Saturday, May 9, 2015

NFL Pinterest commercial shoot with Hall of Fame Chicago Bears legend Dick Butkus and Kristin Cavallari

You may have heard about the NFL Draft, which happened a week ago.  The draft is one of the NFL’s major calendar events, and for the first time since 1964, it was held in Chicago.  Previously, it was held in New York’s Radio City Music Hall.  The NFL was launching it’s Pinterest account in conjunction with this year’s draft, and called upon Hall of Fame player Dick Butkus, who was an intimidating force as alinebacker for the Chicago Bears in the 60’s and early 70’s, as well as reality television star and fashion icon Kristin Cavallari.  Cavallari is married to current Chicago Bears quarterback JayCutler. 

The NFL Pinterest team needed still photographs of Butkus and Cavallari during their commercial shoot, as well as specific posed set-ups that were meant to plug the new site, as well as the tablet that they were using.  I received a shot list a week before the shoot, and discussed the logistics of the shoot with the production team via conference call later that week.  Everything was mapped out with storyboards, so I was able to get a sense of what each shot would look like.  They also mentioned that I should be shooting with sound blimps, which is a standard practice when shooting production stills on any film set (one of these days, I need to do a review of sound blimps).  If you’re unfamiliar with what a sound blimp is, it’s basically an enclosure for your camera, which is heavily padded with foam in order to silence the sound of the shutter.  I’ve shot with several different blimps (aquatech and Jacobson), and I think that they are quite cumbersome, especially if your hands aren’t large.  Anyway, I borrowed two sound blimps from my friends at  Image Group LA, and was good to go!

On the day of the shoot, the call time was 7 am, so I made my way over to a private home in which would serve as the set.  At the time of my arrival, they were dressing the set with Chicago Bears gear, and I made sure to photograph every item as they set it out.  Since this was a private home, the garage was being used as the wardrobe area, as well as the crew’s craft services area.  The owner’s office would be used as Butkus’s green room, and the living room was used as what they call “video village” in the film industry, where the producers generally sit and watch the action unfold, while offering feedback remotely via production assistants walkie-talkies.

The resident dog was interested in what was happening at his home.

The living room was converted into "video village."

I’ve been on a few sets shooting stills for various commercial shoots, and this one was on a tight schedule (shooting finished in only 3 hours), and everybody stayed on schedule.  It was an extremely efficient shoot, and really laid back.  Butkus arrived around 8 and studied his lines in the green room, while Cavallari had arrived at 6 am to get her hair and makeup done.  

Butkus eventually makes his way out of the green room and films an interview with NFL’s pinterest team, then goes over the script with the director.  Once everybody has their lines down, they begin shooting.  

Many different camera angles are shot of the same scene, each with different variations.  The shots are arranged one at a time, and when the director is happy with each variation, he instructs the crew to move on to the next shot, and they shoot the same scene from a different angle.  At the end of the day, I shot some individual photos of Kristin using the tablet, as well as a few general portraits for publicity and distribution.  If you haven't seen the commercial, you can see it here.  

Check out E! Online's story about the shoot here, as well as one from Enstars.

Also, don’t forget to check out the NFL on Pinterest, as well as Kristin's Pins, and Butkus' Board!

A makeup artist gives Dick Butkus a few touch-ups between takes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Portrait: Washington Nose Tackle Danny Shelton

Being an NFL prospect is like living life under a microscope.  Every move is often examined and re-examined by countless scouts who are trying to find strengths and weaknesses in your game and  personal life.  The process of making it to the NFL can be a long and arduous process - flights across the country to meet with teams, training sessions with strength and speed coaches away from home, the East-West Shrine game, the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine - each of these things takes on a life of its own, and it's a non-stop process of what they call a "job interview" to appease 32 potential employers.  I can't say that I've been involved with every single aspect of this life, but I have had an opportunity to take a peek into some of it - and I can't imagine how they all do it.  The scouts, the players, coaches, equipment managers, trainers, and other personnel.  Over the past four months, I've been able to follow some of the top names in the country as they make their journey to the NFL. 

As I walked across the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium with my camera in Mobile, AL, Andy Fenelon, one of the NFL's college football editors asked me for an image that he thought would do well on social media.  "Send me a picture of one of the big boys running through drills - people always love to see that kind of stuff."  I'm no football scout, and I barely knew who some of these guys were, so I said "give me a jersey number and I'll make sure to get a picture of him."  "How about #95 on the North Team?"

I went about searching for #95 during the North team practice at the Senior Bowl, and once I spotted him, there was no way I was going to forget him.  The guy's name was Danny Shelton, a massive defensive tackle from the University of Washington, and he had the biggest legs I have ever seen on a human being.  At 343 lbs, he was the one of the heaviest players at the Senior Bowl.  Not only that, but the guy had strength and speed that defied his size.  Perhaps it was that combination of size, strength, and speed, that made NFL scouts believe he was a top 10 talent in this year's draft.  I didn't need to see any more of this guy to know that he was a special player.  I snapped a few frames of #95 and sent them to Andy. 

At 343 lbs, Danny Shelton was the second-heaviest player at the Senior Bowl.
Being interviewed by an NFL scout.

Not more than a month later, prospective NFL players made their way out to Indianapolis for the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, where players are put through interviews, medical testing, physical and mental excercises, and who knows what, all in the name if determining if a team is willing to draft them.  As the defensive end group walked out onto the field to begin their workouts, I immediately noticed Shelton, who was wearing a traditional Samoan lava-lava around his waist.  I ran to grab my camera, but he had removed it before I got a chance to take a picture of him in it (this is kind of a unique thing, as most players don't show up with anything cultural or traditional.  I was kind of bummed that I missed the picture, but  I walked up to him and he immediately flexed and posed for the camera.  A lot of times the players are so focused and on edge that they barely notice the cameras in front of them - which is understandable.  Danny looked at ease, and completely comfortable, and I always think that it's kind of cool when these guys acknowledge that I'm there, and they look my way.  Everybody understands, we're all just doing our jobs - the players are out there to perform,  I'm out there making pictures, and we all share the same field.  The fact that he flexed and posed for me made up for the fact that I missed getting a picture of him in his lava-lava - because nobody else had that picture of him flexing at the camera, but me.

As the workouts continued at the Combine, I snapped a few frames and moved on to capture the other players, but made sure I was there for some of the bigger events like the 40-yard dash, the vertical jump and the broad jump when Shelton's number was called.

Two months later, I make my way into the NFL office and as I clocked in, somebody says to me, "I heard you're going to be shooting a portrait today."  I hadn't been in the office for 2 months, and it was news to me that I would be shooting anything that day.  I don't bring my camera with me into the office, so I was kind of freaking out that I didn't even have anything to shoot with.  It turns out that Danny Shelton was in the studio to tape a few segments, and I was asked if I wanted to shoot a portrait of him.  Naturally I said yes (I have never turned down an opportunity to shoot a portrait of anybody since the day I turned down a chance to photograph a portrait of Jerry West, which has been one of my biggest regrets of my career).

I had just a few hours to prepare a portrait (much less conceptualize something), and gear that I am pretty much unfamiliar with (nobody likes shooting on cameras without their personal settings dialed in).  So the portrait was supposed to happen at 2 pm, and I head over to the studio around 1:30 with a single Profoto pack, two heads, a green backdrop, and hope for the best.  Danny had walked through the office earlier and had officially been introduced to me.  "I don't know if you remember me, but I was there in Alabama and Indy."  He mentioned that there were so many cameras, that he barely remembered anybody in particular.  I noticed that he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, and decided to go for a colorful backdrop to complement the style.  Normally, players walk in wearing suits, and they usually feel kind of out of place holding a football.  I was actually really glad he wasn't wearing a suit and was looking more "like himself."  Whenever I photograph someone, I really want their personalities to shine through, and I sometimes wish that I could get players into some different outfits if I could, so I feel that I was really lucky to be able to shoot this portrait of someone who showed up wearing what he usually wears.

I got set up in the Network studio, where they were still filming, and in order not to bother the cameras, I could not set off my strobes while recording was going on.  Danny hung out with me for a few minutes during filming, and I showed him some images that I had taken of him at the Senior Bowl and the Combine, and he said that remembered flexing for that picture at the Combine.  I didn't shoot a single picture for about 5 minutes or so, while just asking about his trip to California and the whole draft process.  "I'm just trying to take it all in right now," he said, and he literally looked like a kid in a candy store as he got to see the offices and NFL Network set.  You could really get a sense that he was extremely appreciative of everybody.  Normally, I don't get any more than a few seconds with a player, let alone a minute or two (one player gave me only 2 shots, which I used to take a horizontal pic and a vertical pic).  Between shooting, I shot a few frames, and then moved him over to a corner with a black wall, where I had set up a chair as my "second set."  Since I had only one power pack, I had to set up a second head, and unplug the ring flash from my first set up - not ideal conditions when trying to get creative, but nonetheless, I was able to get several different looks.  When the video crew told us to stop shooting temporarily so they could resume filming, I asked him about his tattoos, and if there was anything he'd like to show off.  He then showed me the tattoo below his neck, and on his arms, and I asked him to remove his Hawaiian shirt if he was up for it.  Comfortable as he was, he went ahead, and I was able to get some of the frames that I wanted - something that showed who he was.  He showed up wearing a lava-lava, and I told him about the time in Indianapolis where I was kind of bummed that I missed the shot of him wearing it.  This time, he game me more than enough time, and I was able to take some photos of the garment draped over his shoulders.  On the back of the cloth read "Respect.  It's a Poly thing."  That was important for him to show, and I'm glad that I was able to get a few frames of it.  All in all, I spent about 15 minutes with him for that portrait.

At the end of the shoot, he said, "thank you Johnny" and I wished him luck at the draft, and on his journey to the NFL.  To this day, Danny Shelton has been one of the most unique and charismatic guys I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.  From the time I was just looking for a "picture of #95 with the giant legs," to the time I spent with him a few weeks ago, Danny Shelton has certainly gained my admiration and respect.

Get to know Danny Shelton:  Read this fantastic article written by NFL columnist Michael Silver:  The Hound and the Fury.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Baby Riley's Baptism

I've photographed many events for the Lemus family, beginning with the wedding of my friend Marissa and her husband Juan in Nuevo Vallarta.  That was the second wedding I had ever shot, and since then, I've seemingly become their official family photographer for many major events, including the baptism of Emma - Juan's niece, as well as the baptism of Lexington - Marissa and Juan's son.  You may remember Chanda's post on the Valdez family portraits back in 2012.  Ray and Evelyn are Emma's parents and they recently welcomed a second daughter, Riley, whom they just had baptized a week ago.  Guess who they called to photograph the baptism?  Chanda and I love the Lemus's, or as we affectionately call them, "the Lemi."  Every time we're with them, they treat us like family, and I really do feel like I'm a real part of their family.  One of the joys of working with different clients is that you sometimes become really really great friends with them.  It's a no-brainer any time anybody from this family asks me to photograph anything because I feel like I'm doing it for family.

It has been a cool experience to watch all the kids grow up, especially now that I have a son of my own, who at the time of this writing is almost 11 months old.  When Chanda and I found out we were having a baby, Marissa was hoping that we'd have a boy, so that her son Lex would have somebody to play with.  Well, our son Avery is a giant ball of energy, and I can't wait for he and Lex to play with each other too!  If you go back and check out the links in the previous posts, you'll see a lot of the same faces you see in this post, and you can literally watch the kids grow up!  Little Riley is the star of the day this time, and I'm more than excited to continue to watch her grow up, and capture the process with my camera, much like I do with my own kid.  Enjoy the photos!

Does this baptism dress look familiar?  This dress has been used in three generations of baptisms (as far as I know).  Emma wore it, as well as her mom Evelyn on her own baptism.  


Lex and Emma

Riley and daddy

Riley and Emma ham it up before heading to church for the baptism. 

Riley's ready to get into her dress!

Valdez Family Picture with Riley

Grandpa Lemus holds up his newest grand-bundle of joy

My favorite part of this photo is Riley's left hand holding Juan's thumb.

What a difference 2 years makes, right?

Two years later, nothing has changed...

Here's the family group photo after the baptism - look who crashed the party!