A Hands-Off Approach to Real-People Shoots

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By Holly Stuart Hughes


The goal for the new LensCrafters ads, explains Joe Kayser, Group Creative Director at Cutwater, was to position the company as a provider of eye care, rather than just a retailer of eyeglasses. As Kayser explains it, his pitch to LensCrafters was, "You're going to talk to everybody, not just someone who's 48 and needs bifocals." The creatives at Cutwater envisioned photos of all of LensCrafters' potential customers, shot in a photojournalistic style. But to get the look, the images needed to be shot in a photojournalistic way – like a Life magazine photographer roaming the country on a long assignment.   Once the team chose photographer Bil Zelman for his relaxed, slice of life people photography,  Kayser  convinced the clients that if they wanted the kind of authenticity they were looking for, then they could not go to the shoot, and he couldn’t be there, either.

Kayser recalls, "I said if you're going to get what we've been seeing in the comps, the photographer can't worry about us hanging back during the shoots and checking the shots."

Instead, Zelman wrote up a treatment for how he would photograph a variety of demographics and show them having fun. Then he and a minimal crew spent two weeks driving to four locations in California—city, country, indoor, outdoor—shooting a variety of scenarios. To find real-people subjects, producers Megan Power and Heather Smith called friends and advertised on Craigslist. They wanted people in each ad to have real-life relationships. “If someone looked interesting, we’d ask if they had a wife or kids or friends who could come along,” Zelman says. The models were not styled, and those who wore eyeglasses in a shot were allowed to pick out their own frames.

For each group, Zelman set up scenarios, then photographed their reactions: He got a magician to entertain the kids in his neighborhood; for some adults, he set up a wine party on a rooftop in San Francisco. He says the shoots would have felt less natural if the client and AD had been on the set.  "Then it feels like a real photo shoot, and they start worrying what's expected of them, and start acting for the camera.

Zelman recalls, “At the end of every day, we FedEx’d a DVD with JPEGs to Joe, and he would stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. editing them, then he’d send me a PDF of his favorite selects and we’d discuss them,” Zelman explains. As the shoot went on, art producer Justine Shockett made sure that all the demographics LensCrafters wanted to reach—from kids to baby boomers—had been shown, some with eyeglasses, and most without.
 
In the end, Zelman shot 22,000 images. LensCrafter licensed 25 for online use, out of home ads and in-store displays. To unify the images into a single campaign, the images were tinted and the eye of someone in each shot is highlighted with the redesigned LensCrafters logo that resembles eyelashes. Print ads are running in a wide variety of parenting, sports, and general interest magazines.
 

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