I recently had the pleasure of photographing Under Armour Founder, Kevin Plank for Footwear News Magazine. I had about 20 minutes with him (he's a busy guy after all) and was able to grab 3 setups, including the cover shot. Mr. Plank is a great guy to work with and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him. It's easy to see why he has been so successful and has guided Under Armour to where it is today.
I have never written a blog post that was so long I had to separate it into 4 parts. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post that was more than 500 words. Anyway, this is the last part of this series. I promise. If you’ve been following along with the last 3 posts then you know the story about how I got this assignment, what the production day was like and how I learned to be a product photographer in a day. Well, in this post I want to talk about retouching and the reasons for stylizing the images in the way we did.
Way back in February in my initial meeting with Yuengling we discussed the retouching style. The creative team wanted these images to have a gritty feeling to them and they had seen these shots of JP Harris and The Tough Choices in my portfolio.
They were interested in how I created the gritty texture and if it could be applied to other photos. I said absolutely as I had been wanting to apply this kind of treatment to another assignment for some time. It’s not the kind of aesthetic I would use all the time, but in certain situations I think it works really well.
In this case we knew that our final images would have multiple layers of texture, but would be very different from these shots of the Tough Choices. I collect textures. Sometimes I see a wood grain or a rusty tank and photograph it for later use. Other times I download textures from online sources. In the case with these Yuengling photos I ended up using anywhere from 2 texture layers to 6 texture layers on each photo. Each texture requires a different approach and different level of opacity. I mask certain areas, enhance others and play with various blending modes. No combination of textures is ever the same for every photo so this can at times be painstakingly slow.
I consider myself to be more of a shooter, but I also really enjoy cranking some music and getting lost in photoshop land. Each of the final images ended up somewhere in the range of 15 layer files at around 1 - 1.5 GB each. They’re big.
I went back and forth with Amy Whitehead and Regina Fanelli to fine tune the layers and finalize each image for delivery. This kind of retouching is very much a trial and error kind of approach. Sometimes it’s easy to go too far or not go far enough. I find that if I work on an image and get it to a stage I like that it’s good to take a break and come back to it hours later or even a day later. Taking a break gives me perspective and helps me to see areas I like and areas I don’t like. Ultimately, my goal is to deliver final images that my client will love while maintaining my personal style and vision.
I am really proud of the photographs I created for D.G. Yuengling & Son. I love making photos like this and working with clients who are willing to take chances. I love when work is really play. That’s why I became a photographer in the first place.
I’ll leave you with a few behind the scenes photos from our shoot day. Here’s to doing good work and drinking great beer!
I’m not your typical product shooter. I’ve shot various products over the years, but I have never considered myself to be a product photographer. I enjoy the process, but it’s not my standard subject matter. This is what I told Yuengling before getting this assignment. The thing about being open and honest (aside from being a good person) is that most of the time people respect your honesty, and in this case, my modesty. The creative team at Yuengling was actually excited that I wasn’t a product photographer because they wanted to see something different than what they had in the past. They wanted to see their flagship brands (Lager and Light Lager) in a new way and from a slightly different perspective.
We agreed to shoot the bottles together on a seamless white background so the bottles could easily be clipped and used in the various design elements with the other images from our day of shooting at the old brewery. This shot was done on a separate day in my home studio. Even though it was one shot of two bottles, it was by far the most challenging shot for me. The other shots were challenging in their own ways, but they are the kinds of subject matter I am used to. This shot presented a whole new set of problems to solve.
I wanted this shot to look like how I see beer bottles in the refrigerator. There is something about opening the fridge and seeing beautifully back lit bottles just waiting to be drunk. It’s really about where the bottle is in relation to the light in the fridge. I knew I had seen it before and really wanted to create the same aesthetic for our shot.
I gave myself a crash course in how to shoot beer bottles. I tried a variety of light setups and ultimately landed on a setup that consisted of a strip box on either side of the bottle, with a fill card in front and a strobe with reflector and grid coming directly from behind through a hole I cut in the background. Since the bottles are two different colors, balancing the light was challenging. The green bottle transmits light much easier than the brown bottle. I built various flags and reflectors to control the light from behind, but ultimately the major light control came in the form of multiple exposures combined in post. This gave me the most control over the final image.
To give the bottles that frosty cool look I would stick them in the freezer for about 20 minutes immediately before shooting. I would take them out and spray with a mixture of 50/50 water and glycerin. The glycerin helps keep the beads of water from immediately running. These bottles were specially prepared with waterproof labels so the labels would look good for longer periods of shooting. I had a total of 12 bottles to work with. Six of each brand. And yes, I did drink them when I was finished shooting.
I shot a few different angles and communicated with the creative team remotely during the shoot day and with their approval moved forward with this setup. We all liked the low angle and how it gives the beer a towering, powerful feeling. This was the angle and feeling that Yuengling was hoping I could bring to the product shot.
Part four to this epically long blog post is coming soon so stay tuned. I’ll talk about the final retouching of our select images.
I love Yuengling beer. I love the brand and I love that it’s still family owned and operated. Dick Yuengling shows up to work every morning at 5 am, works until noon, takes a long lunch break and then often works until 9 pm. At 70 years old, he does this every day. It’s his name on the package after all. This is what I love about the company. It’s blue collar to the core. One person does the work of two and they serve a loyal consumer base. It’s an original American story. It’s this sense of pride that drove the creative direction for this project. I worked with a talented group of people from Yuengling’s internal marketing department. Creative director/Art Director, Regina Fanelli and Graphic Designer/Art Director, Amy Whitehead worked tirelessly to fine tune the creative direction and overall concepts for our photographs. My goal was to create images about the American Story. I wanted these photos to represent the proud heritage of America’s oldest brewery by creating authentic images that would resonate with Yuengling’s loyal customer base. Thus, we settled on photographing 5 scenarios in the old brewery and 1 product shot in studio.
I’m going to skip over all the pre-production steps involved in this process and get right to discussing each scenario on the actual production day. Yuengling chose to license an unexpected shot we captured later so I’m going to skip over our first setup, which was a portrait in front of the brew kettle. Instead, let’s start on the bottling line.
We had a few setup ideas from our scout day that we knew we wanted to try, but the most important thing was to be able to show a proud, confident and relaxed employee with the bottling line and classic green lager bottles in the background. This proved to be a bit more challenging than anticipated because the line was actually scheduled to be running cans on the day of our shoot. We discovered this the day before and luckily, Jennifer Yuengling was available and she quickly made the adjustments necessary for us to be able to run bottles on the line.
The tricky thing about shooting on a bottling line is that it’s fully operational and production doesn’t stop for anyone. Especially me. We had to make sure that our gear was out of the way and our setups wouldn’t interfere with line operations. We knew from scouting the day before that we had this nice open space to work with so this is where we set up first. I used a simple two light setup for this shot so it gave us the maneuverability to experiment with a couple different angles in the same space. Ultimately, we settled on this straightforward, symmetrical angle. Our employee was Mike Bowers, a 33 year veteran of D.G. Yuengling. He was incredibly relaxed and easy to work with. He was quiet, friendly and took direction very well. In my opinion, this portrait of Mike embodies Yuengling beer.
From here we moved up to what is called the depalletizer room. We had a lot more flexibility here in terms of space to work in. It was arranged for us to use one whole end of the room and three pallets of lager cases were waiting for us. Having ample space also gave us the opportunity to shoot multiple angles here as well. This was the second angle and by far my favorite. We shot this around noon so I had to create the sun. Jared Gruenwald (my assistant) and I crawled in and out of a window to set up two lights that would act as our early morning sun. We set up a softbox to fill in the cases and the worker and another light to fill in the back wall. Four lights for one of my setups is pretty extravagant. I’m typically a one to three light kind of guy, but when the opportunity presents itself I happily experiment with adding additional light. My goal in all situations is to make the light look good, but not be overtly “flashy.”
Our employee, Ed Leibel Jr. had to stack and unstack numerous cases of beer. Ed has been employed by Yuengling for 16 years and was happy to work with us to capture this shot. He helped us move things around and he even let me move pallets around with a hand lift. We added some ambiance to this shot by kicking up some dust. Amy, Regina and Jared went wild with a couple of brooms prior to each take which made for a some really filthy equipment at the end of the day. In hindsight a smoke machine probably would have been more appropriate.
This shot may be my favorite from the entire series. To me, this is an iconic, moody image of a classic brand. It represents hard work, dedication and tradition. It’s everything we originally envisioned when deciding to shoot in this room.
By the time we wrapped up here it was getting on to mid-afternoon. We finished up a late lunch and moved everything down to the cellar room where we would photograph lead brewer, John Callahan. It was during this next shot that I got to drink the best Yuengling ever. The tanks pictured here don’t store beer anymore, but we were right next door to some tanks that did. Jared and I set up our shot while the rest of the team caught up on email and phone calls in the break room next door.
This was another 4 light setup so I was feeling pretty good about my lighting skills. We set up 3 strobes with silver reflectors on them to light the tanks and used one octabox with a grid to light John. Once we had the lighting dialed in we stepped into the break room and had a beer with the rest of the crew and John. Again, I can’t emphasize enough how good this beer was. I’ve been drinking Yuengling for a long time, but never has it been so fresh. And, while we were taking a break I got to talk with John a bit about his experience working for America’s oldest brewery. I talked a little bit about John’s back story in Part 1 so I won’t go into detail here. If you missed it click on this link.
Like everyone else we worked with John was great. He took direction well, was friendly and very generous with his time. I can’t say enough good things about Yuengling employees.
As we finished photographing John, we got word that Dick Yuengling was somewhere on premises. He typically goes back and forth between the old and new breweries in Pottsville and I had been told that if we timed it right we might be able to corner him long enough for a portrait. He’s a busy guy so we knew we had to move fast and make it easy for him. He’s running a company that produces over 2.5 million barrels of beer a year after all. I photographed Dick outside of his office in an alley that is historic to Yuengling. Dick was patient with me while I experimented with different angles and we got some great shots. However, Yuengling opted to license another shot instead of any shots of Dick by himself.
Apparently it was a rare occasion for Dick, his daughter Jennifer, and his daughter Wendy to all be in the same area of the brewery at the same time for more than a few minutes. The shot below was totally unplanned and happened only because Yuengling’s marketing manager saw the opportunity to get a shot of the 3 of them together. We persuaded them to let us photograph them together in the Rathskeller. They agreed so Jared and I hustled all our equipment over to the Rathskeller and set up our shot in less than 20 minutes. Amy, Regina and Jared busted their asses to help me get this shot ready. We were limited by space as the Rathskeller is a narrow bar, but we wanted to make sure that some Yuengling products and the dark wood around the bar were visible in the background.
We finished testing light just as the 3 Yuengling family members arrived. I positioned them at the corner of the bar and started firing away. These are three very busy people so I was trying to be respectful of their time, but also wanted to make sure we got the shot we needed. Because it was unplanned I didn’t know exactly what that would look like. We captured a number of great shots, but this image of Dick with his arms around two of his daughters is the image that the marketing department ended up licensing. I think it’s a classic shot of an extremely hard working family and I was really happy I had the opportunity to photograph them together.
As soon as we finished up in the Rathskeller we packed all our equipment and headed outside for our final shot of the day. The old brewery has been in on Mahantongo St. in Pottsville, PA since 1831. It has a ton of history to it and is still 1 of three breweries producing Yuengling beer. It’s a structure that has weathered the Civil War, 2 World Wars and prohibition. And, all that time it was run by 5 generations of Yuengling family members. It’s an icon and it was known from the beginning how important it would be to have a strong image of this building for the 185th Anniversary. We looked to historical photos for inspiration and found a photo from the mid 1800’s that was shot from a similar angle to what we have here.
I knew this shot would be weather dependent. When dealing with mother nature all you can really do is cross your fingers, hope for good weather and do your best to deliver a great shot regardless of what is thrown at you. Fortunately for us, the weather turned out to be exactly the kind of light and sky we needed to make this shot into what we originally envisioned.
I knew from our scout day that we would need to do this shot between 5:30 and 6:30 to get the best light. We set up on the corner at almost exactly 5:30 and continued to shoot multiple variations until about 6:30. We shot this in early April and even though it was sunny, the temperature quickly dropped into the 30’s. We stood on the corner talking, blowing on our hands and watching the light change while I grabbed frames. We were able to get a local Yuengling box truck and had the driver swing by at the end of his shift so we could add it into the shot. We tried a couple of variations, but ultimately this was the angle and truck position that we all liked the best.
We wrapped up our shot and Jared and I packed all our gear in the car and said goodbye to our Yuengling friends. After a quick bite in town we hit the road for home knowing that we had just created some fantastic new images for Yuengling.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where I get to talk about the product shoot day
I’ve been drinking Yuengling beer as long as I can remember. It’s hard not to know the iconic Yuengling brand when you grow up in Pennsylvania. In my hometown I can walk into any local bar and ask for a lager. There is no need to say anything else. It’s understood that I am asking for a Yuengling Lager. This spring I had the opportunity to drink Yuengling straight out of the cask. It’s the best Yuengling Lager I have ever had and probably ever will have. It was great on a multitude of levels, but the best thing about it was that I was drinking it with Yuengling’s lead brewer (John Callahan) moments before getting to photograph him in the old cellar. He’s a fascinating man and is truly a great American story. He started working at the brewery in 1980 cleaning tanks. Over the past 33 years he has seen Yuengling grow immensely while slowly working his way up the chain of command to become Lead Brewer of America’s oldest brewery.
This assignment came about in a very roundabout way. It proves that personal projects play an important role in landing new work. I had been working on a personal project exploring rural communities in Pennsylvania and decided I wanted to take the project to a different level of storytelling. I had the idea of focusing on iconic Pennsylvania companies and photographing their employees at work in a similar style to what I had been doing for the rest of my project. The first company that came to mind was Yuengling so I called them up and talked with their Marketing Manager, Jen Holtzman. She was interested in my ideas and thought she would be able to get me access to the old brewery. Long story short, we had difficulty scheduling and then my son was born. In the chaos of becoming a new dad I tabled the project and Yuengling dropped off my radar.
Fast forward 9 months to February, 2013. I got a call from Jen Holtzman saying she would like to talk with me about a photography project for 2014, Yuengling’s 185th Anniversary year. She had just gotten out of a meeting in which they were talking about photography direction for the 2014 materials. She remembered me and my project and looked me up. She and her creative team loved the work on my website and then went to my blog to see more. On my blog they read my post about a Dodge Ram Superbowl commercial. You may remember this post. They had been talking about the same commercial in their planning meeting as inspiration and were thrilled to see that I was already thinking some of the same things.
We scheduled an informal creative meeting at Yuengling’s headquarters in Pottsville, PA for the following week. What is great about this is that they brought me in on the ground level of creative discussion. This gave me the opportunity to give a lot of input into the creative direction of the photography for this project. I took all my information from the meeting and started working on a proposal with Craig Oppenheimer at Wonderful Machine. Craig worked with me to put together an initial estimate and then I put together a kick ass proposal and sent over to Jen. We had a few rounds of negotiating before we finally settled on the creative direction, total number of images and overall budget. I got the job and immediately went to buy a case of Yuengling Lager to celebrate.
I am incredibly grateful to the creative team at Yuengling for taking a chance in hiring me for this project. I don’t mean to say I’m risky. Quite the contrary. I knew I could deliver exactly what I said I would, but the risk for them was that they had never used photography like this in any of their marketing materials. This is uncharted territory for Yuengling and I am thrilled that even after 185 years of continuous operation they still know how to change things up a bit.
Stay tuned to learn more about the production in Part Two
Here are two images from a recent story I shot in Philadelphia for AARP Magazine. It was a story about a program called Reading Buddies in which seniors are paired with inner city children for a weekly hour of constructive adult attention. The program was started by a woman named Pat Quiqq and has been operating for over 30 years.
When I was 20 years old I was a jerk. Not all the time, but in one particular instance I was the biggest jerk on campus. During my 20th year of life I attended Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, CO for one semester. I was in the professional photography program and it had a major impact on my development as a photographer. The coursework was great and the instructors were top notch, yet I only lasted one semester before transferring for the third time in my college career. There were a combination of things that led to my departure from CMC including the fact that the I-70 corridor through Colorado is rather expensive for someone trying to make it through school without incurring any debt. Another major reason was the fact that my new girlfriend (now my wife) was living in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music. Being 2,000 miles away from each other is a tough way to build a meaningful relationship.
The other factor that led to my departure was that I quickly burnt myself out on photography. The program was intensive and required me to throw everything else aside. I remember days of hitting the road before dawn to go on location to shoot. I'd come back before my first class in the morning, then process the film after lunch. I'd go to more classes and then print through the evening. It was great for fast paced learning, but my personality requires my life to be diverse. I needed variety in my life so I worked 30 hours a week at a local ski shop and spent the few spare moments I had climbing mountains and snowboarding. I loved Colorado!
But . . .
There was one particular instance during my time at CMC that I want to talk about. I can look back on it now and smile, but at the time I was convinced that what I was doing was the right thing. Being 11 years removed has given me a much clearer perspective of that "defining moment."
Simply put, I was an arrogant little asshole. I'm going to recount this experience now in the hopes that some of you younger readers won't be as much of jerk as I was at 20.
I was taking Black and White Photography 1. I should start by saying that this was an incredibly valuable class and I learned many of the fundamentals I now use as a professional photographer during this time. I went through the entire semester doing very well. I wasn't that crazy about many of the assignments the instructor assigned, but the material was relevant. I held an A the whole way through the semester until my final assignment for the semester when I really shined as a jerk.
BW Photo 1 - Make one picture that represents what America means to you. I remember getting the assignment and immediately being turned off. "How can one photograph represent America! This is a ridiculous assignment." At least this is how I felt at the time. Now I look at this assignment and realize how subjective it is. I literally could have shot anything. But, being the arrogant little jerk that I was I thought, "No way man, I'm not going to lower myself to these standards. I'm above this and won't do it." See what I mean - I was a dickhead.
So instead of just doing the assignment like the rest of my peers, I spent way too much time writing an essay about why I refused to do the assignment. I wish I could find a copy of that essay so I could have a really good laugh. I think I even turned in a black print. Yeah, like I said I was a jerk. I probably spent more time not doing the assignment than if I had actually just gone out and shot something new. It's hard to remember why I was so passionate about not doing it, but I remember being 100% sure of myself then. Where did I get that confidence?
Long story short, I got an F. And rightly so. I can't imagine what my professor thought when I turned that in. He was so furious that he didn't even talk to me the remainder of my time there. I don't blame him one bit. That act of defiance was something that isn't worthy of being addressed. If by some coincidence my former teacher happens to read this and remembers me, I would like to utter this apology:
"I'm sorry for being such a jerk. I had no basis for acting in that way and I hope you realize the lessons you taught me have been invaluable to my career. I regret not using the passion I had to actually create something meaningful. I regret acting the way I did and hope you'll except this belated apology. I was only 20, clearly immature and stupid. I'm sorry."
And with that I would like to turn in a revised assignment and say, "Hey Kid, don't be a jerk."