Blair Bunting Compares a Pre- and Post-COVID Shoot, Both Featuring NBA Stars

Jan 1, 2021
Photographer Spotlight

Has COVID-19 impacted the look of advertising campaigns?

This is the question Blair Bunting posed to himself on his recent blog comparing two shoots with similar subjects that happened at very different points in time. Both shoots featured an NBA player — C.J. McCollum for the first and Stephen Curry for the second — but the former happened last year, when the world was wide open, and the latter took place this past summer. In contrasting the two assignments, Blair answered his own question:

Maybe — but probably not by as much as you might think. What is impacted, however, is the way that a commercial photography set operates for the foreseeable future.

Blair Bunting NBA Shoots CJ McCollum Leaping

The C.J. shoot was mid-2019 in China and the Curry shoot was in California over the summer. The C.J. job was a client in China that found me in the Comm Arts Photo Annual and has tried on a couple occasions to have me shoot in Beijing. The Curry shoot was for an ad agency in the U.S. that actually found my work from an automotive image I shot.

Blair Bunting NBA Shoots Steph Curry Dribbling

Both athletes I have worked with a number of times. For C.J., this was our first photoshoot. For Steph, this was our second.

View the final images and you’ll find no discernible differences. High quality portraiture and action shots that’ve been given the postproduction treatment in preparation for canvassing a billboard. What is different, as Blair makes clear, is the way the images were put together. The C.J. shoot took place in normal times — and in a different country — so there were 60 people on set. The Steph shoot happened a few months back, so there were four people in the studio.  

For C.J.’s photoshoot, we had an entire arena closed down and had a 15-man construction team brought in. They managed to build walls and locations so that we could keep up with a very demanding shot list and pivot from one set to another.

Blair Bunting NBA Shoots CJ McCollum Workout

Since I was in China, I also needed multiple translators to give direction to the various crews that were building and striking each set as we progressed. The photoshoot of Stephen Curry was vastly different in that the complexity of the shot schedule and postproduction approach enabled us to dramatically reduce crew. The client had commissioned three images for the entire campaign, compared to 30 for C.J.

Blair Bunting NBA Shoots Steph Curry Posing

On top of this, we approached the Curry shoot knowing that we had far less time with the athlete, so we would compensate by shooting in a studio so that we could build the environment later.

Basically, Blair and his team had to figure out the best way to make the Steph images look like the image of C.J. with a fraction of the resources — labor chief among them. Usually, you’d hire local crew to assist you for a project of this nature, but for myriad reasons that was a non-starter. So, that meant the Arizona-based photographer and his assistants had to simulate the shoot ahead of time. After all, nobody wants to be on a post-COVID set longer than they need to be — least of all millionaire athletes with young families at home — so efficiency is paramount.

For the Curry photoshoot, we knew that time would be critical to getting every shot. While it would have been possible to do the photoshoot by hiring all local crew, there would have been inherent risk. To mitigate such risk, we pre-lit and practiced the shoot in Arizona with the set transitions choreographed so that the time lost in breaking down sets would be minimized.

This extra work before and during the shoot creates a lasting bond between all those that are a part of the skeleton crew. Whereas it’s easy to get lost on a set of dozens, it’s impossible when the group is so tiny and everyone has multiple roles to fill.

With Curry’s shoot, I was in essence a photographer, grip, and assistant. I absolutely loved it as it made for such a strong unity on set where everyone felt just as important as the photographer. It is a view that I always hold, but it was awesome to see those on set celebrate the imagery so much.

I asked Blair what he thinks of the new setup; it’s clear from his answer that the photographer is not hellbent on landing every job out there (you don’t need to be when you work with the likes of C.J. McCollum and Steph Curry) — he’s more focused on ensuring the safety of those involved.

I think things will go back to those size shoots eventually, but I think (and hope) it is a couple years. We really need to focus 100% on safety on set and if that means a couple years of modified shoots to keep everyone safe, it will have been worth it.

See more of Blair's work at blairbunting.com.

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