When Ty Milford was contacted by St. Louis agency Osborn & Barr to photograph a project for Anheuser Busch’s NASCAR initiatives, he was pleasantly surprised. “It seemed like a bit of an odd request at first because most of NASCAR-oriented-advertising is dark and heroic [and] my work really isn’t,” he explains. Milford gravitates towards energetic, warm, color-saturated imagery – “filled with motion and emotion,” he says. “I just want my work to point to the brighter parts of life. Defining moments.” The sunny California vibe traveled with him from Los Angeles to Portland when he relocated north and has served him well, drawing in huge names like Old Navy and Starbucks.
During preproduction with the Osborn & Barr creative team, he was told that he had been awarded the project because they wanted to deviate from the heroic look of NASCAR images. The concept would tie into what they called Milford’s “optimistic” style with the subject, NASCAR racecar driver Kevin “Happy” Harvick. The driver of Budweiser sponsored car #29 would be photographed inside a bar and on the racetrack in a series of lifestyle-themed advertisements promoting Happy Hour with Happy Harvick.
Milford was thrilled to take on the project but admits he knew nothing about NASCAR prior to the shoot. “I had a lot of homework to do,” he says. He worked with Osborn & Barr Art Director Matt Maddox, a relationship that turned out to be the perfect collaboration. Maddox was already prepared with the concept and hand-sketched ideas, but presented them more as loose guidelines for Milford to work from. Milford says it was the ideal mix of organized and flexible, and he was able to work with the concept and sketches while still implementing his own vision.
The shoot took place at the end of August 2011, during NASCAR season. To accommodate Harvick’s busy schedule, Milford traveled to his hometown in North Carolina. Producer Elizabeth Nicole scouted locations in the area, selecting a bar called Sheri’s for the Happy Hour scene and a nearby drag strip for the track scene, which would later be composited onto an image of the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Milford’s plan was to shoot the bar scene in the morning and the track scene at sunset. By the time he and his team wrapped up the shoot at the bar, a drizzle had begun to fall and they had only just gotten their strobes up before the sky opened up and the equipment had to be saved. They rescheduled with Harvick for a quick shoot the following evening in his own driveway.
Despite the last minute complications, Milford was able to keep the shoot low key and comfortable. He prefers to have a dialogue with his subjects to keep any stress at bay. “The way I like to work… is just to engage them in conversation while we are working so that, ideally, they forget they are even on a photo shoot and feel more like they are just hanging out with their friends,” he explains. Milford also encouraged a close-knit group that consisted of Harvick’s wife, friends, publicist, agent and dogs to stay near the set to help obtain a quicker level of intimacy within the time constraints.
No matter what project Milford is working on, assignment or personal, typical or atypical of his usual audience, he strives for his scenes to be uninhibited and genuine. He says, “The work that speaks to me the most - whether mine or someone else's - is that which feels like beautiful moments captured rather than images produced or forced to happen for the sake of production.”
To see more of Ty Milford’s work, visit his Web site.