A Clear and Present Kitchen


It could have been worse. It could have involved animals, too.

But as it was, I had non-professional volunteer adult models, about 15 children running around and watching (OK, maybe it was only 3, but it seemed like 15), 2 children who were also non-professional volunteer models, one of whom was expected to run through the set naturally. Also a video guy trying to get footage in between takes. Oh, and actually, there was a big dog present, though not part of the shot.

So, no – this was not my usual day of shooting empty interiors.

The project was to make a lifestyle-type photo of my client, Michael Thompson (the guy in the photo) meeting with his client (played by Donna Hanson, who does freelance marketing consulting; the 2 kids we recruited from the neighborhood) in a busy kitchen, evocative of a typical household in the early morning. Kids to get ready for school, Mom running late for a meeting, sort of chaotic.


Donna & Michael

This was part of a much larger project, including the Rooftop shoot, that is essentially a campaign promoting Michael as a busy Real Estate professional. There was a video component being shot, as well as a new website being designed. After many hours of brainstorming with Michael’s team of creatives, we settled on a series of photos.

Michael wanted to produce a multi-page brochure that really stood apart from the typical real estate collateral. He wanted a bare minimum of text, allowing the photography to tell the story, but he also wanted to avoid all the clichéd photos that we’ve seen again and again….the realtor handing the keys to the proud new homeowners….the realtor standing in the doorway of a fabuloIMG_0374us house, like Vanna White….explicit photos showing specific activities.
Instead, he wanted evocative, surprising (even startling) photos that would (hopefully) retain people’s attention and bring them to a positive conclusion without being too heavy-handed.

So, back to the kitchen shot. I had this shot totally pre-visualized, down to the smallest details. I mean, I knew exactly what I wanted. Donna and I spent an afternoon location scouting, visiting half a dozen potential kitchens to use as our set, but when we walked into this one I knew immediately that this was The One. It matched what I had in my mind’s eye so well it was almost creepy. Here’s one of the scouting photos I made that day:


As you can see, I was already homing in on the comp I would ultimately go with.

On the day of the shoot, I showed up about an hour early, to get set up and make a beauty shot of the kitchen as a gift to the homeowner (who had handed over her kitchen to a bunch of strangers for the afternoon).


Then, I began to construct my action shot. I had to not only keep the kitchen lit, but also make sure my models were appropriately lit as well. Ultimately I had 8 lights involved, about half for the room, and half for the talent.


The premise of the shot was Michael coming to his clients’ home in the early morning to get her signature on some sort of important document. The chaos of a typical weekday morning swirls around them; the boy eating his breakfast at the counter, the girl running somewhere with her book bag. Everything was carefully coordinated, from the props to the wardrobe of each person.

Once I had everyone positioned right, we worked on facial expression and gestures. It was a lot to keep track of! The boy had to be eating his cereal but not look awkward; Michael and Donna had to be focused on the documents but not have their faces turned away from the camera too much, and not smiling in a fake way but not scowling or frowning, either. The girl had to be running full-tilt towards the camera but not crash into me, and she had to do it about 25 times in a row.


She was the champ of the day – without her acting skill the shot would never have happened. She was able to come busting around the corner of that kitchen island again and again, flawlessly, while I ripped shots off hoping to catch one when everyone was perfect. And that’s what I got – ONE perfect shot and a bunch of almost-but-not-quite ones.

It was months later, when I was re-watching “Clear and Present Danger” with my girlfriend, that I saw Jack Ryan’s kitchen (in the movie) and realized that I had modeled the entire scene on that kitchen! Even the orange juice container! You never know what’s influencing you.

This is the third of a four-part series about shooting an ad campaign for a Real Estate broker. Also in the series:
Up On the Roof

4 responses to “A Clear and Present Kitchen

  1. Hi Scott: OK…These kept me up late. I enjoyed reading these more than Real Estate Setup shots!
    Great stuff!

  2. This is just neat to read about…I hope I get to this level one day!

  3. Fantastic info Scott – have spent hours looking at all your posts. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. Great job on this project and I hope the agents marketing paid off.