End Frame: John Huet on Applying Motion Lighting to His Still Work

November 7, 2013

© John Huet

For Mazda, John Huet photographed swimmer Michael Phelps in a pool that was made to look like a dark lake.

While shooting a Nike campaign on the streets of Shanghai, advertising photographer John Huet chose to use the kind of lights he uses when he’s directing commercials. Continuous light sources allowed him to light a whole area, and then let the athletes who had been cast for the shoot act naturally. “I’m not saying, ‘You have to come to this mark and kick the ball here.’ With strobes, you have to do that,” he explains. “[This is] much closer to motion work. You create a world, and let people move within it.”

When Huet shot his first commercial 18 years ago, the ad agency creative who hired him paired him with a young director of photography (DP) to show him the ropes. Ever since, he says, he’s been learning from DPs. “They used lights I’d never seen before.”

As a beginning director, Huet applied the techniques of framing and composition that he had used in still photography to his motion work. Now, however, he applies techniques and lighting from his film work to shooting stills. He recalls an assignment in which he had to photograph Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps in a pool, “But I didn’t want it to look like a pool.” He set up HMI lights to mimic daylight, then lined the walls of the pool with black material, “so it looks more like light on a lake. All that lighting is from motion work.”

Huet says his fascination with movie techniques dates back to when he was 15, and he snuck into a theater to see The Godfather. “I was so mesmerized by everything about the movie and how it looked, I snuck back in the next day.” Its cinematographer, Gordon Willis, continued to influence Huet’s imagery as he studied photography and began shooting advertising.

Whenever he’s on a film set—whether he’s working as the director or as the still photographer following the commercial crew shooting for the same client—that old fascination returns. “I get that way when I’m on a set with film crews. I look at what they do and I think: I just love this magic.”

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