November 20th, 2013

PDN Video: Bil Zelman on Shooting Portraits of Difficult Celebrity Subjects

Photographer Bil Zelman: How to Shoot Portraits of Challenging Celebrities from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Celebrities can be skittish and uncooperative in front of a camera, so photographer Bil Zelman sometimes uses psychology to elicit a particular reaction for a compelling portrait. In this video, he describes how he calmed author Isabel Allende, who was self-conscious in front of the camera, and how he got himself out of trouble on a shoot with film director Werner Herzog. “He was just staring at me,” Zelman says. “It was a blank stare. I was getting nothing.”

In addition to shooting portraits, Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In previous videos, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from the non-professional talent he uses on most of his shoots.

Related:
PDN Video: Portrait Master Gregory Heisler on How to Relate to Portrait Subjects
How Top Photographers Shoot Great Portraits
PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads that Look Real (Not Staged)
PDN Video: Bil Zelman’s Tips for Directing Kids on Advertising Shoots
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots

November 19th, 2013

PDN Video: Tips for Directing Kids on Advertising Shoots

Photographer Bil Zelman on How to Photograph Kids for Advertising Campaigns from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

Photographer Bil Zelman explains how he used psychology (and magic) to get emotionally genuine performances from kids for two recent advertising shoots. Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. In a previous video, he shared tips and tricks he uses to coax natural performances from adults. He also explained why he prefers non-professional talent, and how he scouts that talent for his shoots. (Check back tomorrow for another video featuring Zelman explaining how he handled two difficult celebrity portrait shoots.)

Related:
PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads that Look Real (Not Staged)
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots

November 18th, 2013

PDN Video: Bil Zelman on How to Shoot Ads That Look Real (Not Staged)

Photographer Bil Zelman specializes in shooting lifestyle advertising for top brands such as Coke, Apple and Budweiser that looks real, not staged. Getting natural, emotionally genuine performances out of talent is one of the biggest challenges for advertising photographers, but Zelman has spent his career honing his skill. In this video, he describes how he saved one shoot that was spiraling out of control, and he shares some tips and tricks he uses to coax the performances he’s looking for.

Photographer Bil Zelman: How to Get Genuine Emotion from Non-Professional Talent from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

 

Zelman uses non-professional talent almost exclusively. He explains, “They don’t know what’s expected of them. Usually they show up a little bit nervous and it’s easier for me to relax them, rather than pro talent that shows up feeling like they’re going to act it out. I hate acting. that’s the bottom line.

“You know, people are laughing in [advertising] scenes all over the place, and so good talent will simply guffaw the entire time, and it looks so fake. So I would much rather have somebody uncomfortable in front of the camera, and then do something stupid to make them laugh, than hire somebody’s who’s basically a somewhat attractive professional laugher.

“Whatever city we’re flying to, I’ll fly my casting director (Heather Smith) there ahead of time and she’ll go to bars, and Craigslist, and hit all the social media and we’ll just find people. if I need bikers she goes to motorcycle gangs and if I need twenty five-year-old college kids she goes to the colleges, not to talent agencies.

“I try to go to casting calls whenever possible. Depending on the mood of our desired performance I might yell at [the people answering the casting call] or throw something at them. I’ll see if they can cry, [and see] what their eyes do when they genuinely laugh verses faking it with just their mouth. Perhaps I’ll ask them to dance with no music going. It all depends on the job but I’m looking hard to flush out any overacting, self-consciousness or catolog-like contrapposto or gestures and such.

“I’m often looking for big, extroverted personalities as well- A person who you can throw into a group of strangers and get them all roiled up regardless of the fact that it might be 6 am.”

Related:
PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe And Clients Like
A Hands-Off Approach to Real People Shoots

October 28th, 2013

PPE 2013: Tips for Shooting Ads That Viewers Believe and Clients Like

Facing an increasingly media-savvy audience who tend to “ignore advertising completely or don’t believe it,” said PDN senior editor Conor Risch, advertising clients are clamoring for campaigns that look believable and “authentic.” At the PhotoPlus Expo panel “How to Make Advertising that Doesn’t Look Like Advertising,” photographers Olivia Bee, Christa Renee and Bil Zelman shared a wealth of tips on everything from casting real people to managing client expectations to their techniques for post-production in order to create ads that look natural and spontaneous.  They also explained why, when photographing real people, they are not so much directing the talent as they are misdirecting them.

“I like to keep the talent in the dark,” said Zelman, who doesn’t explain to his models what he needs to photograph. “If they don’t know what I’m looking for, they can’t fake it for me.”  Renee said, “I’m telling them stupid things and they’re so confused, it’s after that that I shoot.” She often tells talent she needs them to run around: “People are better to shoot when they’re tired,” she said. Renee said she never lets the talent see the shots on the monitor, and will block it off with foamcore panels if needed.

Zelman showed an image from a Bud Light campaign in which he photographed several people clowning in the snow. It was a particularly awkward shoot, he said: None of the talent who were supposed to act like friends knew each other, and a snow machine had to be brought in to fake the snow. At one point, he had his assistant pelt the talent with potatoes. They turned to the camera and laughed in surprise. Zelman explained, “I have many things to get reaction, and one is I bring potatoes.” Bee added, “Shitty, loud music is good to get people moving and laughing.”

Bee, whose personal work photographing her teenage friends landed her jobs from Converse, Fiat USA and other ad clients, says her goal is to recreate a similarly friendly and relaxed atmosphere on set even when she’s working with professional models. “If you can recreate that atmosphere and be a fly on the wall, I think you’ll get the same pictures. They won’t be as special but it’ll be close.” She and the other photographers try to bond with the talent before the shoot.

The photographers said that  the subjects feel more at ease without the clients hovering. Zelman said, “Not every client is comfortable handing you a big bag of money and then leaving the room.” He recommends giving the client a detailed treatment that explains why a closed set will produce better photos. Renee said she offers to set clients up in a separate room with iPads so they can preview the shots from a distance.

All the photographers said that when it comes to finding energetic, charismatic talent, video casting works better than looking through head shots.  Said Bee, “I ask them questions like: ‘What’s your favorite thing to do?’ And, ‘Have you ever been in love?’ to see the sparkle in their eye.” Zelman noted, “It’s important to have a couple of extroverts, because I know that if I give them a little caffeine they’ll lift the energy of the group.” When a shoot calls for a couple  or a family, the photographers strive to hire people who are married or related in real life. Zelman said that on a shoot for Microsoft,  he hired a band to play during a party scene, then photographed the fans who showed up. (“I had some hero talent sprinkled throughout,” he explained.)

While Bee prefers to shoot in natural light, Zelman said, “I like the paparazzi flash. I’ll take a real, touching moment in crappy lighting over a fake moment with blank faces in beautiful light.” Renee said she’s often shooting libraries of images that call for both interiors and exteriors, so she relies on lighting to give the images a consistent look—and, at times, compensate for bad weather on location.  She’ll light a large area in which the talent can move. Her budgets don’t often allow her to use continuous lights, so instead, “I use a lot of broad sources,” she says. When photographing kids, popping strobes can be distracting. “You just have to get them to the point where they’re focused on your little dance, not on the lights.”

The photographers keep retouching to a minimum. Zelman often adds grain during post, to compensate for the crisp perfection of modern digital cameras, but tries to follow a five-minute rule: “If I have to work on it for more than five minutes, I picked the wrong picture.”

And how did these photographers land so many advertising assignments? By constantly shooting personal work and then sharing it. “I try to shoot as much as possible when I’m not working,” says Renee. “I think you have to be constantly shooting and put your work on the internet across all social platforms,” said Bee. “Promote the shit out of yourself. No one else is going to do it for you. “