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Best of ASMP 2009


Spanning five days and 1,000 miles across Northern California, Heath Korvola’s freewheeling assignment for outdoor apparel company Merrell boasted multiple vehicles, a crew of twenty and a stuntwoman, among other notables, in the cast. The team addressed business first by vetting everything in pre-production, so that the creativity could flourish on site. After targeted client needs were met, everyone surrendered to the flow of a fun, active, authentic look, as well as plenty of tunes to keep the “road trip” vibe alive.

Heath Korvola

Website: www.heathkorvola.com/

Project: Five-day assignment shoot for Merrell outdoor gear, featuring a crew of 20 on a thousand-mile road trip across northern California.

© Heath Korvola
All images in this article © Heath Korvola

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

HK: Seven years.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

HK: Since 2004.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

HK: Fresh slice-of-life location work — both editorial and commercial.

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

HK: Fantastic help/people and a cool head.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

HK: Experience and vision. Much of my work covers active lifestyle and athletic imagery that is nearly impossible to stage. I’ve been lucky enough to have lived that life (ski town, abroad, etc.) and know how to relate it to a client’s vision. My filters in certain areas are also slightly off and that always adds a bit of color.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

HK: It varies from job to job depending on the output we’re after and the clients’ needs. I personally take as much as I can to heart, starting with production discussions and shotlists on up to long days on site and then back in the office retouching. I can’t speak highly enough of a solid workflow — both in the field and especially in the office. Business up front allows the creativity to come through when you’re on site.

ASMP: Tell us about your client for this shoot, the Merrell Company, and the outdoor products they produce.

HK: Merrell produces this niche footwear, luggage and clothing for the active lifestyle. Their stuff is spot-on for the active life, be it urban or outdoor, and it was a distinct pleasure to highlight that on this assignment.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Describe the scope of your “road trip” assignment. What types and quantity of images was Merrell looking to produce?

HK: This was a large-scale shoot that really went after the road-trip concept in the purest way possible, via an actual road trip. Our plan was to cover as much ground as possible both in the woods and on the beach, as well as in the city, for a total of 50 final images.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: You used a crew of more than 20 people for this shoot. How did you pick your crew? What specific skills were most important to your selection process?

HK: Luckily, the design firm JDK was on top of this and they produced the entire shoot. They had worked with Merrell before and recruited many of the same people to really keep the road trip vibe alive. When my crew (three of us) showed up, we had a full group powwow and really capitalized on the friends atmosphere that was starting to take hold. It was great to know that we had nearly a week together and to say, “OK, other than the bathroom everything’s fair game” and to have everyone in on it. We had a crew that could do anything if they put their minds to it and the models were up for anything — in and out burger, skinny dipping, tree climbing, trolley chasing, rope swings and so on.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: What kinds of problems do you face when working with a large crew that you might not encounter with just a few assistants?

HK: Communication and execution can get hammered, as it’s hard to keep concepts and direction in order and fresh. We spent a large chunk of time in separate vehicles and that could have been an obstacle if we weren’t on the same page.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Also on your trip were an art director and a producer from the design firm JDK. What are their names and what were their contributions to the shoot?

HK: John Siddle was our AD extraordinaire and he kept the ideas cohesive, the direction open and the overall creative collaboration at a fabulous level. Leslie Twitchell ran the logistics and should have a medal for pulling it all together. She nailed down locations, meeting points, food and a slew of props that Santa himself would be jealous of.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Please describe your fleet of vehicles as well as the camera, lighting and support equipment that you brought along for this trip.

HK: Fleet is good way to describe it. There was a full-size motor home complete with our driver Jim, a wardrobe Sprinter van, a Honda Element and at least one or two personal cars. Wardrobe consumed both the Sprinter as well as parts of the motor home where props were also housed, as well as our digital “office.” Since we were in road mode with our concept, the only lights I had were a pair of my Canon 580 Ex’s. Our computer included a Mac, a team of hard drives and speakers for constant tunes.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: This type of shoot entails significant production costs. How do you keep costs under control, and how does your client contribute to upfront expenses?

HK: I think that pre-production has to be a real vetting process, taking looks at everything from as many angles as possible to decide what works and what doesn’t. This solid start puts you on a good track to succeed by having a solid, thoughtful budget. Business first, and then the creativity flourishes on site.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Who were your models, and what criteria did you use for making your model choices?

HK: The models were crucial here as they had to support the Merrell voice — fun, active and authentic. We had a group that included Merrell employees, an LA stuntwoman and former pro kayakers among other greats.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: How was the travel route planned? Were there specific locations or landmarks to be visited, or was your route more free-form?

HK: We had a route in mind that took into account a real road flavor and provided numerous shoot options: beach, mountains, city and so on. It also added a layer of grit to everyone involved, both literally and metaphorically. We started in San Francisco proper and did a large loop that took in the Sierras, Lake Tahoe, Santa Cruz and all points in between. A fire along Big Sur threw everything in the air for a bit, but Leslie recalibrated on the fly and we never had a problem. With this loop in mind, though, we definitely took liberties between points, especially since we were in 4 or 5 vehicles.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: How fixed was your shoot list? What flexibility did you have choosing or altering which products and which locations you could shoot?

HK: There was a definite plan — as with any shoot, the client has specific needs that need to be met. Once we nailed those down for the day or area, however, we really went with the flow. I can’t emphasize enough how well John (AD) did with the flexibility here, letting a true road trip develop. This was one of the most exciting and enjoyable shoots I’ve had, with John and I collaborating at every level, but neither of us stepping on the energy or flow of the shoot.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Describe a typical day on the road, including start and wrap times, miles traveled, locations photographed and images produced.

HK: Up and going at around 4:30 or 5 am. I’m not sure we ever even sat down for breakfast, since we needed that sunrise light and feeling. We generally spent a third- to a half-day at a site and then hit the road, eating on the way to the next site and shooting along the way. We shot until dark and sometimes afterwards, then had a late dinner before piling back in the vehicles for a few more miles. I remember pulling into a nice hotel in Santa Cruz and taking a picture of it on my iPhone, since I knew we were up at 4:30 the next morning and it was about midnight already and I didn’t think I’d remember how cool the design was if I didn’t grab a shot.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: What was the most unplanned, and yet successful, shot that you did?

HK: I can’t say for the client, though I would be interested in finding out, but I really got a lot out of a completely random stop on day zero, on our way up to Donner Pass in the Sierras. Only my car and the video car made the stop, but we nailed a handful of selects there in this beautiful sunset light, including a totally spontaneous bathroom break image. My favorite image might just be the rope swing the next morning, above Truckee.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: This type of shoot can be very energizing, or very draining. Tell us how you kept the creative juices flowing for you and for your crew.

HK: It was way deep on both ends of the spectrum of energizing and draining. Without such a great crew it would have been super-tough to keep it going. My digital tech, Nico, kept great tunes spinning on the aforementioned speakers in the motor home. The models were way beyond stars with their efforts. I feed off this flow and can perpetuate it because I’ve done these trips before — with and without the camera. You just keep in mind that everyone’s on the same level and there’s no need to hurry with anything.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: How many images did you produce during the five-day trip, and how many final images were selected for use by Merrell?

HK: With all the action, and a few mini-projects that we incorporated, we ended with nearly 10,000 images. Our agreement was for a final total of 50 images for Merrell.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Did you also shoot video of your adventure, for yourself or for the client? If so, what function will the video serve?

HK: Though I do work with video and hybrid media, there was a separate crew hired for the video production. Bruce of Cabin 46 (www.cabin46.com) did some outstanding work and was an inspiration throughout the entire project. My crew put together footage for my blog and it’s up at www.heathkorvola.com/blog/2009/05/11/merrell-video-communication-arts.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: What was the high point, and the low point, of your road trip?

HK: The high point had to be somewhere in the middle, where it was all coming together — concepts and people blending into one big road trip. The low point was realizing that it was over and it would take a few days to recover.

© Heath Korvola

ASMP: Would you do this type of trip again, and, what would you do differently the next time?

HK: We’re already planning on it. More tunes, a larger monitor and our video kit.