It’s 7:00 AM. We’ve been setting up in a Safeway produce section for hours. The shot is to be of three models, a produce employee holding out an apple to a small girl who stands in front of her mother. The only face you see is the girl’s as she reaches her hand out to take the apple. Mom’s legs and part of her torso are the only thing visible behind her. The whole produce section has been dressed, lights are set and the camera is tethered to an iMac with three art directors and two executives looking at the monitor. The only problem, the little girl model is only three years old. She won’t leave her real mother’s side. When we put her and her real mom on the set with the model mom, she won’t look at the camera. Her clothes look perfect and her makeup is great, but her hair is a mess – she would not let the stylist near her. Everyone is looking at me, and I’m looking around the store for another kid to try to use. That’s not an option, it’s a school day and it’s ridiculously early in the morning.

This was a people puzzle. I like these.

I look at the little girl with my camera set aside and I tell her that I want her to take my picture. Can she come over to the camera, hold this long string, and when I get into place, push this button? She wasn’t expecting that, but it sounds cool. She gets to be the photographer. We switch places, and she takes the picture (note that when she went to the camera, she left her mom’s side). I come back to the camera to join her and I ask my assistant to turn the computer toward us – this away from the art directors and the executives waiting to approve the shot. I show her the picture she just took on the big screen. Cool. Now let’s switch, I tell her. I walk her to the set, the other models standing, not fully in position, and I go click the shutter once. I wave to her to run over and see. Her picture, hands covering her face, comes up on the screen. Your turn, and I run back to the set leaving her with the camera’s cable release.

We each go back and forth like this for fifteen minutes, blocking out everyone around us. It becomes a game for the two of us. One picture each, one at a time. With each return to the set, she is more at ease. Finally I ask her to stay there and cover her eyes with her hands. I motion to the other two models to move into position, and I wave the stylist over to do her hair. Hands covering her eyes, she stands motionless, as if counting for a game of hide and seek we’re playing. Hair set, I count to three and she opens, reaching out her hands for the apple.

A big sigh comes from behind the computer monitor, which is now turned back toward art direction. We keep playing for another fifteen minutes. Now there are just others involved in our game. Twice more the stylist mimes to me to have her cover her eyes again – she dodges in and tweaks an errant hair. Eyes back open, we continue.

Puzzle solved.

Advertising photography for Safeway

Advertising photography for Safeway

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