What it’s like to shoot 50 portraits on 32 sets in just a few hours – PetaPixel | Ad On Picture

Photographer and filmmaker Clay Cook and his team were given a challenging assignment: visuals for the successful businessman and former CEO of YUM! Brands David Charles Novak and the release of his latest book, website and podcast in just a few hours.

Fresh photos for a renowned businessman

Novak from Texas was a co-founder of YUM! Brands that operate popular fast food brands like KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and others. In addition to other business awards, he also served at an executive level at the Pepsi-Cola Company. Today, Novak is focused on leading the non-profit David Novak Leadership Foundation and the How Leaders Lead organization with resources for future leaders.

Novak’s team wanted to revamp the latter with new images in addition to Novak’s book and podcast. A Kentucky-based production group, 180 Degrees, contacted Cook and sought his expertise to help complete this project. In total, with the help of around 30 people from 180 Degrees How leaders leadand Cook’s crew, “it was a village of people who brought everything to life and made it possible.”

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The project was gigantic – the team from How leaders lead needed about 32 different sets of photos for the final delivery of 50 images. Cook had to photograph Novak on all four colored backgrounds, each with a different wardrobe.

The production included individual portraits of Novak and group photos with talent, each with different color backgrounds and lighting to match the site’s branding. Cook’s team was given four different hex colors for the backgrounds and four different gradients that could be recreated with lighting – purple to orange, purple to orange to teal, teal to yellow, and pink to purple to blue.

David Novak

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

All of these shooting variations had to be squeezed together in under two hours, which Cook’s team had with Novak and four hours with the group photo talents. This meant complicated planning down to the minute.

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“We had about six minutes per set, with a two-minute transition time,” says Cook PetaPixels. “Yes, my assistant literally had a stopwatch. We had a production book detailing exactly what was needed and the time allotted for it.”

Days of planning, a few hours of filming

The biggest challenge was getting every shot the client needed within the short allotted time. This would normally be at least two days of shooting for Cook, but with Novak’s limited time and schedule, they only had a few hours.

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The colored lighting set was just as challenging – the team spent several days figuring out how to include 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 out the gels when they had the transition time between shots.

“For the gradient backgrounds, we initially tried to create the gradient using strobe lighting and constant RGB lighting,” says Cook. “Second, we tried to print our own gels. Third, we tried projecting the gradient background with a projector.”

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

Cook’s military approach helped the team reach the finish line, and planning the shoot was key to avoiding frustration and chaos on set. Even if it means spending a lot of time in advance, it helps the shoot flow with ease.

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

“When photographing people, mood and morale really matter,” he adds. “It can completely spoil the look of the product if these attributes are not up to par. It is therefore extremely important that the day of the shoot runs smoothly, calmly and pleasantly for everyone involved.”

In order to prepare for problems during the day that arise when you least expect them, Cook likes to have a little plan of action for things that might go wrong.

“Forecast that course change and have a backup strategy for each action,” he explains. “Know what you want and go about it with confidence.”

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

For more of Cook’s work, visit his website and Instagram.


Photo credit: Photos by Clay Cook.

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