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  • Welcome to my blog

    "I am a Boston-based commercial photographer and short film maker. This blog is a companion to my main website. Instead of simply offering up more photos, it is the place for behind-the-lens glimpses into campaigns, reflections on the photography/marketing industry, and a more expanded view of a shoot - not just the best image. Enjoy!"

Believe it or not, one of the most valuable lessons I learned about shooting people came from a photo school class called “Intro to Still-Life.”  We were asked to photograph a bunch of objects and make them look like they were randomly placed on a set.  This is easy – dump things on a table (1 minute).  But that looked messy and didn’t make your eyes very happy.  I could arrange the objects in a pleasing way (15 minutes), but then the still life looked forced and deliberate.  Lesson of the Assignment?  The hardest shot to create is one where elements appear to occur naturally and make your eyes happy.

Here’s how that applies to photographing people.  You can pose people, but then they look contrived.  You can let subjects run amok, but then the photos look like chaos.  Our challenge for this lifestyle shoot: how to create natural yet appealing imagery.

Another issue: you can take hours to carefully arrange objects on a table.  But anyone who has been nudged about by a photographer knows that people don’t have the patience of inanimate objects.  Kids especially so.

Who to use for the shoot?  Most professional models can make a practiced pose seem natural, but a family of models smacks of being a little too perfect.  Instead of going the model route, we chose a local multi-generational family with great chemistry.

The idea behind this shoot was to create a library of authentic lifestyle images that captured a great day in a family’s life. We didn’t have a shot list, but we had a playground of sorts to romp in.  We were very fortunate that our friends, Beth and Chuck Welch, hosted the shoot.  Their home is stately and comfortable, with beautiful artwork and books filling every available wall surface.

There were loud action moments as well as intimate moments between family members. Instead of directing the family, I let them enjoy activities they would normally do on a weekend and then captured it in a non-invasive editorial way. Using all natural light, we constructed scenarios on the fly.  We tried things that didn’t work (a “must” for any successful shoot, IMHO) and got fantastic images we hadn’t planned for.

A great way to spend a day.

Wardrobe styling by Cynthia August and makeup/hair by Lynne Avallone.

“How long is this picture going to take?” my client asks me.  “The board just flew in from London.  They’re tired.  They have important meetings scheduled all day. They won’t smile for long.”  My tongue-in-cheek answer is “This photo will take 1/60th of a second.”

I’m kidding, of course, but I do understand: jet-lagged billion-dollar portfolio execs don’t want a drawn out shoot.  I strive to make our shoots a quick, enjoyable, non-invasive pause in their busy day.

So it was roundly appreciated by the board of directors of HarbourVest’s Global Private Equity Group that we did our homework.   We scouted the location, had everything figured out and set up in advance, and made the portrait shoot short and sweet.

The story behind the Board of Director

The individual natural light portraits had the same personal and accessible feel: Corporate headshots by David Shopper

“We hired David to shoot an executive board meeting which included individual board portraits, a group shot of the board, and working meeting shots. He is an amazing professional photographer and is so easy to work with but he immediately put the board members at ease which created fantastic portraits. He is also so attentive to every detail from scouting the location of each photo to the lighting and retouching that the entire process was easy and effortless.” 

–Christine McManus, Design Manager, HarbourVest Partners

Boston Photographer David Shopper discusses approach for the shoot with HarbourVest design manager.

David and Christine discuss the shoot.

For a business, building kingdoms (large or small) is hard enough.  You don’t need to sweat the details of a shoot – that’s my job. The setup might be a sophisticated integration of natural and strobe light with a formal yet honestly straight-forward presentation, but the smoothness of the process comes off as if I shot it with my phone.  Corporate portrait photography isn’t easy, but it should look easy.

 

Zimman

I’ve been photographing concept ads for Zimmans for a half dozen years now.  The advertisements combine the store’s rarified fabrics and furniture (think ABC Carpet in NYC) with raw urban landscapes.  Zimman’s has been in the same family for 4 generations and all our ads have featured owner Michael Zimman.

The ads continue to be designed by art director and stylist Martha Sutyak, who has an unusual proclivity for making you believe in an ad concept which upon first appearance has you scratching your head.  Martha explains: “my thinking was that we should ‘take to the streets’ and show how Zimman’s has been a vital part of the Lynn community for generations. The store associates have been taking their cars to this place for years! By posing Michael in a car loaded with merchandise for a home delivery we show 1) great and intriguing merchandise 2) an unexpected visual image showing the rough and the refined in concert.”

Ad concept layout for "Full Service" print advertisement

Location scouting:   Lynn, MA location scouting for David Shopper lifestyle photography print ad

Here’s the initial “Mad Skilz Photoshop” ad comp, using an image of Mike from a previous ad polishing a car’s windshield:

Print ad mock up

All shoots have their challenges.  Besides a colorful Lynne location, variable clouds that made it tough to predict lighting conditions, blustery winds that threatened to knock over lights and balanced fabric and chairs, and a questionable soundtrack (as captured in the video below), we persevered and got a great image for the ad.

 

 


The way I figure it, you can approach a shoot two different ways: a well-planned effort by many focused people, each concentrating on a detail like wardrobe, makeup, locations, props, lighting, etc., (my usual mode of shooting) or guerilla-style, where you totally wing it.

This shoot is an example of the latter.  At the expense of production, we gain spontaneity and spirit – moving quickly and freely, keeping it light and fun.  We generated hundreds of great stock images, which you ordinarily could have found at Corbis (but the renowned stock house was just acquired by VCG and subsumed by Getty Images, so the photos will soon be incorporated into Getty’s site).

[UPDATE: Once again, our Cognex annual has won a gold award at the League of American Communications Professionals (LACP) Awards for its category, as well as #75 of the top 100 Annual Reports Worldwide and a silver award for Most Creative in the Americas.  The annual also won the gold at the MerComm International ARC Awards for its category as well as taking honors for photography!]

Like everything else, annual reports have changed a lot in the last 10 years.  Mostly, they’ve disappeared.  With the advent of the web, Twitter, etc., a polished State-Of-The-Company address doesn’t have much immediacy.  But that’s not to say that a company can’t brand itself and stand out using the annual report medium.

Cognex Corporation, the world’s leading supplier of machine vision systems, has gone further than most companies to define it’s corporate style using annual reports (as well as stretching the definition of what an annual looks like).  Their reports are zany, irreverent, and reflect the spirit of their founder and CEO, the inimitable Dr. Bob.  I’ve been shooting these reports for over a dozen years, and they’ve taken the shape of a Bruce Springsteen record album (a circular annual), the National Enquirer (Dr. Bob gives birth to machine vision, literally) , and a Martha Stuart Living Magazine (Dr. Bob, in a blond wig, shot in his stylish home in San Diego).

This year, we spoofed “Back To The Future” (I might add here that Dr. Bob’s innovation in the industry is dwarfed by his ability to persuade these franchises to let Cognex run these parodies — or at least not sue him).  The BTTF annual is designed as a poster (I believe it’s the first annual ever to take this format), and the silver below is the uncommon use of metallized paper.

Spoof of "Back to the Future" with the Chairman and CEO playing Marty and Doc.

The poster features Dr. Bob and CFO Rob Willett trying their hand at time travel.  Also featured is a video we shot for the Forward Looking Statement:

The corporate world of CEOs and investor relations usually shuns risk taking.  But these guys have no fear.  They’re rock stars.  It’s a great way to live… and a fun way to shoot.

A little behind-the-scenes information on annual report photography and the making of the 2015 "Back to the Future" parody annual report photographed by David Shopper of Boston MA.