As more photographers move into motion and promote their skills as directors, they can sometimes find themselves pulled in two directions on assignments, when the client wants them to deliver great stills as well as high-quality video. According to veteran photographer-directors PDN spoke to, the first step in managing a combined production is to separate the shoots for stills from the shoot for the video—by carrying them out at different times or in slightly separate locations. To ensure a smooth workflow, photographer-directors also have to adjust their lighting, the planning of their shots, and their directions to their crews.
In part two of this three-part series, Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch explain how they planned and produced a shoot for Elmer’s. Read part one of this series, about Danielle Levitt’s shoot for I-D magazine, here.
Having collaborated on ad campaigns for more than ten years, the San Francisco-based directing/photography duo Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch have found that one of the advantages of shooting assignments that combine motion work and stills is that preproduction planning for the video can elevate the still production and help the shoot run more smoothly. On a recent assignment from SBC Advertising in Columbus, Ohio, the duo directed a 30-second TV commercial for Elmer’s glue and then, on a second shoot day, shot a series of lifestyle images for the new Elmer’s website. Planning, scouting and casting took three weeks. “We used that time to develop ideas for the stills,” Welch says. He says of the pre-production process, “It’s an investment in quality that allows us to make the most of the shoot days.”
Welch and Naleid, both experienced photographers, have been co-directing motion projects for several years. They have worked out a division of labor in which Welch, who went to film school and worked on movies before launching his photography career, typically focuses on the lighting and directing the crew and sometimes shooting b-roll while Naleid concentrates on directing talent. On some jobs, Welch has shot video over Naleid’s shoulder as she is capturing stills. They promote their work separately and together, under the brand KN+SAW. SBC contacted them about the Elmer’s job after agency creatives working on both parts of the campaign pulled the duo’s promos.
From the beginning, they contributed ideas to the production. In initial creative calls, chief creative officer Neil Widerschein had explained that Elmer’s wanted to move away from touting the glue’s technical properties and build a lifestyle campaign, “Let’s Bond,” showing parents and their kids working on craft projects together. Welch and Naleid offered suggestions for scenarios to shoot. Once they landed the job, they collaborated with the agency on a script rewrite.
Naleid and Welch say that on video assignments, more than on still shoots, creatives “want to see where you can take their idea,” Welch says. That experience has influenced how they communicate their ideas to ad agency creatives, they say. They now submit treatments whenever they’re bidding on a campaign—whether it requires stills or motion—in order to “put our best foot forward,” Naleid says.
For the Elmer’s shoots, Welch and Naleid had suggested finding a single location where they could photograph all three family scenes. At the suggestion of their production company, Traveling Picture Show Company, they chose a house in Minneapolis where they could shoot each family in a different room. To ensure chemistry among the actors, they spent a lot of time on casting the seven actors—who included a real-life mom and son.
During pre-production, they also storyboarded each shot to determine camera placement. “If you need the camera to move, you need time for that, and you need to know why,” says Welch. They went over the storyboard with the client while touring the set, explaining how each shot added to the story.
“It gets the client emotionally invested in what we’re doing, so on the shoot day they’re not saying, ‘Why are we doing this shot—we need to show the glue bottle.’ Everybody understands why we’ve scripted these shots,” he says. Naleid adds that while they scouted, “We were able to look at it with the eyes of photographers,” and begin planning their shots and lighting for the still shoot.
They shot the video with an Arri Alexa, which they like for its dynamic range, using Cooke lenses. To mimic sunlight, they set up HMI lights outside the windows. A lightning storm on the shoot day forced them to tent all the lights; batteries provided alternative power when the storm caused the electricity to go out.
Naleid and Welch always set up a “video village,” with a monitor and some comfortable seating, where the creatives and client can watch what’s being captured. The video village is in a separate room from the shoot—so the actors aren’t seeing the clients’ reactions. The monitor remained in the same location while Naleid shot stills with a tethered Canon 5D Mark III.
While the video shoot required a crew of 40, they worked with many fewer people on the still shoot. Naleid and Welch used Profoto strobes softened with silks and bounced the light around the room to create a natural-looking light similar to what they had achieved with HMIs. During the video shoot they were focused on creating a narrative, but while shooting a Canon 5D Mark III handheld, Naleid looked for close-ups and interactions: “With the still camera in your hand, there’s freedom to say, ‘Let’s try this.’ With video, you’re dialed in, it’s all scheduled in advance.”
Welch says, “We strive to follow a project as far as we can, and that means we try to be in the editing booth on the first day.” He and Naleid had negotiated time with the editor as part of the assignment. After doing some rough cuts of favorite shots “on the fly,” Welch flew to the editing studio in Los Angeles at his own expense, and brought along a hard drive of favorite footage. Says Welch, “You want to put your stamp on it, so we make sure the first cut [clients] see is our cut.” The finished commercial and the stills Naleid and Welch delivered both capture intimate and natural looking family scenes, and together represent the duo’s style.