Who would turn down an assignment photographing jumping ballerinas and musicians around the historic city of Derry? Not Belfast, Northern Ireland-based portrait photographer Rob Durston, that’s for sure. Rob was happy to take on the recent challenge of capturing some high-flying talent for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Having moved to the region from California six years prior, Rob found Northern Ireland’s photo scene to be somewhat smaller than he was used to, which was expected in a nation whose population amounts to that of Houston, Texas. When Rob was offered the chance to highlight his signature edgy style in a new commercial assignment, he was more than happy to jump in. Below, Rob and I discuss the project. Enjoy!
Who hired you for this assignment? What were they looking for?
When I first arrived in Northern Ireland I didn’t know a soul. I emailed and pounded the pavements for months. AV Browne was one of the first agencies I visited, and they gave me some of my early work here. They’re a great creative agency who really let me work a photo brief to its limits and beyond. For this job, I was asked to create some classic images of artists and performers jumping in and around the great city of Derry to tie into their City of Culture 2013 campaign. The images needed were very specific in crop and copy needs. I was given a minimal brief and, beyond that, it was up to me to create the look. So, along with my assistant Colin Tuff and creative director Tyrone P., we fashioned up two scenarios.
What was the shoot like?
We didn’t really have much time and things needed to be spot on when we shot it. The art director wanted to have a back-up to our original images. So we also shot the background plates without the subjects in the event the we needed to drop either subject into the other’s background or vice versa. I started with my assistant, Colin, attempting his best ballerina pose mid-jump with our lighting set-up. Colin tried his hardest, but he couldn’t really get the height we were looking for (he also forgot his tutu). We brought in the mini trampoline and it was a little better. We also knew that the ballerinas should get another two or three feet on his height.
The client wanted to try the ballerinas first without the trampoline. I wasn’t that hopeful though. I knew how high I had to get them in the frame for it to work with the Guild Hall in the background and the copy that was to go in afterward. As I thought, we ended up putting the trampoline in and letting the dancers jump on their own. It worked nearly flawlessly. Almost every jump was a keeper.
I should also add that this was the first project where we implemented a WiFi card and an iPad on location and now the client won’t work any other way. We both loved it for its ability to allow us to zoom in and check fine focus and details. In-between shots, on our downtime, we could run through all the images and do selects together — how freakin’ awesome is that? I got my client selects done before we even left the location.
Were there any challenges on set?
We ALWAYS have challenges on location and this day was no different — stubborn street cleaners, the public, the weather, wardrobe, and lunch — but nothing that we couldn’t handle. With our planning and visualization we were totally prepared. Once we clear away all those issues and sit back and let the talent do their thing, my job is as easy as it gets.
What was involved in post?
I have this great retoucher in Florida named John at needpost.com. He looks after most of my work and, because of his location compared to Northern Ireland, we gain 4 hours of time on retouching. John mostly tweaks our images for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Since we need to accurately portray Northern Ireland as it really is, we tend not to do much comp work and it mostly comes down to colour grading and simple retouching out flaws. That said, we did need to spruce up some of the blue sky in one of the six images, but it was nothing major.
What was the client’s reaction to the images?
They loved it of course. Tyrone is a man of few words, but he is definitely a happy client. The images are being used in outdoor print ads as well as for magazine and web use.
Did you learn anything through this assignment?
I always try to educate myself with something new when we do larger productions like this. Today, I now know the real value of a $40 trampoline.