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Medical Photography

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.

 

 

 

Healthcare Annual Reports for Houston Methodist Hospital

The cover of the Cancer Care and Research annual report for Houston Methodist Hospital.

The cover of the Cancer Care and Research annual report for Houston Methodist Hospital.

Houston has some of the top medical facilities in the world:  Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann, UT Health, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Heart Institute, CHI St. Luke's Medical Center, Texas Children's Hospital and MD Anderson Cancer Center, all located within the same few blocks of the bustling Texas Medical Center, just south of downtown Houston.  Our city is not just about the energy business, we are also a center for advanced medical treatment and research.

We recently finished work on a series of annual reports for Houston Methodist Hospital, a top hospital in multiple categories.  We’ve done several healthcare photography jobs for them over the years, from advertising shoots, creating content for their corporate magazine “Leading Medicine”, and the last round of annual reports, which we finished in 2014.

The reports are beautifully designed and printed brochures (can you say, “spot UV” on all the photos?!!), each aimed at a different healthcare specialty within the hospital. There were different publications for each specialty: Heart and Vascular Care, Cancer Care and Research, Neurosciences, Transplant, and Ortho/Sports Medicine. These publications are typically not something the patient always sees. They are more typically targeted toward doctors and other healthcare professionals for a variety of reasons.

These shoots are always interesting exercises in problem solving and working fast. For instance, we might have several shoots in one day at the hospital, all with different doctors or researchers, all with hectic tight schedules. We have to scout locations quickly, light the room, test, and break it all down again to get to the next shoot on time….hopefully with enough time factored in for a quick lunch or Starbucks stop in the hospital.

There’s a lot of variety too. The shoots ranged from portraits of doctors, working shots with doctors/nurses with patients, high tech shots of researchers in labs, to actual surgeries. In my last few years of working closely with this hospital, I’ve seen heart surgeries (open and minimally invasive), a kidney transplant, knee surgeries, and even an open neurosurgery where the patient was awake for brain stimulation throughout the procedure.  Open brain surgery is truly one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.

We worked closely with MMI, the hospital’s agency for this project, and a friendly group of marketing, PR, and video professionals at the hospital. We spent a lot of time with them, and consider them not just our clients, but very good friends.

Here are a few of the layouts from this year's reports.  Check out more of our Medical and Healthcare Photography on our portfolio site.

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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.  

 

 

 

Medical Healthcare photography project for Houston Methodist Hospital

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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