Packing up for a remote location shoot. #lowepro #dashpoint #transit #travel #mtv #canon #gitzo #pocketwizard #camranger #hoodman  #b-grip #photoflex #tritonflash #myotherbagisans&f #didimissanyone?

Packing up for a remote location shoot. #lowepro #dashpoint #transit #travel #mtv #canon #gitzo #pocketwizard #camranger #hoodman #b-grip #photoflex #tritonflash #myotherbagisans&f #didimissanyone?

Check out my bts article on MTV’s The Challenge. @andreeaphotomtv http://www.pdnonline.com/photoserve/Ian-Spanier-Sheds-Li-11124.shtml #mtv #thechallenge #ianspanierphotography #pdn #photoserve #bts #photography #realitytv #uruguay #puntadeleste #badconditionswithgoodresults

Check out my bts article on MTV’s The Challenge. @andreeaphotomtv http://www.pdnonline.com/photoserve/Ian-Spanier-Sheds-Li-11124.shtml #mtv #thechallenge #ianspanierphotography #pdn #photoserve #bts #photography #realitytv #uruguay #puntadeleste #badconditionswithgoodresults

Fun shoot with @devynsimone @lauradeeshelley makeup and hair by Anderson Medeiros NY. #mtv #thechallenge #devyn #photography #color #women

Fun shoot with @devynsimone @lauradeeshelley makeup and hair by Anderson Medeiros NY. #mtv #thechallenge #devyn #photography #color #women

Limited equipment, rain, group shots and dinosaur mosquitoes

This past May I got the call from MTV to go to St. Thomas to photograph the cast of season 27 (amazing it’s been on that long huh?!?) of the original reality series, MTV’s The Real World. Head to St. Thomas in May? AWESOME! what a way to get the summer started right? Not so fast…

Challenge Numero Uno. 

Since we’d be traveling out of the country, we’d of course be facing airline limitations, baggage fees, coupled with the fact that this season’s house was located not on St. Thomas, but rather just across the bay on Hassel Island. This meant we’d only be able to reach the location by boat, thus limiting how much equipment we could bring. 

Normally I work with Profoto lights, occasionally with Broncolor- neither which are lightweight, even when going the portable route, which I often choose when working on locations where power could be an issue and/or when I know I need to do a lot of shots in one day. I prefer the mobility of portable units to avoid the excess of stingers, and the freedom of not relying solely on electricity. There was one assignment years ago in Scotland where we brought Profoto Acute 2400s with us to cut cost, and not only had one shot outside where we ran 500 feet of extension cables- literally to full extension, but blew a bunch of fuses in the 200 year old distillery we shot at. Lessons learned.

With these limits though, no way could we travel with the Profotos and have enough lights to accommodate a group shot. Now, I’m a big believer in the ideology that you can make do with one light, after all the sun is only one source right? But I am a proponent that you need to be prepared, there’s always variables on shoots, little did I know how true that would come to be.

Originally, I thought to go with Profoto Acute B’s. 600 w/s and the reliability of Profoto. I had used them once for a cover shoot in Majorca with a Heavyweight Boxer. They worked well, but I was staring down a tight budget, renting six with at least two additional batteries, extension cables, etc, would mean two cases at least. Then I had an idea, I own two Photoflex Tritons, their newer mono-block portable flash units, highly versatile, lightweight, and batteries that often seem to have no end. Add four more and I’d have six lights, all that would fit in the Tenba hard case that normally houses my Profoto 7b, with triple batteries, chargers, reflectors, speed rings, Flashfires (their transmitters), cords, accessories, and woah, still more room for some of my other gear, all UNDER 50lbs, the airline baggage weight limit. Oh Hell yes. Why six? Well, my thought was to get a Photoflex 39”x72” White Translucent fabric and place four units behind it. That would be enough to make a main source equate to 1200 w/s that should be enough to equal a Profoto 7b, and the two additional units could be backup and/or used for hair lights, fill lights or anything of the sort. I am not a proponent of bringing everything and the kitchen sink, but an extra head never hurts. Lights solved. 

(As an added measure, we carried on one pair of the lights, batteries and accessories. If our bags didn’t make it we’d at least have something in terms of lights….that’s just me being extra cautious).

St. Thomas = Sunshine and Blue Skies Right?

Think again, we arrived to a misty humid rain, and the forecast called for ten days of cloudy skies and/or rain. Throw in some mega humidity and mosquitos that look and sting like something out of Jurassic Park. Needless to say the first addition to the supply list was plastic bags to cover the lights, second was bug spray.

Of course there was some talk of postponing and what do we do, but in the world of tight budgets, we’d have to make it work. Already we knew we’d try to avoid the worst light of the day since we had no scrims, so on our scout we chose areas that we’d avoid the direct sun, (or direct rain), but word came that THE shot we needed to come back to NY with was the cast on the boat they use to get to St. Thomas proper, blue skies and sunshine. Did I mention the forecast of ten days of rain?

The First Shot of the Day

One of my assistants, Lee Morgan, fixing the Photoflex Tritons for the first shot.

Sure enough, it was raining when we woke. We covered ourselves in bug repellant, and jumped on the boat to Hassel Island. First shot would be under a gazebo, thankfully, but as we set up, I had eyes in the back of my head watching for any piece of sunlight and blue sky I could use later in post should the skies not clear. I don’t like to disappoint, so I needed to be prepared to make the boat shot happen. I was able to get about six minutes of sun and a few scrapes of clear sky, and I was even able to grab a couple shots of the sea planes that take off from across the bay, this would be a nice addition to the boat shot- assuming I pulled it off. 

I had a thought about how the light would look through the translucent fabric and the Tritons did not disappoint. We placed four of them behind the frame added a little bit of 1/4 CTO gel for warmth, one fill (-2 stops) inside a Photoflex Medium Softbox as a fill opposite the key source, and our last light clamped to the interior of the gazebo roof with a Photoflex Small Softbox as a hair light (-1/3 stop). We shot at 200 iso, knowing that we needed a little extra to open up the background as well. Recycle was a little slow, but what I found was unlike some of the other group shots, where I was using big studio packs, or quick recycling Broncolor packs, this was like shooting 4x5, I could coax the subjects a bit more, and elicit the personalities to come out. 

Now, the lights were working great the only thing that was useless was the bug repellent, the mosquitos were brutal. The Director of Photography actually had a bite that looked like something from Aliens.

The first group shot, Real World St. Thomas.

Second Group Shot, then singles.

Shot two was also inside, taking advantage of the threatening skies, and the same set up proved itself again. The house was surprisingly small given the show includes seven subjects and two to three cameras following them around. We chose their pool room, and composed them around the table. We lifted the frame above a doorway and again placed the four heads behind it. One -2 stop fill under camera and bam. We’d have faced some major problems trying to get an Octabank in this positions, and same for most soft boxes. 

Group shot two. Real World St. Thomas.


After this, we did a series of individual portraits and here’s where the Tritons again proved their value. We took our two additional heads and put a Photoflex Small Octobank as the key and the Photoflex Mini Octodome NXT as the -2 stop fill. We moved around the house with ease. We took a moment to check where the batteries were at, and after two group shots, seven individual portraits, and about ten couples and triple shots, the majority of the batteries hadn’t used 50% of the capacity yet! We actually didn’t change a battery on the lights all day. I can’t recall that ever being the case with Profoto 7b’s.

The Client ALWAYS comes first.

How many times have you heard this? Well, there’s a reason it’s repeated. It’s fucking true. You make it happen for them, they will remember it. I’m a believer in cautiously advising my clients when they ask for the world, I don’t like to disappoint, and at the same time, I don’t want them to believe everything under the sun is possible each and every time. I do my best, and so long as they see it, they will see you are honest in your efforts.

Given the limitations with equipment and all the weather issues, expectations were a bit lower, and when I saw the opening to succeed I go for it. Time for the boat shot.

Assistants Cam Camarena and Lee Morgan set the lights one more time, our biggest challenge, now we are outside. (Of course when we set up, the sun peaked out for a bit, then we could see a storm coming toward us). Time to get it done.


First test frame of the boat shot, look at those lovely clouds. No fill on this one, just the one source. 

The final version, (note the sea plane on the right). Cast of MTV’s The Real World St. Thomas, 2012*


*special thanks to Photoflex for helping make this possible

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Check out a behind the scenes look at my shoot with Pauly D and his crew for the upcoming Pauly D Project on MTV.

(Source: ianspanier.com)

Why Production Matters

Whether it’s a quick portrait with one subject or a huge set with live animals, fireworks and stunt doubles, production can make or break your shoot. There’s so many great producers out there, but what do you do when it’s on your shoulders. With today’s budgets, often it is, follow the old Boy Scout Motto- be prepared.

If you are a photographer that doesn’t know how to produce your own shoots, how can you possibly deal with problems? When you are working with a producer, how can you direct them so that the shoot goes off as intended? These are things that are a part of running your business, and you need these skills,  here’s some advice and some stories behind three very different productions of mine. 


The Jersey Shore Season 5


This was a fun challenge, I had been traveling for almost two weeks when I got the call from MTV that our shoot date would be moving up, and could I get back in time to shoot the cast of The Jersey Shore on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, NJ. I was on the west coast at the time, so first and foremost, I needed to change a flight and my first assistant and I would have to get from Las Vegas to NY. While this went on, the decision came down that we’d be shooting overnight as opposed to during the day. Our call time would be 2:30am, and the cast would show up at about 4am. From Las Vegas, we’d be on a morning flight, swing past my house for a minute to pick up some additional equipment, then drive to the Jersey Shore, marathon day to say the least. Loosing production time on the plane would be annoying, but thankfully I had the Photo Director at MTV working out the details on getting all the cast and crew necessary to be on set, hotel reservations, security, permits, schedules, catering and so on. Not having that on my shoulder was a huge help. On my side, I got three additional assistants in NY to pick up a rental van and fill it with my pre-arranged rental lighting equipment, drive it down to the shore and wait for us to arrive. Having great crew on hand is huge, and to be honest, we could easily have used one or two more assistants!  I set up the guys, the van and got the equipment squared away boarded a plan and tried in vain to get some sleep. The comfort of knowing the Photo Director had things on her plate taken care of, I need only worry about my guys making it to NJ and getting myself and my first assistant there. Along the way, I made sure that I had sketched out my lighting plan in my sketch book. I stress the importance of this to assistants and young photographers all the time. Having a history of your shoots is a great resource, and being able to show your assistants a birds-eye view of the set is a huge time-saver on set, especially when you have your client and subject(s) to entertain.

The stars aligned and we made it in time to do a quick scout, lay down for maybe 45min then get rolling. The adrenaline surge I get shooting was enough to keep things moving, and we knocked out four group sets, and individual and pairs of the cast, wrapping at a record pace. 

Despite the challenges with travel and coordinating so many people, this is an example of a fairly easy production. I say this because although there are so many moving parts, there was a good budget, enough to get the right crew, the right equipment, and accommodate the difficulties with getting from Las Vegas to NY, then NJ and get the shoot done. 

Ky-Mani Marley 

This is an example of a medium level production. Jamrock Magazine hired me to shoot Hip-Hop artist Ky-Mani Marley (one of Bob’s sons), for their cover. Not a huge budget, but it was decent enough to hire an assistant and rent a room at the Chelsea Hotel for the shoot location. I was able to rent some of my lighting equipment to them as well, but I don’t have a ton of lights, so I had to work minimally, no more than two lights were used in any set up, and much of the shoot was done with the original light, the sun.

I had to produce this one, which was cool as I had the idea to shoot at the hotel, and knew exactly what I wanted. I tried to get the hotel to work with me in return for credit in the magazine, but being a landmark, and home to many photo shoots, they knew they could get some money out of this. I explained it was a low budget, and they agreed to “rent” the room as if we were staying there, and as well let us have access to the hallways and the rooftop. I think because I was fair to them about the room, the manager would be fair about giving me a variety of locations. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, worse case- they say no. 

The magazine had a stylist- which is huge when you want to do a few different looks, so I was thankful for that. There are many cases though where I will call in a favor from stylists I know, especially if there’s something they could benefit from for their portfolio. If you are just starting out, befriend makeup artists and stylists, we are all artists after all, and collaborating with or without a budget is a part of what we do.

As always, I had sketched up a plan before, not knowing if I would have 2 minutes or 2 hours with Ky-Mani. As it turned out- he was amazing, loved the idea of shooting in the same room as a famous Bob Dylan shoot, so he was game for anything and gave me plenty of time. 

NFL Punter


This is an interesting one. I actually got the assignment on Facebook of all places. A “friend” of a client I have shot for in New Zealand who is “friends” with me posted that he needed a NY or NJ based photographer for a shoot a day away. I replied and asked what they needed, pleasantly finding out that it was a portrait for a feature story on a former Australian Rules Football Player who was in training camp with the NY Giants. I emailed a few times with the art director-who was in Australia, and the writer, who was in NY and pretty quickly realized the Giants PR was only going to give me access to the press pit on press day. This means that I would have to shoot with a long lens and get nothing much different than any other reporter there. I couldn’t rely on the Art Director to call the Giants and sort it out since the shoot was the next day. I was able to get a contact number for the subject and the Giants PR from the writer, it was clear I needed to take the reigns.

First I called the subject, and asked if he was available another day, knowing he wanted this press, so he would help. Next I called the Giants PR contact and explained that this was a feature story for a magazine that’s more like a GQ or Esquire and I’d need to get access with the subject to do portraits and more artistic shots, as opposed to straight-up action.  He was surprisingly accommodating, and he said as long as the subject was available, we could have the newly renovated stadium to ourselves! What?!? OK by me! We made arrangements, and I was able to get a completely empty stadium and as well shots outside the stadium after. 

This was a very small production, small budget, no room for rental equipment. At the time, all I owned was a Profoto 7b and a Q Flash. Thankfully, I had just bought the Pocket Wizard Flex tt5 and Mini tt1. This allowed me to override normal sync limitations with the Q Flash and shoot at 1/500” to make this image. 

On shoots like this, it certainly helps to own some lights, but that aside I try to minimize my expenses so I can maximize my take home. So again, pretty simple lighting, this shot is only one artificial light and the sun, and the other portraits we used one 7b with 2 heads. I brought only what I needed, no more. I did have an assistant, but he thankfully worked with me at a slightly lower rate. There was no other crew, and I of course filled up the tank in NJ to get the cheaper gas. 

One big point I want to make here is that the pictures are what they are, the quality should be as good regardless of the budget. Being able to control the production variables is paramount to succeeding. 

More TK!

(Source: ianspanier.com)