I was recently hired to create the photos for a company website relaunch project. The creative briefing involved meeting with the marketing director and general manager, reviewing the look book provided by their web designers and brainstorming on what we could do to make the portraits and products look interesting, authentic and fresh in line with the new look planned for the site.
The look we were trying to achieve was industrial, showing real people in contexts related to the nature of the work they do (manufacturing and refurbishing various barrels, pails, buckets, oil drums and related myriad accessories). We immediately discussed shooting the portraits in a second factory location currently in the process of being dismantled. As the decommissioning of our shooting location was active, we needed to move quickly from planning to shooting to ensure there would still be machinery and interesting materials to work with to create our setups.
I visited the factory location a day before shooting day to scope out some locations. I wandered through the furnace where once steel oil drums were burnished and formed, along rails they used to roll along that passed in front of a paint room with walls Jackson Pollack would envy, letting visual ideas come to me as I wandered. In the central area workers were cutting through large machines to be hauled off for scrap, their arc welders casting off sprays of sparks like oversized sparklers on a birthday cake. The floor was covered in dust and tracks from various vehicles and dollies had criss-crossed it leaving patterns like you’d see on a road of recently fallen snow.
On shooting day, I arrived early and created three set-ups: one by a stack of wonderfully aged and multi-coloured palettes; another in a room with a vast collection of black standing oil drums waiting for their final delivery; and a third in the furnace room before a gnarly, beast of a machine with pipes and vents protruding from it like a patient on life support.
The subjects, real people, not models, some of whom clearly had not had much, if any, experience with a professional photographer, arrived in time slots, 5 at a time. I decided to try to shoot each in a slight different spot, giving each a unique portrait that would all be thematically linked and visually consistent, but different enough to convey a sense of the uniqueness of each individual.
It went exceedingly well, and both my client and I was pleased with the results. I realized that a big part of the success of this shoot was having the leeway from the client to be creative and have fun with the shoot, within the framework agreed to ahead of time. As well, the subjects themselves, initially a little nervous and awkward soon found themselves enjoying the experience and contributing ideas for setups and locations that improved the final images.
And all of it was done within a few productive days. No long lead up or series of creativity-sapping meetings, no layers of approvals or complicated lighting setups. We worked with what we had, in an authentic environment marked by time and delivered a set of unique portraits that will breathe new life into the forthcoming website, a far cry above the standard, dull, headshot-against-seamless-white background that everyone has seen thousands of time.
The difference really, was this shoot started with an idea we collaborated on – photographer, client and subjects – to create something together.