Some shots I have “pre-visualized” better than others. Sure, I always try to go into a shoot with at least some concept for the final result, and a plan for getting there, but I don’t always have every detail mapped out. And anyway, you have to be ready to roll with whatever comes up mid-shoot; it’s not at all unusual to change course completely when you find something unexpected that really works.

But sometimes, I have an absolutely vivid picture in my head, that I’m trying to replicate. This was the case with “A Clear and Present Kitchen”, when I knew, like I mean I really KNEW, what I wanted. (I didn’t realize until much later that the source of my inspiration was a scene from the Harrison Ford thriller “A Clear and Present Danger.”) For that shot, I had a really detailed vision for the final result, and due to some extensive pre-work, along with a little luck, I nailed it. I got very little sleep that night.

There is very little in life more satisfying to me than successfully replicating in a photograph the pictures I have in my head.

The shot at the top of this post is one of those. This was shot as part of a larger campaign designed to “re-brand” a high-end real estate agent. The print piece was to be almost devoid of copy, with (hopefully) stunning photography telling the story. But not too heavy-handed – we wanted images that were more evocative than explicit.


The idea was to illustrate an older couple that has just sold the family home and are launching into a new (and exciting) phase of life. We didn’t want to supply a lot of details; it doesn’t matter where they’re going, what they’re doing, we don’t hargis_090531_9996need to show Michael’s involvement at all. What was crucial, though, was to really bring out the feelings of our fictitious couple – the excitement, the anticipation, the nostalgia, that they might be feeling at this moment. And we definitely wanted an upbeat mood.

As always, we began with a location scouting expedition. After driving around our target neighborhood and taking scouting photos, the list was narrowed down to three or four candidates. I went back out with Donna, (my client’s marketing consultant) and started knocking on doors.

This one took a little bit of charm – what we were asking people for was simply the use of the front of their house as our backdrop, but it would be easier for them to just shut us down than to listen to the whole spiel and wonder what we might be leaving out. And yet, we found people amazingly open and cooperative. Indeed, the biggest problem I had was convincing our finalists to refrain from raking all the leaves! (I wanted a “real” look; not too manicured.)

In the end, we decided to shoot two locations, in part because one of them would be in full shade at the time of the shoot, and was therefore a good hedge against poor weather. In the San Francisco Bay Area, you can get a “marine layer” of overcast/fog on any day of the year; but if we weren’t dependent on ambient and sky, we could still salvage the shoot. The second location, however, was almost entirely dependent on the sweet, warm light that on a clear day comes in over the Bay.


Michael, my client, is a classic-car enthusiast, and so it didn’t take much arm-twisting to get him to pull his Porsche 364 out of the garage and lend it to the shoot. Donna found Vivian and Chris (friends of hers) and convinced them to model for us as our Baby Boomer couple. I told Vivian to channel Jackie O, and asked Chris to bring sunglasses, a hat, and be dressed for a road trip.

They were perfect. We got the car parked in front of Location One and worked it for about 30 minutes; we quickly had a peanut gallery of neighbors gathering around. I lit the car with an SB80 about 30’ away, gelled CTO to mimic the warm sunlight that we didn’t have due to the foliage behind us, and accented them with a shoot-through umbrella boomed overhead:IMG_0652


This was "Location One"; the 'safe' shot.

I could see that this was working, and that Vivian and Chris were going to deliver exactly the look I wanted, so after getting some “safe” shots, we packed everything up and drove a few blocks over to Location Two , which was the one I really wanted. The weather was sort of cooperating, and so we got the car positioned and began shooting.

The sunlight was filtered through some low cloud cover, and was coming in and out a little un-predictably so I augmented it with hard light coming straight into the windshield (again, gelled CTO). As before, I softened some of the shadows with an overhead shoot-through.


Photo by Quentin Bacon

To get some action out of Vivian and Chris, I had Vivian start tossing one of my DIY grids back and forth with one of the crew – this got her moving around and laughing. Chris, meanwhile, was trying not to be distracted, and the result was the perfect expression on his face – he’s totally ready to get it in gear and head off into the sunset, but he’s willing to indulge his wife as she interacts with someone we don’t see off-frame.


Vivian playing "catch" with Donna, to create some action. Photo by Quentin Bacon.

I just couldn’t be more pleased with this shoot!

Here are a few out-takes:


Making sure Vivian isn't going to destroy a $150,000 car if she starts climbing around back there. Photo by Quentin Bacon.



Clarence Foules holds the boom at location one. Photo by Quentin Bacon.



Models Chris & Vivian Cook take a break.


Cast & Crew: (left to right) Clarence Foules, Adele Wong, Me (kneeling), Vivian Cook, Michael Thompson, Chris Cook (in the driver's seat), Donna Hanson, Quentin Bacon (wielding the steady-cam).

This is the fourth of a four-part series about shooting an ad campaign for a Real Estate broker. Also in the series:
A Clear and Present Kitchen
Up On the Roof

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