In a new campaign for Alec Bradley Cigars, portrait photographer Peter Taylor does things a little differently. There were no models, slyly smoking cigars, celebrity spokespersons, or sexy women in slinky dresses. Instead, Peter shot real Alec Bradley national sales reps, nicknamed The Road Warriors, in ways that highlighted each rep’s unique personality. These fun ads are currently running in Cigar Aficionado, each featuring a different rep. Enjoying the refreshing take on cigar advertising, I got in touch with Peter and Alec Bradley art director, Jeff Moss, to discuss the project further.
Peter, how would you describe your photographic style?
My style is a mishmash of so many influences and experiences it’s hard to put a name to it. I have been a war photographer, a newspaper photographer, a professional sports photographer, a magazine photographer, a set designer, a production stills photographer, a fashion photographer, a photo editor, a food photographer, etc. Throughout all of this, a few things have stayed constant. My work is story telling, full of real moments, and has the ‘human’ experience — it’s very relatable.
How were you chosen to photograph the Alec Bradley project?
I was hired directly by the company. They found me through my relationship with their art director. Jeff and I have known each other since 2003 when we met at a creative networking event. Since then, we’ve collaborated on many projects.
What was the concept behind the shoot?
Peter: Jeff and I had been tossing around some ideas on how to present the brand. He came up with some great tag lines, including the one that’s currently the company’s motto, “Live True”. We used that as a starting point. The main idea was to stand out from other cigar brands. No celebrities and no sexy women. We wanted to see real people living true. Eventually, with the brilliant input from the owner, Alan Rubin, that morphed into shooting the personalities of each of the sales reps. They wanted photos that showed The Road Warriors being themselves. Each one was given a nickname and that’s what we based each shoot on.
Jeff: We wanted to position this campaign on a direction that had not yet been done. We thought that building the “superstar” as a group would carry further than just one individual character would.
How much creative freedom did you have, Peter?
From the very start, Jeff and I worked very closely together, tossing around ideas and locations and props right up until I pressed the shutter button. While on the shoot, I’d say I had quite a bit of creative control. Jeff and Alan work in the style of letting people do what they know how to do.
What was the shoot like?
Peter: Our first round, we shot three or four locations a day making for very long days — 12 to 14 hours at least. We were like mad men, running around setting up backdrops and lights. But, everything went very smoothly with really only minor hiccups — broken umbrellas, dead batteries, late talent. Working with real people can be a challenge, but these guys are all salesmen. They were ON the whole time making it very easy to get the shots we needed. They were also on-board with the whole idea, so they were into it.
Jeff: As AD it is important to work side by side with your photographer and it helps that we work great together! This shoot was long and fast-paced. we had many shots to capture in a small amount of time. There were some challenges, but Peter and I have done this for many years and are very good at producing the perfect results no matter what obstacles occur.
Peter: We learned that shooting three or four locations a day is too much of a grind. This year we only did two a day for the new reps! The Pitchman shot was probably the craziest with the wind. We had everyone including some bystanders holding down that back drop. While we were setting it up it literally blew all the way across the field! Also, I’d like to note that when shooting a cigar company ad there is always a lot of cigars. LOTS. We went though about 30 boxes of cigars during the four-day campaign!
What was the reaction to the images?
Peter: Jeff and the whole Alec Bradley family love the photos. The ads have been a huge success and are getting quite a bit of attention in the industry. They’ve also used the photos in their trade show booth as larger than life wall panels. Each Warrior has a life-sized banner of their photo that they take to events at cigar shops. They’re also given 8×10’s that they hand out at the events. Some were skeptical of this…until they ran out of photos!
Jeff: Absolutely fantastic! From my mind to the page — Peter always nails the visual concept!
Did you learn anything through this assignment?
Peter: I learned I really like to be involved early in the creative process. It gives the photographer a bit more ownership of the project. Relationships and trust are very meaningful to me as photographer. I also learned to always have a few extra sets of hands on set in case of high winds. Lastly, that a box of cigars makes a great bribe when you forget to get that permit.