What a great opportunity it is to fly around the world shooting celebs for big brands. In this case, travelling to Shanghai to shoot David Beckham for a PR activation was pretty cool to say the least. Why Shanghai? No major reason. it just happened that travel plans and availability found us meeting there, in a fancy room in a luxury hotel. Air travel makes the world a very small place indeed.
The brief was comprehensive; one strong shot with Becks with BA crew/fans on a branded backdrop. Not staged or frozen… rather a fluid flow of energy. Charismatic and authentic. Time frame? Ha! Five minutes tops. It had to be quick, captivating and simple.
What I’ve learned over time is that researching your subject is key. Think career, hobbies, video’s, TV interviews, social media. Together, it all helps to get a good understanding of who you’re working with. Aside all that though, celebs are also human so being able to hold a good conversation from the start sets you off on the right path. It’s often a short and intense session. The higher the status and the bigger the entourage equals the less time you get and the higher the stakes to deliver the goods.
In order to work fast, I had set up three different shots which were rehearsed in detail beforehand with the crew and a Beckham stand-in. The set was lit with two Softbox Octa’s connected to two Pro-8a’s with air remote, so there were no unnecessary cables and no shortage of fast flash. I stripped down my gear completely using just one Canon body, a fast CF card and two lenses. The less extra gear to worry about, the more you can just focus on just managing the energy on set. One of the pilots, Mark, who worked on our Margot Robbie and Orlando Bloom shoots was also part of the team. He’s outgoing and charismatic making for a lively conversation with Beckham. Admittedly, I did have a few quirky questions to hand (see research) in case the conversation died. Beyond that, it was just a case of moving through each planned shot flawlessly.
I shot 104 frames in well under five minutes. The client handed over five edited images of which two got final approvals by Beckham’s team. So yes, it all worked out as planned. Seamless, fast and resulting in the delivery of two cracking PR shots.
How to summarise a stunning year in one word? … Blessed.
It is a true blessing to work with so many amazing clients seeking to go that extra mile, athletes who are at the top of their game and so many interesting, inspiring and courageous people. Yip, 2015 has been a pretty awesome year and I’m very grateful for all that’s happened.
The last five or so years, I’ve written a recap post reflecting back on the twelve months behind me and every year I make the same observation about the speed of our lives. Consumed by the digital rat race, we play a constant juggling game between family, work and play. So much happens that unless I sit down and recap, I forget about all the great opportunities that have landed on my plate… and I forget, I realise, to often appreciate it all and say ‘Thank You!’
This year, I decided to keep my post short and sweet by sharing my six lessons from 2015. They’re in no particular order…
Nothing happens in isolation.
Simply nothing happens in isolation. Nothing. An idea might come from a quiet place but only grows once it’s out in the open. I built my own Studio//73 with the help of others. I work with creative talent to build greater books and deliver amazing shoots. As a brand ambassador and influencer, it’s about sharing the buzz about our industry. My behind the scenes videos is about giving back. We attract what we put out in the world and great ideas are worth spreading.
Be open to new things.
In 2015, we finally wrapped up the Falcons of Arabia book project… something we’ve worked on for 2 ½ years. Sure, we’ve produced over a dozen books but the sport of Falconry was new to me. Why it landed on my plate, I still don’t know, but I grabbed the opportunity. New topics require a great deal of research, study and learning… and in the process you evolve personally and connect with an entirely new crowd. This project meant immersing myself into the Emirati world of Falconry which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m grateful for this opportunity and for being raised in a culture where exploring new things was always encouraged. And thankfully, I still have all ten fingers!
Turn thinking into doing.
In March, I spent a week solo in The Empty Quarter, which is the second biggest desert in the world. An entire week ‘off the grid’… self sufficient and without any digital connection, it was a week of pure quality time in nature away from the digital rat race that consumes us. I named it ‘Project Pause – The Empty Quarter’. I thought about it for twelve months or so but once I’d made the commitment to just go, there was a complete shift in my mind. Suddenly, I found myself saying, “In March, I’m going on…” and as luck would have it, brands, friends and clients all picked up on it and wanted to support. Wow. With a bit of cash, my thinking was to produce a cool film about the experience, with the aim of inspiring others to find a Project Pause of their own. And so it happened…
Be patient. Good things will happen, when you least expect.
A gig that pushed the boundaries in 2015 was shooting two big Hollywood stars. Two weeks prior, I got a call… “Are you available on the 5th of November. Please say yes”. Euan and I had worked on a gig in 2012, shooting the world’s biggest golf players in the world’s biggest bunker. This time he pitched a similar idea to do a shoot of Margot Robbie in the same stunning desert landscape. We did just that and the results were amazing. One led to another and the next day, I found myself on the Hyatt hotel’s rooftop helipad shooting Orlando Bloom. Clearly the story isn’t quite this short as there was all the pre-production to think about, but the message is there. Creating great work leads to new work. Yes it might take time, but when it does, it rocks! This story is just one of a few. In March, I flew to Kuwait for ten days to shoot some amazing fast cars. This opportunity came out of the blue, but it also sort of didn’t…
Create from who you are… and do what you love.
As many of you know, I’m a big outdoor and adventure guy. For that reason I tend to attract like-minded lifestyle brands as clients. Attracting them is one thing but turning their briefs into real, RAW imagery is where the real challenge comes in. I put it simple, you have to work with real people in real places. With Adventure HQ, we went on a five day photo gig, touring the best locations and shooting the best possible content. Yes we got fried, dehydrated and sleep deprived but hell did we capture the real stuff. For Lululemon, it was all about creating the unstaged moments with their pro ambassadors. Creating the unstaged isn’t easy but if you can bring passion and positive energy to the shoot, it’s certainly do-able. My love for the great outdoors has been with me since childhood but turning it into a source of business has required patience and the constant seeking of opportunities.
Learn to let go.
I normally start a gig with a clear vision in my head, knowing what imagery I want to get out of the shoot. Most of the time this works but not always. When you find yourself swimming upstream, there really is great value in letting go and leaving the shoot to chance. Just letting it flow. I’m not saying to settle on anything less but to allow something different to pan out. Just let things happens as they are meant to be. I’m a big believer in this and it works. Try it.
So there you have it. My lessons from my humble observations working as a photographer, a producer, a storyteller and an aspiring filmmaker. Our futures lie in our own hands and are transformed by the actions we take day in, day out and by the people that influence our lives. 2016 will bring amazing opportunities so make sure you’re ready to grab them with both hands.
The most noticeable things about working with Hollywood stars is that the stakes are high, shoots come with lengthly pre-meetings, you’re seriously time limited and the entourage on set is enormous. But when it all comes together… when the shoot runs smoothly and the crew is happy… it’s so rewarding and such a cool thing to do. Recently, I experienced just that, shooting the gorgeous Margot Robbie for a big British Airways PR push.
We used the stunning Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort as our base before venturing off into the desert. The Empty Quarter has no shortage of shooting options, yet a recce did prove to be a worthwhile exercise to stake out the best location for capturing the afternoon light yet remaining in close proximity to the resort. All in all, we had a time limit of 1 ½ hours on site. Margot was a complete joy to work with… hard not to be perhaps when in the company of six good looking pilots (her words…)! Dressed in Burberry, she remained effortlessly down to earth with bare feet and a sense of adventure. Here are the final three images that made it to the press along with a few behind the scenes images.
I timed it so we would capture the very best of the afternoon light, making our way into sunset. During the recce, we picked a varied mix of dunes as the ultimate backdrop. I mostly shot using the light available supplemented with a bit of fill in flash to knock off some shadows. To keep the client in the loop with the images I was shooting, I used the CamRanger, which transfers the jpgs from the camera straight to an iPad screen. This is great as the team could stay involved with feedback and approvals and it’s easier for me to absorb images on a larger screen than on a 3” LCD one.
Quick doodle visualising shot list.
Behind the scenes image by Kish
Rehearsals / Behind the scenes image by Kish
It’s always awesome to look back and trail how shooting opportunities land in the calendar. This gig came thanks to another I did in the Empty Quarter back in 2012, when I shot golf legends Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer. Euan, who worked for Abu Dhabi PR at the time, now heads his own agency called MCS Action, so when the Margot Robbie gig came up, he called me up straight away. Thanks for reaching out.