This summer I was asked to help out Citrix Systems with creating two libraries in one shoot; one for the specific purpose of a large trade show in Tokyo, and the 2nd for ongoing general marketing purposes. Citrix has about 6000 employees worldwide and about $2.2B in annual revenue. The main idea behind the shoot was to show off their technologies of “The Cloud”; using servers to facilitate ‘working on the go’ with all kinds of devices. For example, see your high-res files or an Excel doc from your office computer while you are out at Starbucks. We decided to do this shoot in two straight consecutive days near, and at their offices in Santa Clara, CA. It became clear very quickly that the two biggest challenges of the shoot were to be capturing the sheer amount different imagery needed, and finding real Japanese talent, which for whatever reason, is not easy. I guess not many Japanese Americans or Japanese Nationals living in the U.S. are in the modeling business. For the problem of capturing enough imagery we decided to hire 2 additional photographers, Ronny Knight, and Caterina Bernardi. We decided to use “real” people instead of regular professional models. Although we set up the casting to find “real” people, I actually wanted to hire professionally trained actors. This was to be a lifestyle shoot so I find pro actors to work the best. Models can sometimes come off looking not authentic and it is risky to cast inexperienced people as talent, especially when trying to set up group dynamic imagery. We decided to cast in-house drawing actors as much as possible. I like to do this when possible because if I’m at the studio it gives me a chance to meet the talent in person and get a feel for how natural they are. Over the course of 4 days we had around 2000 people come through the studio. We ended up hiring 24 people. We hired Christine Featherstone as our stylist with her assistant Kate. They did a great job dressing up 24 people and helped in providing dozens of device props, like Samsung Galaxies, iPads, iPhones, MacBook Airs, Macbook Pros, PC laptops, etc. Rene Rael provided great makeup help with her assistant. Ronny and Caterina did a great job capturing images. I spent my time wearing many different hats. At times I shot, but a lot of the time I was looking at a monitor to see what was coming in, or I was looking around for interesting locations, or giving feedback to Ronny and Caterina and providing them with new ideas. Although I shot about a third of the photos I was operating as a director a lot of the time and I really enjoyed it. At the end of two days we ended capturing more than 24,000 images! Thank you to everyone for making this shoot a great success, especially the ultra fantastic creative director Sander Leech!
Christie’s International Real Estate handles dealmaking for some of the world’s most expensive residential real estate listings. They hired me for the third time to take on what I think is a particularly interesting property so I’m putting it on my blog. The property is a 10,000 acre horse ranch located near the Monterey Bay in Paicines, California- a town you’ve probably never heard of. You can drive through the downtown in about 4 seconds. The property was designed by noted architect Atelier Ugo Sap for it’s owner the famous leveraged buyout investor George Roberts of KKR. Mr. Roberts is #104 on the Forbes 400. If you are interested in purchasing the property the listing price is a reasonable $32,000,000. It does has 4 bedrooms! But consider it has a full time salaried staff of 15 people to operate and maintain the property. The house is beautiful and I really enjoyed being there and finding interesting angles. Thank you for everyone’s help on the job.
Digital Realty Corporate is a large data center provider (enterprise value over $12B). They have over 100 properties worldwide that operate in 30 different markets. They are basically large anonymous buildings that are filled with racks and racks of server equipment, air conditioners, security, generators, and UPS power back-up systems. It’s facilities like these that keep the world’s largest and most important websites and financial data safe and accessible at all times, even during a hurricane. I was contacted by Audra Brown, principal at design firm Brown 365. They were on a very tight timeline and asked if I could shoot stills for their annual report, AND shoot a video, all in about 3 days from the day I got the call. They signed the estimate right away and we plunged into pre-production. Sean Cope of Sean Cope Pictures was instrumental in making the video pre-production come together. Sean secured a gaffer, key grip, grip truck, camera operators, and sound engineers within a day. I went from shooting the Hasselblad for stills to shooting video seamlessly with the team. During the video portion I went to the role of director and stood by the monitor to watch and listen and direct all the departments.
Below we are posting the video, and some of the still imagery. Thanks to everyone who helped and to Digital Realty.
Shot for Google Local recently. It was studio shots with the concept that you all kinds of people can find all kinds of things if they just have their phone in their pocket. We hired a lot of different talent because they were looking at markets from everything to financial district lunch, 5 star dinner out, young girl out shopping to a beach vacation. Since it was all to be shot on a white seamless in studio, it all came down to styling to make the different looks. That’s why I hired the wonderful Kasey Wicker http://artistuntied.com/kaseyblue/kasey-blue-lifestyle-wardrobe/. She did a great job dressing everyone up Thank you to Cass Forsyth from Google for client side art direction. Success!
I was awarded the honorable assignment by my fantastic client of many years, Meyer Sound, to photograph Francis Ford Coppola. Meyer Sound is an industry leader in state-of-the-art commercial sound systems. Their products are considered to be the best in the business and they recently launched a new product line for cinematic applications. Francis Ford Coppola and Meyer have had a long-standing, mutualistic relationship in cutting-edge technology of cinema presentation. Mr. Coppola has taken a liking to their latest cinema products. The new products have been installed in the American Zoetrope post-production facility at Mr. Coppola’s private winery estate in Napa, California. Mr. Coppola is endorsing the product and that is where I come in. Meyer Sound needs location portraiture of Mr. Coppola for their advertising and they have asked us to help them get the photos they need.
We begin working with Meyer Sound and Mr. Coppola’s production staff to begin the planning of the shoot. The first step is a meeting with Meyer Sound and their ad agency at the Meyer Sound headquarters in Berkeley, California. We look at existing photos of Mr. Coppola and make a creative decision on the direction of this photography. They need genuine and sincere portraiture of Mr. Coppola. We decide that the best location to do this is at his actual estate in Napa and the location of the sound system installation. The two main reasons behind this are: his estate is where he genuinely does his daily work, and, it is a beautiful setting for photography. Both the vineyard and his post-production facility are great places to shoot.
The next step is scouting the location. I meet with Meyer Sound and the Zoetrope folks at the estate for a scouting tour. We see the whole facility and record compass readings for sunlight angles as we move through all the photogenic locations. We present the location options to Meyer and their creative soon afterwards and decide on two locations; the vineyard, and the post-production facility. These are both great locations, but, both will require extensive set-up, and we only have one hour to photograph Mr. Coppola. Everything must be set up well in advance and, be absolutely ready for shooting the moment the famous subject arrives. I decide to bring in my favorite lighting technician, Jeremy Launais, an excellent motion picture gaffer based out of Los Angeles.
With the knowledge that the work would start early in the morning, the Zoetrope folks graciously invited me to stay on the on the property the night before the shoot. Jeremy jumped on a flight from L.A. and we drove up there the day before to begin pre-production and initial lighting set-up. After some successful lighting tests, Jeremy and I had a great dinner at the Rutherford Grill, and retired early.
After a great night sleep in the guest house we woke up around 5am to get ready. Soon afterwards the camera tech, and key grip, Larkin Donley, and William Preston, arrive. It is still dark outside. As soon as there is a little light outside, we move out to the vineyard location to set up the 12×12 frames, lighting, generators, and cameras. It is a beautiful morning.
Photograph by Susanna Corcoran – http://www.circa1973.com/
Photograph by Susanna Corcoran – http://www.circa1973.com/
Photograph by Susanna Corcoran – http://www.circa1973.com/
After setup and tests we are ready to go with some time to spare, so, we have some coffee and bagels with the wonderful folks from Meyer Sound. Mr. Coppola shows up right on time and right away our makeup artist, Hether Beckrest, from Workgroup LTD, begins her magic. Soon afterwards, Mr. Coppola arrived on set. I would have loved to chit-chat with the master of cinema, but, there is not enough time for that. I had already photographed Thomas Mars, father of his Grandson with his daughter Sofia, for Apple Computer’s iTunes. There was not enough time to bring it up and start a conversation because the job at hand was number one in importance, and, had a limited amount of time. We begin shooting right away after brief friendly greetings. Mr. Coppola is obviously very professional and easy to work with.
Photograph by Susanna Corcoran – http://www.circa1973.com/
Photograph by Susanna Corcoran – http://www.circa1973.com/
Photograph by Susanna Corcoran – http://www.circa1973.com/
After shooting in the vineyard we had 30 minutes to move to the next location in all wheel drive vehicles and, ready the cameras in the next location, the Zoetrope Library. The lighting had already been setup in the library so we only needed to get the cameras and laptop connected to begin shooting. Everything went smoothly from here on and we finished right on time. Thank you to Meyer Sound, Mr. Coppola, the American Zoetrope staff, and my crew for making this a great success.
A few weeks after the shoot the people at Zoetrope contacted me to inquire about using one of the photos as well because Mr. Coppola was fond of it. It was an honor and we struck a usage deal.
The Capital Corrodor is an express train between the SF Bay and California’s capital Sacramento. The trains are owned by the California Joint Powers Authority but are operated by Amtrak. They are promoting this as a great way for people to commute between those two places and be able to work at the same time and travel without traffic or delays. I was contacted by Capital Corridor’s design firm Neuwirth Krayna Design. I was given great direction and we went to multiple locations to get some shots I was really happy with. Thank you to Kristie at Capital Corridor and Neuwirth Krayna Design!
Homewood Suites – Florida – December, 2009.
Video by Larkin Donley
I received a call to see if I was available to shoot again for Homewood Suites, one of the hotel chains in the Hilton Family. I did a panoramic shoot for them earlier in the year in Texas and Georgia. They sounded happy with the photography and wanted to do a similar shoot, this time with talent. It is always fantastic to be invited back by a great client. This next shoot would take place in December, 2009 near West Palm Beach, Florida.
When I was told this would be a shoot with talent, the first thing I asked myself was: how many hot lights can I fit in these hotel rooms? The first shoot was architecture only, which means there were no people. Having no people in the shot meant I could shoot at any shutter speed I cared for because there was no movement I needed to “freeze”. So, I decided to use hot lights. I subcontracted motion picture gaffers and grip trucks in both Dallas and Atlanta. Hot lights are great to work with because like any normal light bulb, you see what you get. When more light power is needed to freeze movement, strobe lights are generally employed because they give off a tremendous amount of energy in a short burst. This saves energy, requires less equipment, puts off less heat, is less expensive, etc. But, it is very nice to use hot lights, if you don’t have to freeze action…
But now, I have been asked to create the same look, but with people. I will need a tremendous amount of additional light to freeze the models’ movement. What I’m concerned about is: How many hot lights can I have set up in this tight space before I set off the fire sprinklers? Hot lights are named by description; they are very hot. Gloves must be worn to protect the hands and tremendous power is needed to run them. Only the smallest of lights can be plugged into a household outlet (1200 watts or smaller). I know we’ll need a lot more than that. The thing I’m not sure about is: at what temperature will the fire extinguishers in the ceiling be set off? I have heard of it happening and I’m going to make sure it won’t happen on this shoot.
Here is a final use of a photo I did for Homewood on the previous shoot. I believe this ad ran in the Wall Street Journal.
Working with my gaffer, Jeremy, we determined we would need around 25,000 watts of light. Next, we figured out how we could set up that many hot lights without without overpowering the room (and the fire sprinklers). We decided on replicating the sun for our key light. This was a great solution. By putting a 10k light outside and shining it through the window, we would able to dissipate the majority of the heat right out into the Florida air. The rest of the lights inside could be handled by the air conditioning.
So, Jeremy set off finding a key grip and a grip truck in Florida. He found Marty, and a 4 ton grip truck with a 50,000 watt generator. Meanwhile, Stacey, producer extraordinaire, started working on booking talent, wardrobe styling, prop styling, and makeup in Florida. Stacey, myself, my SF crew, and the agency would fly out from SF. Jeremy flew from L.A. And the client flew out from their offices. Here is a final shot and some behind the scenes. Thanks for all your great work everyone!
(Shot at night using artificial light through exterior window)
My next art project/portfolio shoot will take us up in elevation. My quest is to photograph all around California. I want to make a series of work that uses our backyard of scenery here in California. But, I don’t necessarily want any of the shots to look like they are actually from California. In any case, a major geographic feature of California is the Sierra Mountains. That is where we are headed next. I really want to work with our friend Kasey Wicker on this project because she is a fantastic wardrobe stylist, and I know she will bring a lot of cool ideas to the shoot. Kasey Wicker is represented by Artist Untied in San Francisco.
The second commonality in this series, in addition to being shot in beautiful California locations, is the animals. I want there to be animals in all the shots. For the Sierras I decide I would like to have wolves for the shoot. This turns out to be the hardest animal to source so far on these shoots. Eventually we find Debbie Valenta. Debbie runs a wild wolf rescue operation out of Nevada in the high desert. We contract with her to bring two wolves, Nina and Suki, up into the Sierras for our shoot. Suki is somewhat domesticated but, Nina is a completely wild wolf.
On choosing the talent I decide that it would be visually interesting to create an Asiatic feel to the setting. I was thinking of the mountains of northern Japan, where I had heard they typically receive a tremendous amount of rainfall every year. We find Ashley Ying, a beautiful female model from the Look Model Agency in San Francisco.
For makeup I am able to secure Meaganne McCandess, a fantastic artist who is also represented by Artist Untied. We get a permit from the Forestry Department of the Lake Tahoe National Forest and find a house to rent and work out our dates. A few days before we leave a big storm begins to roll through Northern California. It’s April but it looks like it is going to snow, even this late in the season. I almost decide to scrub it but after taking a really close look at the storm I determine it should work out pretty well with our timing and should not affect our ability to get around. It might even make it possible for us to have some real snowfall during the shooting, which would be really cool. We get on our way to the mountains and check in to the house.
Everyone arrives and we make food and hang out. The wolves are so cool to watch.
On shoot day we wake up to a mild snowstorm and everything looks good. We decide on shooting in an area that is not too high in elevation and is not too far from the house. Kasey starts her work with wardrobe at the house.
We head out to the shooting location and start setting up the lighting.
As Larkin and Sarah are helping with set-up Meaganne works her magic with great makeup and theatrical ice crystals.
It was a dream I had that inspired the second shoot of the current series I am working on. The dream contained a difficult exodus through the desert from a large calamity. I’m not sure where it came from but I think it was inspired from my visions of potential shoot locations. I have been thinking about shooting in the desert and this dreamscape eventually became the foundation of the creative behind the photography I set out to create. I began compiling artwork to sharpen my vision. I found an interesting painting by the French artist Fernand Cormon called “Flying Before Jehovah’s Curse”.
My last shoot, a photograph of a red-headed girl in the redwoods with a red horse, seemed like a big production to fund for an art project. I knew this new project in the desert was going to surpass the redwood shoot by a long way. I’m looking at a shoot far away from home, and far away from everything. Plus, there would be 7 times the amount of talent. Am I getting too ambitious? I have decided firmly on pushing ahead. This was a shoot I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I start with my location. I’m looking at the Inland Empire, the vast area of desert to the east of Los Angeles. The Inland Empire is geologically comprised of 25,000 square miles (not acres) of arid desert and mountains. I set my sights on the Mojave Desert. I’m looking for a location that will take us out of this world, hopefully to a place that evokes the Sahara. I want to find sand dunes. I call the Inland Empire Film Commission to ask some questions, and get come advice. They recommend the Dumont Dunes. I use two of my favorite tools, Google Earth, and Google Images, to check out the area. I’m worried about the off-roading (OHV) activity in the area but I determine that with some post-production work we will be able to remove tire tracks. My studio manager, Amanda Warren, steps in as producer for the shoot and starts working on casting. We put out an online casting call for L.A. for actors, and she starts looking for animals. I’d like to find a camel.
It’s time to have our first creative meeting. Everyone comes to the studio. Elizabeth Rutledge and Ebony Haight are on wardrobe. Corey Evans and Brett Bachtle are on props. Kristy White, theatrical makeup artist for ACT, will handle that department. We all talk about the shoot using printouts of all the talent and the location. Elizabeth and Ebony bring a fantastic spread of wardrobe garments. We work out the tentative dates and everyone seems to be excited about the shoot.
We finalize all the talent, animals (llama and chickens- no camel), book the closest lodging we can find, and we start planning the drive down to the desert. All the talent and most of the female crew will stay in the motel that is about 25 miles away. The rest of us will stay in tents and the moho. Brett says he is bringing a giant tent from India and I’m pretty excited to see that. We purchase 4 additional tents, plenty of water, and a lot of food. My assistants come very early in the morning and we finalize all the gear packing. It’s still dark when everyone else arrives. We load up the motorhome pretty quickly and get on our way. There are 3 vehicles and a trailer in the caravan.
It takes us about 10 hours to drive all the way to the Dumont Dunes. It is quite a hike. I am happy we all get down there without any problems and that it is still light out when we arrive. I can’t believe how tall the sand dunes are. They are like small mountains.
We quickly start putting the camp together. It all goes pretty smoothly. Brett’s tent is gigantic and is a made of a really nice, natural fabric.
The next day the ATVs and dune buggy arrive from Las Vegas. This will be our way of getting around in the sand. The area is quite huge and I spend hours scouting out where we are going to shoot. Finding clean sand in an accessible place with a nice view turns out to be very challenging.
The next day we wake up bright and early to begin work. I take one more last ride out in the dune buggy to scout out a location and unfortunately it breaks down in the furthest spot away from the camp. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I rolled it the day before. Sorry Elizabeth! Luckily I brought a VHF marine radio, which Brett also had, because the walkie talkie was not working at that range. I had to climb up on one of the sand dunes to reach Brett. Brett has an awesome Range Rover that he drove all the way around the dunes to pick me up. I could see them coming from the top of the mountain from miles away. It was cool to watch the little speck of the vehicle makes it way all the way through the desert to me.
Everyone is busy at work. Ebony and Elizabeth are busy with wardrobe at the motel. It’s the same with Kristy on makeup. Corey and Brett are very busy setting the elaborate props. In addition to bringing a fantastic amount of props, they also had the clever idea to stop at the Mojave Airport airplane gravesite on the way down. There they found all kinds of cool old airplane parts they rented from the management.
The animals show up. In addition to the llama, the animal wranglers surprised us when a zebra also walked out of the back of the trailer. They had just come from another shoot that needed a zebra so she just came along. They generously offered the zebra for the photograph but I declined because I didn’t think it would make sense to have a zebra next to a llama. I mean, do you know anyone who put a zebra next to a llama? It’s unheard of.
My crew and I begin setting up equipment in the shooting area. It’s a lot of transportation work getting the equipment out there. It’s really great having Brett’s Range Rover there. The shooting area is on a large, flat spot that has fairly easy access to it.
The talent is all ready so they are brought out to the shooting area. The animals are walked out as well.
Everything is looking good except for some unexpected, and not forecasted cloud cover. I decide we can make it work in post-production so we begin shooting.
I’m very happy with the images as they come up on the screen. The location is amazing and all the work everyone has done is simply amazing. I was so impressed with all the work the crew has masterfully completed. Thanks everyone!!!
I am finally getting started on my next photographic series. I have decided to shoot an ongoing series at interesting locations throughout California. I don’t really want the images all to really like they are from California, I just want to take advantage of the wide variety of beautiful terrain that exists right here in the backyard of my beloved state. I have started out mentally making a list of the different types of terrain available to me. I have picked Coastal Redwoods as my first to shoot in. I want each location to have people and animals. Each setting needs to be tied together with color and props and I don’t want anything to look contemporary. I also want lighting. It’s shaping up to look like fantasy and I’m going with it. It’s going to be big.
I have been planning these shots for about half a year. It’s looking like a lot of the locations are going to be far from civilization so I decided to buy an RV to make a production motorhome. It will serve as the mothership for production operations. It will provide transportation, shelter, facilities, storage, a place for talent to change, and electricity to power the lights. It’s already been used on a regular job too. After delivery it went straight to Yosemite to shoot the valley for the company called Cisco. That was a story in of itself of shooting on the edge of a very tall cliff, but I’ll try to stay on topic here. So time for the introduction of the moho. We call her Brontosaurus. Marie is helping out here to provide scale. This photograph proves the notion that you don’t get a lot of house square footage for your dollar in the community of Sausalito.
So, first step is to find the proper location. This is a bit tricky because this is probably the single most important decision. It has to be beautiful, accessible, legal, safe, and of course conducive to a scene to be photographed. I want the location to look impressive. The coastal redwoods of California are the tallest living species on the planet and I want them to look that way. I call Muir Woods National Monument first just because it is close. The ranger and I decide together on the phone that it’s not going to work out there. There are too many tourists. I take a look around Google and map out four more possibilities that are somewhat local. Since it will be a really nice drive I take a cruise through Marin and on up the coast on Highway 1 to the Russian River. None of the places grab me, so, I call Jim Baldwin, location scout extraordinaire. Jim has helped me out on regular work before. For the Crystal Geyser job he found us a really cool house built on a bridge that spanned a canyon. The house actually floated above the canyon from one ridge to another. I digress. Jim sends me a list of three or four properties, with photos. Two look really interesting. One isn’t available, so, I call the nice Ravella family and take a look at their amazing property, on the Russian River, near Monte Rio. I have found my location. It’s flat, has a beautiful grove, and is private. I had driven right past it on my own scouting mission but without the help of a location scout I probably would have never found the place.
It’s time to assemble the cast and crew. Because of the red color of the trees, I decide I want a girl with really red hair. I want her to look as if she is from a far off time. Maybe the past or the future. I want to leave some things to the imagination of the viewer. For the lead star, I decide on Lija Yee, professional model from Latvia who is also a great friend and wife of very good friend from high school days. I start assembling the crew. Rene Rael on makeup. Shannon Dunn on wardrobe. Marie on production help. And, last but not least, Matt Scott, Ian Webb, and Anouk Kluyskens as lighting and camera assistants.
Lastly, I need to find the animal. I want a red haired horse. Rather than call an animal wrangler, I just put an ad on craigslist, another great suggestion from Corey. I just didn’t think people with horses were perusing the talent section on craigslist, but I was wrong. I received 10 emails in a day. The lovely Kim Hudson and Karen Sullivan agree to bring their two beautiful horses in two horse trailers.
We arrive at the Ravella residence mid morning and get to work. We get generators and lights set up in the forest. We are using a 12 foot by 12 foot silk to light a large area and needs to be raised high in the air and secured. I want there to be a powerful backlight with visible rays of light coming through the forest. I scouted the sun angles to determine the time; it looks as if it should work well from 3-5pm. It will mean constantly shifting the lighting, but it I think it will be worth it. There is nothing like light from the sun. To make the sun rays we rent the largest smoke machine available and some powerful fans. It works great, at first, but quickly proves challenging in the later part of the day because the winds become shifty and unpredictable. For 10 minutes the air moves from west to east, so we place the smoker accordingly. Soon, it changes, so, we have to move the smoker 75 yards. It is somewhat heavy, requires power, and has burning hot parts on it. Someone is standing by constantly on the generator.
Shannon and Rene finish the wardrobe and makeup and they bring Lija to the set. Rene does an excellent job on a tough hair extension job but it looks great. They walk her to the set as if she’s some kind of elf bride. We bring the horses over. They are surprisingly calm and I’m relieved but I realize later it’s not a good thing. We start shooting and everything works really well. We are shooting with a Hasselblad 40mm with Phase One P45 back. It’s tethered to the laptop and I’m seeing shots as they come up and I’m really happy. We start out shooting Lija with the white horse and the horse is generally bored looking and has its ears pointing backwards a lot. Lija and I talk about how we can try to improve the situation.
Someone opens up a photo reflector and it spooks the horse. Now all of a sudden, the horse looks really captivating to me. Marie takes the large, open, reflector dish and starts running all round the forest holding the reflector dish up in the air, waving it around. She looks as if she’s gone mad and everyone is laughing, but the horse is amazed at the sight. I start shooting fast and we get our first shot.
We move on to the red horse. I wish I could remember the name. I think it was Fireworks. The color of its coat, Lija’s hair, and the redwoods are perfect. Shannon takes Lija for a wardrobe change. While we are waiting for the wardrobe their is an opportunity for my wife Marie to pet the horses.
We finish out the rest of the day shooting wide-angle shots as the sun gets lower in the sky. I’m happy with the results, It’s a wrap!