How I Got That Shot: Liz Von Hoene’s Versatile Approach

October 23, 2012

By Holly Stuart Hughes

© Liz Von Hoene/Stockland Martel

An image for the Rebecca Moses campaign Liz Von Hoene shot.

When Liz Von Hoene is asked to bid on an assignment, she often illustrates her ideas for executing the campaign through a collection of images or written text. “Our process begins with a conference call with the agency. If we are given the opportunity to come up with additional creative elements to a project, we run with it,” the Atlanta-based commercial photographer explains.

Whether she’s creating a “poppy” look for clients like Target or Crystal Light, shooting fashion in the studio or on location for clients like Neiman Marcus and Kate Spade, or portraits for clients like Diet Pepsi, her technique changes to match the concept she wants to deliver.

“One should not notice the lighting in my work,” she says. “My work is about carrying through a vision and then capturing an emotion, with maybe a bit of whimsy. The lighting to me is just a vehicle to support the result.”

Demonstrating her versatility, Von Hoene discussed two very different assignments in which she had to bring to life her vision of imaginary environments.

Client: Rebecca Moses
Creative Director: Deborah Moses/Moses Media

Von Hoene’s inspiration for the ad campaign for Rebecca Moses’s fall 2010 clothing line came largely from Moses’s own art. The fashion designer had recently published a guide to interior design and fashion called A Life of Style: Fashion, Home, Entertaining, that she illustrated with her playful watercolors of chic figures and their stylish homes.

The campaign’s creative director, Deborah Moses, had also sent Von Hoene some photos of silhouetted models as inspiration for the ads. Von Hoene thought that by incorporating Moses’s illustrations she could reference the designer’s sensibility in a way that was in keeping with the classic elegance the creative director had referenced.

Von Hoene recommended using an overhead projector to project overlays of Moses’s illustrations onto the walls and cyclorama at a rented studio at Pier 59 Studios in New York City.

Moses created illustrations for the shoot—“a chandelier here, a staircase there, a table setting or a flower garden,” Von Hoene says—that were then transferred to acetate sheets that could be placed on the projector. Set designer Jerry Schwartz of House of Schwartz also brought in real-life objects—an upholstered chair for a hallway set, a butterfly net for a scene in a park—that he painted black to blend in with the projections on the walls of the studio.

Says Von Hoene, “I think the clever combination of the three-dimensional, black-painted propping combined with the projected illustrations really made a fun play between what was real and what was projected.”

Schwartz also worked with an audio-visual specialist to select and operate the projector. The only light used on the shoot, it had to provide an even light source over a 10 x 10-foot area. “I love the simplicity of using the overhead projector as the only light source,” says Von Hoene. “The sharp shadow that it created was also beneficial to the overall look of the imagery.” With the light from the projector, the models and props cast strong shadows onto the studio walls, which blended with the projected illustrations.

Von Hoene chose to shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II “because of its ability to capture a sharp, noiseless image at a high ASA in a low-light environment.” She used a 24-105mm zoom lens. Andrea Fremiotti, owner of Burn Photo, the Atlanta-based digital imaging company, was on the shoot as the photographer previewed the images. In working with digital techs, Von Hoene says, “I’m right there saying, ‘Let’s up the contrast, let’s punch up the blacks,’ as we’re shooting.” She explains, “It’s so important to me that the JPEGs look right,” even before post production. “I always want to give the client an image consistent with what they saw on set.”
The campaign appeared as a multi-page portfolio in InStyle, and individual ads from the series ran in Vogue and other fashion magazines.

Client: VELUX
Agency: Wray Ward
Creative Director: Scott Ellmaker
Art Director: David Adam

For its campaign for VELUX, the makers of skylights and windows, the Charlotte, North Carolina-based ad agency Wray Ward was open to having Von Hoene collaborate on ideas, “which is always a dream job for me,” she says. The campaign would show every room in a house, each with its own character and a VELUX skylight.

As always, Von Hoene and her studio assembled a creative treatment. “We put together a treatment for them that was in-depth and a pleasure to assemble—images from my work, inspirational swipes for hair, makeup and props, and in this case we added a bit about the personalities of each character to really bring the drama to life. I also really loved playing around with the prop ideas, like having a white animal in each of the shots. I think it gave life to the rooms in such a surreal way, which is something I love to do in my work.” In the end she shot several personalities: A chef in the kitchen, a goddess in the bathroom, a ninja leaping on the bed in a bedroom.

One of the biggest challenges was building the sets, which were about 16 x 16 feet with ceilings that were about nine feet high. The photographer explains, “The sets had to have strength and stability to support a heavy skylight and have a model in there,” while also allowing the photographer to show the ceiling in the finished shot. Maria Santana designed the sets, which were constructed at Silvercup Studios in New York City. Sarah Oliphant of Oliphant Studio, also in New York City, custom-painted water waves in the bathroom set and some cherry blossoms in the bedroom set.

Shooting with a Canon 5D, Von Hoene used a 16-35mm lens which, she says, “added a little forced perspective and gives the viewer the feeling of being brought into the room.” On most of the images in the campaign, she shot at about waist level, directing slightly upwards. The camera was put into position on the day the sets were built, “Then we figured out how to set up the ceiling at a height that looked correct through the perspective of the lens.”

In the bedroom shot, she used an Octabank as her main light, placing it close to the woman in the ninja costume who was leaping on the bed. “I like the feeling of a main light because it simplifies the viewer’s sense of where the light is coming from.” A beauty dish with a grid created brightness behind the ninja; four other heads with 20 percent grids were used to highlight underneath the bed.

Scenic backdrops were hung above the skylights to create the illusion of sky outside the window. The photographer says, “The skylights were lit and photographed individually as plates to give us the freedom to capture the detail needed for the product without interfering with the lighting for the subjects.” Once again, the retouching was done by Burn Photo.

The print ads were honored with prizes at the 2011 AAF (American Advertising Federation) District 3 ADDY Awards.