Often I’m asked, “How did you do that?” Well sometimes the answer is simple and sometimes the answer is a bit more complex, but everyone that has ever met me at photography workshops, seminars and events knows I love to spread the gospel of photography and never hold back. Most recently, I’ve been frequently asked how the photographs of Playboy Playmate Monica Leigh were taken for the Evan Williams Liquor advertisement found in the current Sports Illustrated Swimwear edition and also in Maxim and Playboy.
Normally I like to keep my photographic lighting to a minimum, but in the case of that advertising photo, it was a bit more complicated as the art director, creative director, brand manager, account manager and others all wanted to provide their feedback—and when they are standing there watching you shoot, you have to treat them politely and work with them while reminding them that time is money and it’s a true team effort. Depressing the camera shutter is only 5-percent of the equation to deliver the results they demand in a short and allotted time period.
Basically I had less than a full-day to complete the shoot. Call (make-up and final set preparation) was at 7:00 a.m. and I was there bright-eyed and busy-tailed by 6:45 a.m., as no one got the message to me that call was moved to 7:45 a.m. because the model’s flights were delayed due to bad weather. However, the end time was still the same, end at 5 p.m., as the model had to be on an airplane back to Los Angeles that same day. Luckily for me, I’d arrived the day before to set the lights up and do some test runs so I’d only need to fine-tune for the model. I basically used the art director’s secretary as the stand-in for my light checks.
The set took nine lights, one main light for the model that was modified with a Chimera Oct57 Octabox (soft box) assembled in a 7-foot width. I added a medium Chimera Soft Strip with a Lighttools 40-degree grid as the fill from camera left. I also placed a small Chimera Soft Strip above the red window curtains fitted with ROSCO Cinefoil on the front so I could control any spill light to the front of the image. This strip would highlight the darker curtains a tad. Behind the make-shift window, I placed a large Chimera Soft Strip with the modeling lamp at full-power and flash tube turned off, since my white-balance was at 6000K and the modeling lamp is 3200K, I knew the color of the box would mimic the warmth of an evening sun filtering through a window.
The other five lights were fitted with 7-inch reflectors and various grids of 10- through 30-degrees were placed on their fronts to control the light path. Two were used to accent the model on each side plus another light for her hair. Another was aimed at the small table next to the model to bring out the wood color and grain. The final light was used to help illuminate the model’s purse. Several were fitted with Cinefoil to reduce spill light and to control and shape the light so I could have it exactly where I wanted it.
Once the lighting was tweaked and placed exactly where the art director and I wanted them, we then focused on the common thread of the two images that would make the ad function, the curtain rods. If you look at the advertisement you’ll notice the curtain rods, though different in shape, connect the two photographs. The importance here was to ensure the top of the model’s head was the same distance from the curtain rods in both images and that the rods were perfectly straight horizontally. It was this requirement that made me breakout a tripod, something I rarely use as I’m more accustomed to a photojournalistic style of shooting and mostly use a monopod if I need some type of stabilization.
The camera I used was the Canon 5D with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM, image stabilized lens. The tripod allowed me to keep the curtain rods straight at all times, while also locking in my distance from the model so the background would be very similar in the compression created by the lens set around 90mm effective focal length. This was very important to keep uniformity through the shoot as the model would do three complete wardrobe changes plus both final images would have to match with the curtain rods.
While the original story-board sketch provided by art director was approved by the liquor company, I asked if we could add a purse and some keys as the concept of the after picture was the model going out for the evening. Obviously the before photo, taken to simulate a bathroom, was simple and only took about thirty-minutes to shoot. The after photo, plus a lunch break, various breaks for the designer to download the Lexar digital cards and check the images in the pre-made advertising templates took a bit of time too, though often I’d be shooting on another Lexar digital card while they downloaded the previous cards.
In the end, we were done by 5 p.m., though eventually we’d learn the model’s flight had been cancelled, due to weather, but we still completed the shoot on the allotted time. While I normally do my best to work with simple set-ups for lighting, this assignment called for the more Playboy feel and I was happy to have brought enough photographic lighting gear in my Lightware cases to get the job done. Thanks and I hope to see you at one of my photography workshops someday soon and to see more higher-resolution images from this shoot, please visit my pro site by LiveBooks.com at www.RolandoGomez.com. Thanks, Rolando.