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Best of ASMP 2009


A winning collaboration among Keith Lanpher’s photography, BCF creative director Keith Ireland’s vision and Sugar Digital’s retouching skills made period portraits of seven notable Virginians into a larger-than-life experience. Added to the complexity of seven days of locations, costumes and props was the challenge of coexisting with a film crew during the entire shoot. Lanpher and his crew worked between the lines of the other events and overcame every barrier, rethinking things as they went, with spectacular results.

Keith Lanpher

Website: http://lanpher.com

Project: Portraits of seven Virginians in period costumes and stylized settings, for the Virginia Tourism Corporation’s “Live Passionately” marketing campaign.

© Keith Lanpher
All images in this article © Keith Lanpher

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

KL: Ten years.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

KL: Mostly I shoot people and location.

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

KL: Probably my hands and feet, but in regards to hardware you buy, it all comes down to a camera, and I would make do with anything as long as I can make a picture.

© Keith Lanpher

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

KL: I’m not real comfortable with this question, it would seem that other people would be better at assessing style labels. Otherwise I think you get caught up in a personal awareness that probably restricts your freedom. In this project, I adapted my approach to best accomplish what was needed in the concept.

© Keith Lanpher

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

KL: This project all started in the head of the creative director, Keith Ireland, from the agency BCF. I’ve worked with him for 7 years and this was the second year we collaborated on the VTC campaign. It’s also the second year we have worked with Adam Moore of Sugar Digital. Adam has this beautiful approach to retouching that doesn’t call attention to its own technique, so the viewer can simply experience a beautiful image and concept. Adam and I basically figure out a way to execute Keith Ireland’s vision. Sometimes that’s subtle little brush strokes, and sometimes it’s a comprehensive sweep of all the elements that make the final image.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Did you have an existing relationship with your client, the Virginia Tourism Corporation? How did they first become aware of your work?

KL: I began working with the Virginia Tourism Corporation 8 years ago, when their agency at the time asked me to work on a year-long project of imagery in the state of Virginia. I’ve worked with them intermittently on a variety of subjects since then.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Tell us about the theme and the use of the images from this assignment. What kind of media placement is planned for these images (both in-print and online)?

KL: The concept was to show real Virginians who are involved in interesting notable professions. So it was essentially a series of larger-than-life portraits that sell Virginia as a place to travel and experience. The media buys were both in publications and outdoors.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You photographed seven subjects in seven travel days, using unique locations, elaborate wardrobe and significant lighting. Describe the process of selecting subjects and locations, and deciding on costumes and lighting.

KL: Keith Ireland’s vision often has a cinematic scope, so each portrait was supposed to have some element that is bigger than life. He had drafts of every set up, and that complexity is challenging enough, but the more difficult element was that we had to coexist with a film crew throughout the process. We all knew it was a compromise, but there wasn’t much choice. I’ve worked with Keith in this fashion before and it’s my job to find a way to get the images. All that given, there were a lot of phone conferences, discussions about locations, props, and innumerable details that changed several times a day. This included phone conferences with the film director, the retoucher, the stylists, and a host of other players. There’s always a level of chaos to this process, but usually we are in charge of our own chaos, and sharing chaos, well how do you describe that process? Again, not the way I usually work, but I knew those details going into the project.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You credit your crew for the success of this assignment. What crewmembers do you work with on a regular basis for this type of job?

KL: My budget for stills only had to cover my immediate crew, so I picked the three best assistants I have available. My studio manager/producer Kerry Cesil and these three assistants were my crew. Beyond that group, the stylist was probably the most crucial role and though I felt we need a LA/NYC-level feature stylist, we discovered “LA” Woodlief instead. She’s right here in the state and did a spectacular job. From the beginning, I let my assistants and crew know that we would be working between the lines of the other events and most likely it would not go smoothly, but we had to overcome the barriers and make the images anyway. Beyond that I trust them to do their jobs and they went above and beyond on every setup. Those quasi-familial relationships are one of the joys of this business.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: What types of additional specialty services, such as costumers, animal handlers, special effects artists and so on, did you employ for this assignment?

KL: The stylist was often the glue on the set. LA handled wardrobe and props. The schedule only allowed for us to review elements just prior to the actual shoot. Not the normal process, since it’s pretty crucial to have it all under control before you start production, but again we were co-producing with another production company and that gets complicated. Beyond styling, each set up had other different players. The production utilized a specialty guy from Gettysburg for smoke in the Historian image, a dog trainer for the Dog Walker image, and the list went on from there.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You mention working with creative director, Keith Ireland. Who does he work for and for how long have you known and worked with him? Please describe the extent of your collaboration to create these images.

KL: I’ve worked with Keith Ireland for 7 years and we’ve had a wonderful go at it. There’s not much I wouldn’t try to do for him. He says 90 percent of this work has to be accomplished in the photography, but I’d suggest I played the middleman between his big ideas and Sugar Digital’s retouching skills.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Do you have past experience in creating these kinds of period pieces? What kind of pre-production research or storyboarding was done to develop the concepts?

KL: I’ve worked on a few period pieces before and in this instance I worked with my producer, the agency producer, the stylist and the other players to address the specific details. They do all the heavy lifting on a period piece; I just have to capture the details with the appropriate feeling.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: All of the images for this campaign seem to rely on extensive use of location lighting gear. What types of lighting and power generation gear did you use for this assignment?

KL: From the first set up I realized that my conceptual approach to light and the film director’s lighting would not coexist, so we worked on separate sets with each of the subjects. I generally don’t try to overcomplicate the lighting, and if I can make the sun, scrims and reflectors do the work I’m happy. We generally didn’t have much time with the subjects anyway. But we did use lots of different light sources for the Haunted house and the Vineyard set ups. For power we were often on generators or battery packs.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: One photograph, of Kristina Robertson “Canine Enthusiast,” includes nine dogs, all wearing tri-corner hats. What tricks did you use to get the dogs to pose?

KL: That one had us worried and in my conversations with the retoucher we decided that we would need to do a lot of additional captures of hats that he could manipulate on the dogs in post — but in the end, and this is a little hard to believe, the dogs really wore the hats. I’d better appreciate that one, because I likely won’t have that good fortune ever again in my career.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: How important was the actual time of day and atmosphere to the success of these images and how much of this was produced digitally after the fact?

KL: I did not have full control of time of day on the shoots, so I adjusted my approach to that reality. A few times it went according to plan, but mostly I had to work around the film unit and rethink it as we went along. This got a little nerve wracking, but each time we worked it out. In some instances, like the Basket Weaver image, we smoked the scene and back-lit it, but the retoucher Adam Moore filled in the gaps. Two of the images were shot on green or blue screens, and they were lit to fit the elements we had or were planning to shoot. The surfer probably had the most ideal light at the time of the shoot. It was getting dark and trying to rain while we shot the Dog Walker.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: What types of post-production manipulations or additions were made to your images? Did you do any of the post-production work in-house? Please describe the extent of the retouching work done by Sugar Digital and any involvement you had in that part of the process.

KL: I do not work at this level of post-production, so all the retouching was accomplished through Sugar Digital. We had a number of discussions prior to the shoot about what would be needed between the primary portrait element, and surrounding details. Adam is so good that he finds ways to push the elements even beyond your best planning. He does amazing work and it all has such clean sensibilities.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Given the significant up-front and ongoing costs usually associated with this type of complex assignment, how did you structure your billing to provide for timely payment for expenses?

KL: We have a long-term working relationship with the agency and the end client, so we billed 50 percent expenses up front and could count on the rest coming in on schedule.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Do you have a favorite among the images from this series? If so, what is it about the image that makes it special?

KL: There are three that stand out for me: Dog Walker, Civil War and Basket Weaver. The Oyster Shucker and Surfer images accomplish the most with layering elements. But I like the first three because they come the closest to my other work.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: What was the biggest challenge you confronted during this assignment? Is there anything that you would do differently the next time?

KL: Again, it was the dual production environment, not enough input on pre-production, and not much time on set. I think the agency would like to have done it differently, but I understand the obvious bind they were in. I would do it again, if asked and though I would ask for some specifics, all those plans often need to be adjusted once you are in production.

© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Are there any future uses, such as self-promotion or exhibition that you’re planning for these images? If so, please elaborate.

KL: The work has been generally well received in competitions, and we have used the images in some of our promotions. Given the collaborative nature of this project, I would only exhibit it in a venue that allowed me to credit all the players who contributed.