I collaborated with the great team at Variable on a video / stills integrated shoot for National Geographic Channel’s newest season of Taboo. In one day, Variable’s Jon, Khalid, Tyler and crew shot on the video portion while I focussed on the still campaign images.
We had a great set built by our friend Joe Sciacca using old barn wood for the floor and a hand painted background. It was all installed in the B2PRO Studio space in NYC, which allowed us minimal transportation of lights and a great team of gear experts on set.
For those who haven’t seen it, Taboo explores customs or practices that are acceptable in some cultures, but forbidden, illegal or shocking in others. The subject of the main print ad was “puppy play”. In a nutshell, this taboo involves subjects who enjoy dressing up as dogs and getting in touch with their deep animalistic instincts. Here’s one of the final print ads in a portrait orientation:
My favorite part about this shoot was using constant light. Since we had a video and still shoot happening at the same time, it made the most sense for everyone to share the same equipment. The quality of good constant light is beautiful and hard to replicate with strobes.
The lighting setup is extremely simple by nature but is something that always works- one extremely soft light source wrapping around the entire scene. In this case, it was a 10k Tungsten bulb through a Briese Focus 180. This light was then channeled through an 8×8 frame with single stop silk, providing an additional layer of diffusion which created and even softer light source. This is all expensive stuff, but it is mostly just replicating daylight through a giant window. On the opposite side camera right, we had a simple piece of white foam-core providing a slight bounce / fill in the shadows. My camera was medium format digital – a Phase One P65+ DIGI back with Phase One / Mamiya 645 camera.
More importantly than the technical details of the lighting is the thought process behind the image. During the pre-production (the most important part of any shoot), we played around with the word “taboo” in our head.
Our first approach was to stay as far away as we could from smutty, dirty looking pictures. In my opinion, that would be too easy. Something “Taboo” may be dark, weird, or shunned by society, but these brave souls are willing to show it to the world and share their story on national television. These are subjects who we want to approach as humanistic portraits. Dignified.
Thanks to the lovely Aurora and Ekaterina for channeling their inner puppy for the shoot!!