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Best of 2011: Keith Lanpher


Keith Lanpher takes his Best of ASMP 2009 win up a notch, in an evocative spot to promote Virginia Wine Month. Using a sprawling vineyard with rippling clouds as a backdrop, Lanpher and team took a spin around a wine glass placed atop a barrel. An adjacent platform held a skateboard dolly and a Canon Mark III tethered to a laptop. While manually turning the rig, they captured images every three seconds, with a fraction of an inch between exposures. A 28-second QuickTime sequence was distilled from 858 frames, shot over 75 minutes and capped off with a computer-generated wine pour into the glass, forming the shape of a heart.

Keith Lanpher, Norfolk, VA

Web site: www.lanpher.com

Project: Evocative broadcast production for Virginia Wine Month offering an example of today’s converging technologies in motion and stills.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

KL: I was an assistant for Matthew Brady during the Civil War.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

KL: 1984.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

KL: I mostly shoot people and location but do a little work with food whenever I get half a chance.

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

KL: It has to be a camera (any camera — I’m starting to really like my iPhone) and any piece of glass I can put on it. Beyond that it would most likely be whatever gets me to the location, like your car, or the plane seat you rent (no one ever thinks of their car as studio gear). Sometimes determination and volition are more important that the equipment. Gear and kit are fun, but the story, the thrill, the rewards is in getting the picture for both yourself and the client. Sounds goofy, but it’s true.

© Keith Lanpher
© 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 sure I’m the one to answer that, but I do love to shoot, take my work seriously and I hope to solve client problems. The goal is to make images that cause people to stop and look, maybe even think. I know that sounds obvious and trite, but look at how many images don’t feel like anything but wallpaper.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

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

KL: The art director, Joe Schnellmann, wanted a 30-second spot with a time lapse and a motion control on a wine glass with a vineyard background. We decided on a circular motion around the barrel with the wine glass in the center and never moving. That would give us the best option for the CGI wine pour at the end. I chose an exposure every three seconds, so we had to work out how many frames it would take for the 30-second final piece at 30 fps (the motion control section was about 25 seconds) and how many times we would need to move for that time frame. After that it was mostly logistics and mechanics in bringing it all together along with our own volition. Plus, a lot of things fell our way. The final product looks pretty simple, but it wasn’t.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: How did you happen to land this assignment? We note that one of your collaborators on this project was Keith Ireland, with whom you worked on a project featured in the Best of ASMP 2008. Does he enjoy putting you through the paces, or does he only work with collaborators named Keith? Does this last point ever get confusing on set?

KL: I’ve worked a lot with this agency and we have often figured out ways to pull off projects despite the hurdles. Yes, Keith Ireland was the CD on this project, but he was not on set. Funny side note: When I worked with him a couple years ago on some TV spots for the British Virgin Islands, my assistant’s name was also Keith and our driver’s name was Keith. We had four Keiths on one small set, but no one got hurt.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Most photographers would have called this the assignment from hell, even if there was a glass of wine at the end of it. Can you describe what kind of tribulations the various members of your crew underwent to get their piece of the puzzle in place for you?

KL: It was long stretch in a relatively short amount of time. We had an idea, but there were no immediate tools to create the effect, and not time or money to work out better alternatives. Then the location 100 plus yards down a row in a remote part of a vineyard, no power, August heat, rainstorms, the list goes on. These shoots are always more fun in retrospect, but we all did have a good time throughout. Well, the morning of the second day was pretty sketchy; we knew we had the basics of something good, but weren’t sure if the live performance was going to work out.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: On the Vimeo clip http://vimeo.com/15434639 you credit many people and note that everyone worked together on this piece. Please run through this list here and briefly describe each person’s role.

KL: It was a small crew. The main players were: Joe Schellman, our patient art director Kerry Cesil, my long time studio manager and producer Chip Johnson, assistant and dolly grip operator Danny Spry, assistant Both Chip and Danny are good photographers in their own right, and diligent problem solvers. Kerry holds the logistical details together. The whole crew simply worked on solutions until we got it right, and I can’t thank them enough for their contributions.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Your Vimeo clip includes the credit of “extra special thanks to Richard for the scaffold delivery.” Please give us the back story of the scaffold delivery and what was extra special about it?

KL: That’s a bit tongue in cheek, but he was a nice guy who was kind enough to get the scaffold all the way to a remote corner edge of the vineyard. Unfortunately the place I selected to make the view was another 100 yards down row 35.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You have a second Vimeo clip with a behind the scenes version of this project http://vimeo.com/15434639. Did you plan to do the behind the scenes clip from the very beginning? Have you done this kind of behind the scenes footage for other projects? Who shot the stills for this and did they have additional duties during the production shoot?

KL: We’ve not done a BTS video before, this was the first. However we generally keep some still cameras free on the set just to record the process with the idea there would be some behind the scenes work to show. I started developing the video idea over a weekend and it evolved from there. The video itself won a national Addy in self-promotion, which was a big surprise to me.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You mention that a skateboard dolly was used to manually move the camera 1/16th of an inch between exposures. What was involved in making movements in such small increments?

KL: Joe Schnellman (the art director) and I determined that the best action would be a semi circle around a wine glass that would culminate in the CGI pour. I still do not have any knowledge of a rig that would do that in as small a dimension as we needed. So Chip Johnson and I worked up a platform and an incremental arch that we moved the skate board dolly around. Fortunately Chip can concentrate the full time it took to move the camera every three seconds at 1/16th of an inch. I monitored the frames live underneath the platform. I would not recommend the approach, but we pulled it off (credit goes to Chip).

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Credited for the dolly move is an entity called a Humble Monkey. For those who skipped the Primatology lecture, who/what exactly is this and how did you find them?

KL: Here’s their website http://www.humblemonkeystore.com/ I had previously done some research about skateboard dollies so I already knew about their product. It’s a great product, but we were stretching its accuracy to do that arch in a precise repeated fashion.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: In the final clip, is the time lapse of the clouds animated separately from the pan of the vineyard landscape and the glass? Please talk about how the cloud movement was achieved.

KL: Nothing was done separately in the two days we made two passes, but the final is all one take. Fortunately we had a great sky that was a natural for the movement necessary in time lapse and it gave some interesting shadows on the wine glass as well.

That is the real sky, and that’s how much it was moving over the course of the 75 minutes. It was moving counter to our camera direction, which added to the dynamic. One could argue this could have been done on a green screen, but the shadow gave it an organic quality that would be hard to create in post.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Please describe the timeline for the actual shooting. You mention the shoot took two days and say you made two passes to capture the time lapse, each lasting 75 minutes. How was the balance of the two days spent? Were there incomplete passes unaccounted for in your description?

KL: After a week of problem solving, testing and location juggling, we arrived at Barboursville Vineyards on August 25. My plan had been to use another vineyard but there was a last minute change and we chose a second location, which turned out to have been a good change in plans. We arrived on set for yet one more parking lot test with the barrel, and then headed out to find a location where I could see a classic, rustic vineyard scene. I needed to be above the vineyard to see the scope so we had already rented scaffolds for the barrel and the camera stand. Once the scaffolds were up, all the gear had to be carried out for set up. We were in pretty good shape with everything in place and time to make a couple passes when someone on the scaffold could see that we were about to get clobbered with a storm. We had about three minutes to cover and we made it. After the storm passed we reset and began to fine tune the move again. We got in one late afternoon take that we hoped was a good one. We packed out most of the gear and left the barrel and scaffold there over night. At the hotel, we processed the files (around 1,000) and could see that we had several technical problems still unsolved. That made for a short worrisome night, but we discussed it at breakfast and headed back out. Once again we had to reset the rig and by early afternoon we were ready for another take. I would like to have done two takes that day, but by the time we finished checking the files, we were getting late to start another pass because we still had to tear down and drive four hours back to the studio where I then started the post work. I was confident we had the shoot, but would have loved to try another. I spent two days in post on color grading the final 853 raw files in Lightroom, and assembling a quick time movie at 30 frames per second.

ASMP: During your shoot there was also one heavy rain. At what point during the shoot did the skies open up? Were you in the midst of making a pass when this happened and, if so, at what point did you stop shooting? What did you and the crew do to protect the gear and the set?

KL: We had prepared for the possibility of rain. It happened as we were getting close to having everything lined up to make a pass. We pulled the major equipment off the scaffold got it under tarps, crew under umbrellas and held on. It was a little ugly and we all got a little wet, but the equipment stayed dry.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: One aspect of the time lapse that adds to the overall drama of the piece is the shadows of the clouds on the landscape. Was any of this captured during the approach of the storm? Were these shadows enhanced at all in the final clip to make them more dramatic?

KL: We used the take from the second day and there was no storm that day. The clouds’ shadows are just a function of the time lapse and the contrast in the scene. They had the same overall color grading as the rest of the image.

ASMP: You shot this piece using a Canon 16-35 zoom lens, why did you use a zoom rather than a fixed focal length lens?

KL: Given we didn’t have all the elements to fully test the dimensions of barrel and space and how much background we needed to see, the most flexible glass I could chose was obviously a zoom. In the end the perspective we needed worked best at 26mm.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You mention that the wine pour was accomplished by a CGI artist after the time lapse sequence was complete. Did you sit in or consult on this part of the project? Please tell us more about the technical aspects of the CGI work.

KL: My only involvement with the CGI was preproduction discussions with the CGI creator Gill Vbeinbjornsson to make sure my part of the project would work with his. The art director and I had some extensive conversations during the process about how to make it work. I have a general understanding of some of the techniques in CGI, but couldn’t hope to properly explain it. Gil used After Effects to create it final version.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: On a project of this complexity, at the conclusion of the principal photography the work on the project is hardly complete. At that point, were you confident that you had all the footage needed to successfully complete the clip, or did you have sleepless nights? What was the timeline between the end of photography and delivery of the final clip to the client?

KL: At the end of the project we didn’t have too much time for sleepless nights wondering if we had it. Although both myself and the art director wanted to try for one more version in the late light we also needed to get back to the studio to began processing and assembling the shoot. I was fairly sure we were okay, (can’t praise my crew enough for that) but, yes, there were worries.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: So what did you uncork after the job was completed? We know you shared it all around. Has the success and visibility of this project landed you any new time lapse or motion projects?

KL: I can’t remember what I might have uncorked once we hit the broadcast slot, (I like Pinot Noir out of Oregon and/or France) but at the end of the first day shoot the winery Manager Luca Paschina brought us a nice sampling of his wine that we all enjoyed.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Both your 2008 Best of ASMP project and this one have very specific Virginia-based themes/subjects. Up until now, how much of your work has been locally themed or based? Do you find it more enjoyable (or more accessible) to do work steeped in the local heritage or culture?

KL: I’ve worked on Virginia Tourism projects pretty steadily for the last 10 years. Both of these projects were highpoints, but there have been many others. I have a good relationship with both the current agency and the end client, plus I love this state, and there’s so much to shoot here.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: Your “About” page says, “Based in Virginia, works most any place in the world.” How long have you had this tagline for your business and how much of your recent work has come from afar? Do you notice any recent trends in the level of local, national and international interest in your work and/or jobs that you get?

KL: It’s not a tag line per say, I just hate the “artist statement” silliness and the agencies make fun of them anyway, so I thought I’d keep it to the basic information and that’s the phrase that came out. Most of my work is out-of-town on a regional basis, although I do have some good local clients. With the recession of the past three years it’s pretty difficult to recognize any trends. I used to have to add pages to my passport, but 9/11 and the economy has limited the shoots out of country. I’ve done a few international projects in the past few years, and I have a pending project in Africa, but that hasn’t been fully developed yet. Most of my work in the South East and Mid Atlantic, but I’ve been all over the world, so anywhere is fine.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You’re based in Norfolk, Virginia. Please talk about the logistics of getting in and out of your home base. Also, please expound on how you convince a skeptical client from New York, Los Angeles, or even farther afield to assign you.

KL: Location shooters generally end up going somewhere else regardless of where they live. If it’s within six or eight hours of my home, I’d rather drive. I take planes for work outside that range, but they are a pain to deal with (not to mention the loving pat-downs from those guys dressed in polyester). The productions require lots of crew, gear and kit, but it’s also fun to work on those simple gigs that are mostly just cameras, lenses and a computer at the hotel to process the images.

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher

ASMP: You have a blog http://blog.lanpher.com, which combines your recent images with short musings and also mentions the music you’re listening to while writing. Do you find photography and music to be particularly complimentary art forms? Do different types of music inspire different visual ideas for you? Is there any specific song or type of music you like to listen to for inspiration or to overcome a creative block?

KL: I feel pretty strongly about music. It’s a useful salve to life and it brings a nice sensibility, sometimes emotion, to almost any work. Of course images and music blended are a powerful media mix. I listen to a broad spectrum but generally avoid mainstream pop. There’s some amazing work being done all over the world. However, regarding inspiration, my favorite song on a set is Mick Jagger and “Let’s Work.”

© Keith Lanpher
© Keith Lanpher