Blair Bunting Captures River Monsters

By Barbara Goldman

 Photographer Blair Bunting cannot escape tales of  River Monsters, Deadliest Catch and Mythbusters. They just keep reeling this action advertising photographer back with new lures.

Bunting has shot three seasons of The Deadliest Catch, two seasons of Mythbusters and the show FutureWeapons for Discovery Creative of the Discovery Channel. He is widely recognized for his vibrant and unique imagery and lighting and  has worked with numerous sports, movie and television personalities for such advertisers as Pepsi, General Motors, Adidas, Discovery Networks, British Petroleum, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship series. Additionally, his editorial and portraiture work has appeared in countless national and international newspapers and magazines such as the The New York Times, Business Week, Cosmopolitan, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN the Magazine.

Recently, Bunting was contacted once again by Discovery Creative to shoot the latest ad campaign for Animal Planet’s River Monsters.  Extreme angler and host Jeremy Wade goes all over the world to uncover the world's largest, strangest and most dangerous fish. Viewers love watching the show and how Wade catches these incredible underwater creatures. They become fascinated with what may lurk below the water’s dark surface. The popular show is now in its fourth season and has taken viewers to Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, Papua New Guinea, India, Japan and many more exotic locales to explore the local freshwater folklore, myths and mysteries.

Creative Director Linas Virbickas and Art Buyer Mary Priestland wanted something even more dynamic and exciting to promote the newest shows.  For the past two seasons, the show has been highlighting the moments after the catch.  Creative Director Virbickas wondered what would it look like if they captured the “in the moment of battle” between man and fish. The new concept for the show’s campaign was to show Wade actually fighting a 350-pound "goliath grouper" on the coast of Miami.  They wanted a shot that would capture the moment where the water, host and fish all meet and are frozen against a dark sky.

Virbickas and Priestland looked at photographers who could capture high-energy sport and water moments. Blair Bunting had done this kind of work earlier and used the very techniques they were looking for on the Deadliest Catch campaign. They also liked his approach to lighting and especially his lighting of water.

Boards were shared with Bunting with some of the styles Discovery wanted to accomplish. Bunting and his team liked the concept and the challenge of shooting the host, Wade, at night, in the water, wrangling a 350-pound monster grouper. “On the initial creative call, Blair starts to openly brainstorm on what his approach would be to light and how he would capture the energy of the shot and sequence,” adds Virbickas of Bunting’s enthusiasm.

Once Bunting took on the assignment, he and his crew started lighting tests for water splashes in the darkness.  The creative conversations back and forth reassured the Discovery creative team that they had selected the right photographer for the project.
One of the many challenges this shoot posed was that Bunting wanted to use a lot of lights for a lot of water.  He solved this by using a very lightweight battery pack system from Photoflex called the Triton.  It was safe for all on set and had the flash duration that would allow him to get the crisp frozen look of the water. The next issue he had was the wildlife itself. He and the crew were in the shallow murky waters on the Florida coast at night, which can be quite risky. The beach always has flags flying to signify where dangerous wildlife has been spotted, and only the day before Wade had caught a bull shark nearby. The shooting equipment he used included a Nikon D3x, Nikon D3s, Nikkor 24-70 G with the Photoflex Triton strobes and modifiers.

Things did get complicated as they wanted to get Wade and the monster fish in the water thrashing around and lit.  Bunting shot only for a couple of hours as there was great coordination among the crew, the creative director and Wade.  Bunting was able to get a solid 30 images that would work for the ad.  Since they were in the ocean, laptop previewing was impossible, but they were able to see out of the back of the D3x and knew they had the shot directly out of the camera.

The chosen images are now being used for the ad campaigns for the current season of River Monsters and run across all media platforms from internet banner ads to print venues. You can see and read more of the creative and very dangerous River Monsters shoot on Bunting’s blog  and watch  the behind-the-scenes video that his assistant Matthew Coughlin made of the  prep work.

Blair Bunting is not out of the water yet.  As Virbickas says, “Take a look at the outtakes from the shoot and you’ll understand why we’ll be reaching out to Blair and his crew for future projects.  Blair’s expert knowledge of lighting techniques, research and pre-work tests really paid off. He understood what would be needed to make this shoot a success and he delivered.” You can see more of Blair Bunting’s advertising work, his portraiture of sports, entertainment and political personalities, and read up on his news, blogs and interviews at     


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