An ad agency recently hired me to shoot a series of ads for their healthcare client. The idea was to shoot a series of portraits of people who meet the target demographic for their product. Kinda tell the story of these people so that consumers can see themselves in the ads. To accomplish the shoot, I had to scout locations suitable for the shoot, find talent and put together a crew of assistants and stylists for the shoot day. The last one was the easy part; the first two were not easy.

Now, when you look at these photos, you'll probably think, "That's easy! I could have shot that." These shots don't look too complicated to pull off. The lighting seems simple enough and the people are nobody fantastic.

If you are thinking that, well, you couldn't be more wrong. Putting this shoot together took considerable time and money. First, finding the locations took some hard work. I went door to door to complete strangers houses to ask if I could photograph the inside of their house for a photo shoot. Think about it. If some stranger asked you if he could come in to shoot some photos, would you let him in? Let's just say that I had a fair amount of rejection over my two weeks of door to door hunting.

The previous photographer for this campaign resorted to using a restaurant and building a set to get his shots. My guess is that he didn't have the tenacity and chutzpah to get the interiors that he needed so he punted. I was determined not to go down that road, so I put a lot of work into finding the right interiors.

After I thought I'd nailed the scouting, the client decided that they wanted a workplace location after seeing a casting shot from my producer. So we had to switch gears and find an automotive garage in addition to the home location. That proved to be a bit easier since garages are relatively public locations.

I threw out this term "producer" so I guess I should explain. A producer or production coordinator is essential when it comes to putting ad shoots together. It's the producer's job to put the whole shoot together. A good producer will coordinate location scouting, casting, putting a crew together, arranging for permits and insurance, interfacing with the client, and putting all the essential details from phone numbers to call times in a production book that goes to photographer, client and crew. When I get a request for an estimate, my first call is to my producer since she'll be the one putting many of the numbers together. On shoot day, the producer is handling details from getting everyone fed to nailing down model releases.

Next came the casting. We needed people who were overweight. People of color. Unlike what you might think, it's not an easy task. It's much, much easier to find a tall thin 20 year old girl than a 50 year old African-American woman of heavy proportions since talent agencies favor the young and fit. We did a lot of driving and knocking on doors to find the right talent. We even spent an evening in the 'hood going up to strangers. Talk about street casting... we definitely hit the streets (with a little bit of looking over our shoulders to be safe).

Along with finding the talent, we needed to have their wardrobe and props to fill out the set. For the woman at home, we not only pulled from her wardrobe prior to the shoot, we also bought her a rack of new clothes for us to select from. For the mechanic's garage shot, I needed the right mechanic's uniform as well with name tag sewn on - everything has to look authentic. Having a wardrobe stylist who gets what what the shot is all about is invaluable.

So once we had the talent, location and crew altogether, you'd think that the rest was fairly straightforward. Think again. Both interior shots used about a dozen strobe heads to light each shot. I started with a huge 12x12 silk as my main light. I didn't want to have to rely on sunlight because a) it's weak and I didn't want to shoot at f1.4 and b) its color temperature and strength varies throughout the day. I didn't want to be chasing my exposures throughout the shoot. Using the big silk gave me the effect of daylight streaming in a window or bay door without the inconsistencies of daylight.

Next, I used my strobes in very tight beams to highlight areas of the scene that I wanted. I almost used them as layers to create a rich though believable scene. No detail was too insignificant for me to highlight. Each interior took my two assistants and me about two hours to craft. I pretty much just pointed where I wanted lights to be set up since I don't lift gear during these shoots.

Everything was shot on medium format while tethered to my laptop so that everyone could see what I was shooting. I have a favorite lens that I use that I pretty much stuck to the entire time.

The difference in my efforts, though subtle, was noticeable to the art director and client. They both voiced their opinion that they liked my work much better than the photographer who did their last shoot. Talk about music to my ears!

So here's the shots:

Believe it or not, I used about a dozen or more strobes to light this shot. We had packs, stands and heads crammed in all over the place.

The shot below was actually an add-on that was not called for in the original estimate. Since my fees are based upon the number of shots the client uses, not a day rate, I'll charge extra for this image if they want to use it in addition to the other two. This shot had the least number of lights. My 12x12 sat off to camera right and then I had a light coming into light the pots off to the right kinda like a setting sun peeping around the corner. A softbox then lit the talent so her face didn't go into shadow. Creating natural looking lighting is actually more complicated than you think.

This shot was all about picking out the detail in the background. I used two lights for the tool chest. One for my car wheel. Two for the tires in the background. The light spilling onto the shop floor was placed there just for that reason. I tried using a rim light for the subject but in the end I didn't like it. Instead he was lit by my 12x12 silk set up just behind the car. This setup was my favorite.

Finally, it's not a complete discussion of this shoot without talking about the budget. To keep things interesting, I'll offer my new Fat Cats Photoshop Actions to the first person who gets the expense portion of the budget right (basically everything except my fees). (Digital Wedding Forum members not eligible since I've already posted on this on the DWF.)

John Mireles