In my last post I gave an overview of my final project in college, which was to develop a new ad campaign for Under Armour. If you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out here. Today’s post will take you behind the scenes on the production of some of the ads for the campaign.
After developing the “Are you ready?” campaign, the next step was to determine exactly what we were going to create for it. We knew we were going to feature athletes of course but exactly who and what sports we were going to focus on needed to be decided. As a group we determined we wanted to create ads featuring basketball, football, and one targeting women. After that, it was up to me to conceptualize and produce all of the ideas.
This is when things started to get really fun for me. One of the cool things about this project was that there was another group working on their own campaign for Under Armour and we would both present the same day. It wasn’t an official competition but it was competitive; I was going to make sure this was some of the best work I’ve ever created.
Like I mentioned in the first post, this project was coming together beginning in late September in Johnstown, PA but the shoots for the final campaign didn’t happen until early November and December because of other class work. For those of you not familiar with the weather in Johnstown, PA, you have two options really, snow or cloudy, there isn’t too much in between. (It once snowed, rained, and was warm enough for shorts all in the same 24 hours). With that in the back of mind, I knew shooting these ads outdoors would be a little difficult but I was determined to do all of the shoots on location, outside.
The first ad I wanted to create was for basketball. On the Pitt-Johnstown campus is a small outdoor court with two beat up, metal hoops. Since our campaign was targeting those who played pick-up games and not athletes on organized teams, this court was a likely setting for many pickup games and the ideal location for our first ad.
Now on large, multi-day campaigns in the real world, such as what commercial photographer Chase Jarvis shoots, there are “weather days” built into the production schedule in case of bad weather but for our campaign though I had weather weeks (it began snowing in October…). Luckily I wasn’t using up a budget or answering to an unhappy client each time I had to delay a shoot. The snow finally cleared and temperatures warmed up a bit several days into November; I had my first window of good weather in weeks and I made sure to take advantage of it.
The ad was to focus on a “hero” athlete who was competing against a friend, who, in other words, was the enemy. With no budget to speak of I had to recruit friends for every ad and made sure they brought any Under Armour clothing they had. My younger brother Nick would be our “hero” and Adam, a member of my group, would be his opponent in our mock basketball game. Shooting began around 4:30 which gave me about 90 minutes of sunlight to work with (this proved later to be perfectly timed).
The first few images on the shot list were posed images of Nick alone. We got several different looks, both tight on his face and a little looser to include his hands, arms, and a basketball. On the last few, we sprayed him down with water to simulate sweat. There are many different, and better, recipes for fake sweat but I chose to use water simply because it was free, quick, and the easiest to clean up.
The lighting was pretty simple for these images. I used two Vivitar 285HV’s zoomed to their maximum setting to give me a nice light on each side of Nick. A third light, a Nikon SB-900, was placed at camera left and inside a 43” brolly box which gave me a nice light on Nick. I used this same setup for most of the action images as well. Images were captured with a Nikon 50mm f1.8 lens attached to a Nikon D700 and the lights were triggered by PocketWizards.
We moved onto the first of several action shots next. The first would have Nick taking on one of his friends, again, played by Adam. At first I thought of trying to simply pose the action, remembering the issues from the football concept but this ended up not working very well. I needed an intense look on Nick’s face and just wasn’t getting that from posed images. Instead, I had Nick start a few feet from Adam and on my go, he would dribble towards Adam and cut to his right. Meanwhile, Adam would do his best to defend him but also let him pass. In retrospect, I think Adam had the harder of the two jobs; playing fake defense has to be hard.
Shooting the action gave me several out of focus frames, but the biggest challenge was getting the position of the ball and players in the right place. In some frames, the ball looked good but Nick was too far from Adam and in others, the ball was too far away or just didn’t look good but I did get several good images. Here are a few examples of shots that had one problem or another.
The next scene would be Nick trying to pass the ball off to a teammate, who was played by Adam, while he was defended by someone new, group member Tyler, who was also part of the creative team with me. Switching defenders was done due to height differences between Nick and Adam. Doing so also introduced some inconsistency between scenes but luckily that wouldn’t matter, as these images ultimately didn’t make it into the final ad. Just like the first action image, I shot many bad frames but the good images just weren’t looking as I’d hoped they would. I did though, pull out a nice image that could have been used had we been shooting for Nike instead of Under Armour.
I also wanted to try having Nick take a shot with the ball but again, these just didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. By this time, our light was starting to fade rather quickly and I knew I still wanted to shot a few environmental portraits of Nick so I hurried up, reset my lights and got to work.
The first portrait had Nick standing in front of the basket, while giving me the most intense look he could.
I got a few images with intensity but also a couple with a “my older brother is annoying me” look. With the first portrait out of the way, I had one left.
Pick-up games can take place with any number of players but basketball can be played with as few as two. When it is 1v1, all eyes are on that one player on each side, it is up to him to defeat his opponent and emerge from his “battle” victorious. I wanted to illustrate the intensity of a 1v1 game in my final portrait.
To do this, I put a bare SB-900 zoomed to 200mm on a light stand about 10 feet above the court and to camera left. A second light was aimed at the backboard and with a quick exposure change everything else fell to black. It had gotten dark enough out that I could shoot at a fairly wide open aperture and still have total darkness. I had Nick stand as if he was about to take on a defender while looking directly at the camera. The final image gave the feeling of a spotlight shining down onto the court exactly as I had envisioned.
The very last part of the basketball ad was a scene showing Nick and Adam competing against one another on a video game. I wanted to show the two as just two regular guys who hang out together. Again, Nick would be shown as the winner though to continue with the theme of the ad.
Lighting was a little different on this shoot. A White Lightning x1600 was placed inside a massive PLM 86’ umbrella at camera right, which really lit up the entire room rather nicely. I also stuck a Nikon SB-900 to camera left and behind Nick and Adam to give them a little light on the side of their faces. Without that light, they both blended into the background somewhat but this helped pop them out a bit. It’s a subtle touch but really went a long way in the final image.
Next I wanted to shoot the women’s ad. The idea behind this ad was that our “hero,” played by Pitt Johnstown student Nikki, was leaving a class at school and heading to the gym. To best illustrate this, I first had Nikki pose with a backpack over her shoulder walking out off a hallway while looking back over her shoulder as if to say goodbye to friends. This wasn’t really the best way to illustrate this idea as I would have liked to have had her in a simulated classroom but restrictions on schedules forced me to this.
Lighting was again rather straightforward with a SB-900 in the hallway and a White Lightning x1600 inside the same 43” brolly box from the basketball shoots to light Nikki. I used a Nikon D700 with a 50mm f1.8 lens for these images.
We moved across the hall into the gym next (one of the nice things about this location) to plan out the exercising images. I didn’t have the opportunity to either scout this location beforehand or chat with Nikki about what I was looking for so we spent a few minutes testing and trying to figure out where to shoot. It was immediately clear that color temp would be an issue. I needed to have some of the ambient, overhead lights filter in to fill in the background while using a daylight balanced strobe on Nikki. Doing this led to the yellowish color on the ceiling. Had I had another strobe with me, I would have used it to light the background myself but unfortunately, it wasn’t with me on this day. Another option would have been to just use the natural window light with a strobe but a row of treadmills prevented us from getting anywhere close to the window.
I decided to try one of the machines first and had Nikki do a light routine while I shot. Like the basketball ad, I wanted to convey the intensity of training. She was on the machine for a few minutes but I quickly realized this was not the best setting. So instead we moved to a yoga ball and some weights sitting nearby.
I did shoot with her on the yoga ball but got nothing so we switched to lifting weights.
We did have some success with the weights and after I got a few good images, we called it a day. For some reason, this ad was the hardest to shoot. Looking back at the images and final ad, I would have gone an entirely different direction with it. I did get enough to put together an ad though and fortunately we had several stronger ads to support it.
In between the major shoots for each ad, I also scattered in a couple smaller shoots to create images for use on the website or other, smaller ads. Below is a classroom I setup to illustrate Under Armour apparel in a separate way than the action ads. Like I’ve said before, the target of our campaign was people in their 20s who play sports for fun. College students fall within this target and I wanted an image that would connect to them.
I gathered my group together and took over an empty classroom on campus to setup a small studio. The focus of this shoot would again be our “hero,” this time played by Tyler. He would be dressed head to toe in Under Armour clothing and would be taking notes during a class while surrounded by a few classmates.
Of course, no shoot is complete without the embarrassing test frames taken while setting up; a big thanks to Adam for filling in for light and composition testing.
I chose to shoot in a corner of the room to give me a nice, clean background which helped to eliminate distractions that would draw focus away from Tyler. Lighting this scene took three lights. I placed a White Lightning x1600 at camera right in a PLM 86” umbrella with front diffuser on to light up Tyler and the other students. I placed a White Lighting Ultra 800 at camera left to light the side of Tyler and a second Ultra 800 was pointed at the top corner of the room to put some light on the back wall. All of the lights were triggered using PocketWizards.
I wanted Tyler’s face to show deep concentration, similar to how a person would be concentrating on winning during a game only in this case, Tyler’s goal would be to ace his test. When assembling everything into the final campaign, I wanted to show a parallel between winning on the field and in the classroom; either way Under Armour has the clothing and gear to help you succeed.
We shot for about 45 minutes just trying to get the look and feel perfect.
By this point, I was about halfway done gathering all of the images I would need for the final presentation in December. I still had an ad to shoot for football and an entire 60 second commercial to film with only about 2 weeks left until it was all due.
In the next post I’ll take you through the creation of the football ad, commercial, and website then I’ll wrap it all up in one final post to reveal the entire finished campaign.
But again, here’s a teaser to make sure you come back.
More to come…