What it’s Like Shooting 50 Portraits on 32 Sets in Just a Few Hours

Photographer and filmmaker Clay Cook and his team were given a difficult task: to shoot images for the successful businessman and former CEO of YUM! Brands David Charles Novak and the launch of his latest book, website and podcast in just hours.

New series of photos for a renowned businessman

Novak, from Texas, helped co-found YUM! Brands that operate popular fast food brands such as KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and others. He also worked at the Pepsi-Cola Company at a senior level, among other business accolades. Today, Novak focuses on running the nonprofit David Novak Leadership Foundation and the How Leaders Lead organization with resources for future leaders.

It is the latter that Novak’s team wanted to redesign with new images, in addition to Novak’s book and podcast. A Kentucky-based production group, 180 Degrees, reached out to Cook, seeking his expertise to help execute this project. In total, with the help of about thirty people from 180 Degrees, How Leaders Leadand Cook’s crew, “it was a village of people that brought it all to life and made it happen.”

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The project was gigantic — the team of How Leaders Lead needed about 32 different sets of photos for the final delivery of 50 images. Cook needed to photograph Novak against the four colored backgrounds with different cabinets for each.

The production included individual Novak portraits and talented group photos, each with distinct color backgrounds and lighting to match the website’s branding. Cook’s team was given four different hex colors for the backgrounds and four different gradients to recreate with the lighting – purple to orange, purple to orange to teal, teal to yellow, and pink to purple to blue.

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Then Cook and his team had to shoot these variations not only with Novak individually but also with the talents, using different props and wardrobes. The client also requested an environmental lifestyle implemented in the studio offices.

All of these shot variations had to be squeezed in under two hours by Cook’s team with Novak and four hours with the talents for the group shots. This meant complex planning, down to every minute.

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“We had about six minutes per set, with a two-minute grace/transition period,” Cook said. PetaPixel. “Yes, my assistant literally had a stopwatch. We had a production book that showed precisely what was needed and the time allowed to do it.

Days of planning, a few hours of filming

The biggest challenge was trying to get every shot the client needed in the short amount of time. For Cook, it would normally be a shoot of at least two days, but with Novak’s limited time and schedule, they only had a few hours.

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The colored lighting set was equally challenging – the team spent several days working out how to lock in the colored gels and gradient backgrounds. They needed to light the talent with the specific colors that matched the gradient background, so they tracked down the actual hex codes and named and labeled them to quickly swap gels when they had time to transition between shots.

“As for the gradient backgrounds, we first tried creating the gradient with strobe lighting and constant RGB lighting,” Cook explains. “Second, we tried to print our own gels. Third, we tried projecting the gradient background with a projector. »

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“All these ideas failed,” he continues. “Ultimately, we relied on post-processing to add the exact gradient background needed.”

Cook’s military approach helped the team get to the finish line, and filming planning was key to avoiding frustration and chaos on set. Even if it means spending a lot of time in advance, it makes the filming process easier.

It was necessary to optimize time, organize the set and plan the shooting schedule for the team to get the best results, says Cook. Although it was a stressful time and he had planned a 16-day trip to Tanzania, Africa the next day, careful planning helped ease the day’s logistical burdens.

“When photographing people, mood and morale really matter,” he adds. “It can completely affect the look of the product if these attributes aren’t up to snuff. It is therefore extremely vital that the day of shooting is smooth, calm and pleasant for everyone involved.

To help prepare for any problem of the day – which will arise at the least expected moment – ​​Cook likes to have a little action plan in place for things that could go wrong.

“Plan for this shift and have a backup strategy for each action,” he explains. “Know what you want and proceed with confidence.”

“Ultimately, as commercial photographers, we provide a service that not only encompasses our photographic talent, creativity and communication skills, but also customer service for our client.”

More of Cook’s work can be found on her website and Instagram.


Picture credits: Photos by Clay Cook.

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