composited several frames to create the panos.  We carried Profoto lighting, using the B-2 and the B-4 extensively.  We also used some LED light panels on some of the photos.  The cover shots and spreads I photographed were taken at sites in Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Belgium, and Angola.

It was a break from the usual approach honed over many years, and was both a challenge and an honor to work on.  I ended up with both covers (Both the Summary Annual Report, and the F&O), and a number of spreads.  Hoping to do some more great content for them in the future.

(Ed. note:  although it says “2017 Annual Report”, it is actually released around May of the following year (2018) with figures from 2017, so it's really not as old as it looks…).

More examples of our panoramic portraiture below: 

 

Guideposts cover shoot with Boston Marathon bombing survivor Rebekah Gregory

Rebekah Gregory, who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion

I recently had an inspiring shoot with Boston Marathon bombing survivor Rebekah Gregory for Guideposts Magazine.

Gregory, then just 26, and her five year old son Noah were spectators standing only 3 feet away from the bombs near the finish line when the explosions went off on April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon.  Her legs absorbed a lot of the bomb’s impact and shielded her son, likely saving his life.

Gregory and her son were both injured, and spent time apart in two different hospitals.  After months of trying to rehabilitate and rebuild function in her injured leg, and scores of surgeries, she made the brave decision to amputate, and hasn’t looked back since.

A single mom at the time of the bombing, she’s since gotten married and had another child.  She recently wrote a book, “Taking my Life Back: My Story of Faith, Determination, and Surviving the Boston Marathon Bombing,” with co author Anthony Flacco.

Rebekah Gregory, who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion, photographed with her family at her home in Texas.

We photographed her at her home, and part of the mandate for the Guideposts cover was a powerful portrait of her on white seamless.  Luckily, her home featured a garage with a giant ceiling, so we set up our “studio” in there.   We used a Plume Wafer Hexoval 140 boomed into the center, directly over the camera for the white background stuff. We used three Profoto B-4 battery powered lights as our light source (and we later added an Acute 600 Air also).   My good friend Misty Rockwell did a great job with makeup.

We did some “happy” smiling photos, but I really wanted her to look resilient, and was more drawn to those tough and strong poses.   Although it didn't make the cut, we created some really strong tight portraits with a classic fashion cover lighting setup of Rebekah in a cool gray workout fleece, and used a small, lower light source below the camera as well as the Hexoval over the camera to really make the eyes pop.

Rebekah Gregory, with her son Noah, who were both  injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion.

We also made some environmental portraits of her with her son in the driveway, and a family photo in the back with her husband and new baby, but my favorite shot might be her son hugging her on the white seamless, both of them with their eyes closed.

Rebekah is a class act who is using her platform as a survivor of this horrific event to promote and encourage others.   You can’t spend time with her and not leave inspired to do better in your own life.

Rebekah Gregory, who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion, photographed at her home in Texas.

Rebekah Gregory, with her son Noah who were both injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon explosion, at their home in Texas.

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

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!

 

BuzzFeed photo shoot with Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesWith the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio coming up, I thought this might be a good time to write about a shoot we did earlier this year with US Olympic gymnast  Simone Biles.  Biles, who trains in Houston, is 4’9” tall and a three time world all around champion.

The media landscape is changing these days. This is the kind of shoot we might have done for Sports Illustrated once upon a time, but instead, this time we were commissioned by Buzzfeed to do this sports portrait shoot.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesIn the months leading up to the Olympics, the notable competitors (like Simone) have huge demands on their time. In addition to their normal training schedule, they are also doing interviews with various writers and television programs, and posing for photo shoots with not only media outlets, but potential endorsement partners. They are seriously busy, and it’s hard to stay focused on their training with all these various demands on their time.

To that end, we knew that we would have very little time to work with her, and that everything would need to be prepped carefully so as not to waste any of her time.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesThe photo editor wanted a classic, quiet portrait and sent several examples of gymnasts/fitness models on concrete walls and muslin backgrounds. Since Simone’s family-run training center was brand new and very modern, we knew we weren’t going to get the muted, moody industrial concrete wall background. We took a big muslin backdrop instead , and did a classic one-light portrait that stayed within the spirit of the comps.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesWe also prepped a secondary setup on a balance beam to capture some rim-lit “action” shots of Simone doing her thing. For this we used big tall C-stands with two Profoto B4’s and one Profoto 7B. (Note to self: always be careful when setting up lights in a gymnastics facility….one false step and you might find yourself neck-deep in a Nerf-cube-filled landing pit….not that this happened to me or anything….).

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesWe mixed in some available light practice shots (I was able to dust off my usually dormant Canon EF 300/2.8!) of Simone and her coach working together to round out the assignment and give the photo editor lots of options.

The backdrop session went very fast…about 6-10 minutes. The balance beam shot went fast too, but not by choice. The coach shut us down after just a few frames saying the strobes were a distraction to the other young gymnasts training there. Even though we prepped them for what we were doing, you really can’t argue in that situation with the person controlling your access…..you just have to say yes ma’am and move on. I knew we had some nice frames already, ( thanks in large part to Simone’s perfect technique on the first few frames – thanks Simone!), so we pivoted and quickly moved on to available light practice shots.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone BilesThe new family-run gym, World Champions Centre in Spring, Texas is an incredible facility.   Simone’s parents and brother work together managing the facility and they do it with class and good humor. We were surrounded by a steady stream of youngsters training at various stations who I’m sure were hoping to someday be the next Simone. A “WARNING” sign near the lockers read, “CHILDREN LEFT UNATTENDED WILL BE SOLD TO THE CIRCUS.”

Buzzfeed recently ran an extensive story and collection of the photos here. I thought the story and presentation turned out great! Because of the virtually unlimited space they were able to run many more photos than you would typically see in a normal magazine layout.  We in the newspaper/magazine journalism world have been talking about this advantage for years….it was nice to finally see a media outlet exploit the web format to full potential.

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

USA Olympic Gymnast Simone Biles

All photographs © 2016 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing an Industrial Deep Sea Diver for Scuba Diving Magazine

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver for Scuba Diving Magazine.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver for Scuba Diving Magazine.

We recently did an editorial shoot for Scuba Diving magazine for a special issue they put together on the “Dirtiest Jobs” in the SCUBA diving industry.  The photographs were commissioned in various parts of the country by different photographers: a salvage diver, a diver from a nuclear reactor facility, a police investigator, an underwater logger, a croc-wrangler, and our cool assignment: an “industrial deepwater saturation diver.”

Our diver was a nice gentleman named Brian Lacey, and he travels all over the world diving deep underwater for the oil and gas industry, repairing rigs, working on pipelines, etc.  He spends up to a month on the job, living like an astronaut in a small pressurized chamber.  He's been as far down as 900 feet, but on average works at around 300 feet below the surface.

I've taken many oil and gas portraits, but this was my first chance to photograph an industrial diver, and I was pretty stoked.

Photo assistant Michael Klein and I photographed Brian on a dock in Galveston with his super heavy deepwater dive gear.  We used two Profoto B-4's and one Profoto Acute 600B.  I scouted the location previously, and due to the recent downturn in oil prices, several offshore rigs were parked in port, which provided us with a great background normally not seen next to shore.  It worked perfectly for the story, and the photo gods blessed us with a wonderful colorful sunset to complete the assignment.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver.

Brian Lacey, an industrial deep sea saturation diver.

The double truck layout from Scuba Diving Magazine's "Dirtiest  Jobs" issue.

The double truck layout from Scuba Diving Magazine's “Dirtiest Jobs” issue.

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.

Executive portrait photography for Barron’s

2015_08_17_cmyk_NL_I recently had the opportunity to create some executive portraits for Barron's magazine.  Barron's, founded in 1921 is a weekly publication published by Dow Jones, and each issue features a profile of a mutual fund manager.  We're pushed to shoot these fund manager portraits in an interesting way, often with an environmental portrait link to their hobbies or interests…something more creative than a person at their desk.

Our feature subject for the issue, Juliet Ellis, the Portfolio Manager of Invesco's Small Cap Equity Fund, suggested a great location for her portrait, the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute, where she serves as a board member.  I was already familiar with the space and the personnel there, having photographed healthcare annual reports in the past for the hospital.  In the morning, we knew that it would make a fantastic “light and bright” portrait location….definitely a welcome departure from the average trading desk photo.

Although we had fantastic natural light for most of the shoot, we supplemented the ambient with just a low power  “kiss” of light from a Profoto B4 with a Plume Wafer 100.  We didn't want to disturb any of the cool natural shadows around her in the background on these, so we stuck with the small source and even added a Lighttools grid in some of these to focus our light and keep it from spreading everywhere.

We couldn't have asked for a more lovely and patient subject, and our friends at Barron's of course created a fantastic layout with excellent display.

Juliet S. Ellis, CFA, who is the CIO, US Growth Equities, and Sr. Portfolio Manager at Invesco Advisers, Inc., photographed at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

I thought the inset in the wall made a great composition, framing her face nicely.

Juliet S. Ellis, CFA, who is the CIO, US Growth Equities, and Sr. Portfolio Manager at Invesco Advisers, Inc., photographed at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

We loved the shadows on this one.  We supplemented the light on her face with a Profoto B4 through a Wafer 100.

Juliet S. Ellis, CFA, who is the CIO, US Growth Equities, and Sr. Portfolio Manager at Invesco Advisers, Inc., photographed at Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas on Wednesday, July 15, 2015.  © 2015 Robert Seale/All Rights Reserved.

The photo chosen for the cover.

Remembering Houston medical pioneer Dr. James H. “Red” Duke

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann. © 2008 Robert Seale.

Houston lost one of it’s most iconic characters this week. Dr. James H. “Red” Duke passed away at 86. Dr. Duke was a true medical pioneer, founding the Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann) “Life Flight” air ambulance service during the 1970’s. He was one of the first faculty members of the UT Health Science Center at Houston (now known as UT Health), where he taught several generations of medical students the intricacies of trauma surgery.

Dr. Red Duke was instantly recognizable to millions of people through his television health reports, which were syndicated on stations all over the country in the 70’s and 80’s. He was known for his signature signoff, “I’m Doctor Red Duke,” delivered in a frontier Texas drawl that was more Texas cowboy than brilliant trauma surgeon.

Dr. Duke often masked his considerable intellect with folksy country humor, and a friendly bedside manner, which gave comfort to his trauma patients and their families during difficult times.

In addition to his many medical laurels, he also was an Eagle Scout, received a divinity degree, served as a tank commander in the US Army, was a yell leader at Texas A&M, rode horses, created western art, and grew up with Willie Nelson.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann. © 2008 Robert Seale.

Early in his medical career, he was one of the emergency room doctors at Parkland Hospital in Dallas responding to the assassination of President Kennedy, and was widely credited with saving the life of then Texas Governor John Connally who was wounded while riding with the president.

I grew up watching Dr. Duke on TV, and in 2008, I was lucky enough to photograph him on the helipad at Memorial Hermann. We had no guarantees that there would be a helicopter for our background, as the aircraft were out and about, delivering critical patients to the hospital.  When the doctor arrived a little later than our optimal sunset time, he apologized: “Sorry – I was in surgery….had to fix up a guy up who decided to wrap his car around a pole.”(or something to that effect).

I think he was 79 at the time, and still working every day.

Building roofs are windy anyway, doubly so with helicopter rotor wash all over the place as you're trying to shoot photos.  I'm sure it was equally difficult for Dr. Duke but he was unfazed.  We had several volunteers helping out the assistants to keep the lights safe and secure.  My favorite moment with him came at the end of our photo shoot….he had been very patient with us, and as we were starting to pack up, two rather attractive young women from the hospital (who had been graciously helping us out), asked to have their photo taken with Dr. Duke.  As he stood in the middle and posed with his arms around both of them (in heels they were both quite taller than him…),  he looked down at me and said, “You can take as long as you want to now…”

Happy trails, Dr. Duke.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann. © 2008 Robert Seale.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Here's a look at the photo shoot set.  The pilot thought I was nuts when I tried to mount strobes in his cockpit.  Photo by Eric Kayne.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

We actually placed strobes around the perimeter of the helipad to amplify the existing landing lights.

Dr. Red Duke, on the Life Flight Helipad at Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center on June 2, 2008.  © 2008 Robert Seale. Robert Seale Photography www.robertseale.com 832-654-9572

Dr. Red Duke and me.  

 

 

 

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.