|Cover of CCNM's Report to the Community (AR) 2017|
As the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine approached an important milestone this year, it followed that their annual report (aka Report to the Community) would be a special one. Designed by Bhandari + Plater, it was an ambitious undertaking that ultimately affirmed the value of planning, 110% effort by all players on the team (clients, designers and photographers and subjects/contributors), and client commitment to a design concept that might have required a little more money, time and effort, but which succeeds resoundingly in its resulting strength, attractiveness, clarity and cohesiveness.
By its nature this project required some especially tricky and precise planning on the part of the college. We needed to create three (plus) main sets of images: 1) the cover portraits, 2) executive committee and leadership team portraits, 3) environmental portraits of important subjects (such as graduates, donors, and partners) holding 'signs' on which key pieces of information would be imposed, and the 'plus' -- similar portraits of these subjects not holding signs. In total over forty portraits of twenty-five different subjects (a number of whom do not work at the college or even live in Toronto) in multiple set-ups.
The first thing we needed to do was decide exactly where each environmental portrait would take place. So, prior to shooting, we spent several hours going around the college photographing stand-ins (assistant Lindsay, and client liaison, communications and marketing specialist Sana) in proposed locations based on rough, initial layouts and collaboration with the designer, Lindsay taking notes and pictures regarding camera and subject positions. Once the selects were made these pictures were placed into precise layouts, subject to notes from the designer, which we would use as templates for the final shots.
|Left: Layout page made from snapshot of assistant Lindsay taken during location scouting. Middle: the final image in the AR. Right: an alternate shot, sans sign, for future possible uses.|
While Sana booked all the spaces where we'd be shooting, one thing we could not do was block them off during the shoots, so if there were students etc. about we would have to work around them. Mostly this just meant we'd have to wait a few seconds now and then for student 'traffic' to clear. I admit, we were slightly flummoxed, though, when we did try to block off one small area to save students being exposed to a bright flash, only to have the odd few walk right through the barrier (right next to the flash unit) instead of around it. Clearly they were extremely focused on getting to their classroom using the shortest, straightest route possible.
While most subjects to be photographed were able to make the trek to CCNM, others were not. And even the ones who could were not all, of course, available per our proposed schedule. Furthermore it was exam time at the college meaning classrooms (where we'd be shooting the head and shoulders portraits) were reserved whether they were needed or not. Thus we found ourselves setting up in one classroom, then having to re-set-up the same set the next day in a different room, and finally at one point resorting to shooting in the lobby. Thankfully the whole front entrance of the college was under heavy construction, so we were able to create a mini-studio right in front of what would normally be the front doors. What was a significant source of frustration for the school became a boon for us.
Knowing we were going to have to recreate sets multiple times we were careful to diagram and photograph them. Also, at the behest of the designer, we made sure we did "plate shots" of the backgrounds.
|Cover portrait background 'plate shot'|
And good thing we did, because thanks to forces beyond our control, two of the four portraits we shot specifically for the cover ended up being replaced by portraits we had shot on a slightly different gray backdrop, and with slightly different lighting (eg. no hair light) and different parameters in terms of subjects' expressions, for the interior pages of the report. We couldn't fix the hair light situation during post-production, or make the expressions 'bigger', but we were able, at least, to digitally composite in the correct background during post-production to create more consistency between the four cover shots, which helped a lot. (It would not have been easier to simulate this particular kind of graduated background in Photoshop.)
Continuing with the topic of scheduling, as it happened we had to shoot in the cafeteria, on two different occasions, at lunch time. While we actually found the background looked great filled with students, we did have to wait occasionally (again) while students moved in and out of frame, and ask the odd person to reposition themselves slightly, or move a big winter jacket or other distracting item out of frame. The biggest challenge was communication with the subjects and each other over the din of the students chatting. I had to resort to hand signals and to running back and forth from the subject to the camera when I had anything remotely complex to convey.
|Subject photographed in the busy cafeteria at lunch time|
The cafeteria wasn't the only place we couldn't readily communicate with the subject or each other. One of the shoots was in the library where students were studying for exams. Here we were limited entirely to sign language. And we really had to be as unobtrusive and quiet as possible. Working in our favour was our desire to make the lighting look somewhat natural, so in most cases we used only one indirect light, cutting down on set-up and related noise and disruption.
|Left: Sunlight, room light and one indirect flash combine to light this portrait.|
Another stumbling block was encountered when it turned out that the doctor in Ottawa who we were hoping was coming to Toronto, wasn't. CCNM could have hired a photographer in Ottawa, but the consistency between images would have been compromised and I really wanted the designers' vision to be realized as near-perfectly as possible, so I offered to visit a friend (in Ottawa) and do the shoot there. In Ottawa my assistant (a local) met me at the location. As we had diagrammed our portrait sets in Toronto, it was no trouble to set up a similar set in Ottawa. Thankfully there was just enough room in one of the offices. It also turned out that another subject whose portrait was needed was in Ottawa, so we were able to photograph her, too.
|On set in Ottawa ©DarrenBrown|
If there was any drawback at all to the sign holding concept it was that previously shot photos, no matter how great the images, would not work for the feature pages because the designers needed to be able to put a sign in the subject's hands. Thus, in the case of this busy ND (naturopacthic doctor), who we had photographed some months ago, we found ourselves shooting his background (ie. the location we had designated for his shot) at CCNM without him in it, then driving up to his clinic in Maple, setting up as quickly as possible out of the way of patients in an upstairs hallway, and grabbing the necessary 'sign holding' shot. (Note: We couldn't have done these two shoots at the same time, in any case; by the time we did the AR shoot winter had set in, there was snow on the ground and the trees were leafless.)
|Upper left: an image from a previous shoot at the clinic which took place on a beautiful fall day. Right: final composited environmental 'sign holding' portrait for the AR.|
|The two photographs that, combined, made up the final image above.|
|Page from the AR showing the value of shooting consistent looking portraits. This page looks so nice!|
|One of six spreads throughout the AR featuring subjects holding a sign|
Before I wrap up, just a couple of observations I wanted to fit in here somewhere in an attempt to recognize the humour that can sometimes seem less accessible in the moment:
1) December 2017 saw an unusual number of very cold but very dry days resulting in some crazy static-y hair antics. Thank goodness I carry hair spray. We needed it! And 2) No matter how diligently subjects attempt to follow my helpful hints and arrive in wrinkle free clothing for their 'close-ups', there are times when, really, it may be better to just go with a knit. :)
If you'd like to see the whole report here's a link to CCNM's publications: https://www.ccnm.edu/about-ccnm/publications. This one was so worth the extra effort, and I trust I'm not the only one who thinks so. Way to go team!
Thanks for reading. If anyone involved in this project can help you with your next project let me know!