Edward Linsmier Shoots National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner for AARP
Okay, I know what you’re thinking: what on earth does an author and Nat Geo fellow have to do with AARP?
Even though it seems like we mistakenly combined assignments, we most certainly did not. Here’s the connection: award-winning journalist Dan Buettner pinpointed the five places in the world — labelled Blue Zones, which doubles as the name of Dan's book — where people live the longest, healthiest lives. His work focused on the diets of the individuals who call Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California home.
Makes sense why AARP would want to talk to this guy for its monthly bulletin, doesn’t it? Now, here’s the catch: Dan isn’t a chef, but food is at the heart of this story. Thus, Edward Linsmier’s biggest challenge was shooting Dan with food in a way that didn’t make it seem like he was some kind of restaurateur.
I was contacted by one of my favorite editors, Michael Wichita, about photographing a portrait assignment of Dan and his Blue Zones food project. They were hesitant to incorporate food in a way that might inadvertently make him appear to be a chef or something else too far apart from the project. Michael asked me what I thought we could do, and we started brainstorming. We floated some concepts and hashed out some ideas that resulted in Michael putting trust in me to get it done.
The main idea going into the shoot was to have Dan on AstroTurf surrounded by foods from his book.
We shot at One Source Studios in Miami, a place I highly recommend! I knew they stocked a full selection of seamless backdrops, so we chose a blue seamless to use in addition to the AstroTurf. It was almost an afterthought, but I'm glad we used it as it ended up providing some of my favorite images from the shoot. Michael was thrilled with the images and the variety of sets we pulled together — about five in two or so hours.
Efficient work from Edward, who didn’t start in the portraiture sphere but has since made it one of his specialties. And although he’s gotten better at running this kind of shoot, having a subject like Dan nonetheless made things easier.
Coming from a documentary photography background, it took me years to get comfortable directing people on set for portraits. I feel like I'm pretty decent at that now, but some subjects just take it and run with it and that's what Dan did.
We had a great time working with him; he improvised almost every pose. He needed very little direction and navigated his end of the shoot flawlessly. He was also very open to ideas and really ran with the energy. If only everyone was that easy to work with!
Though an Emmy-winning filmmaker, best-selling author, and well-respected activist, Dan isn’t necessarily a household name. Learn just a few of his ideas, however, and you’ll never forget him. One big takeaway from his AARP interview: the main foods in the Blue Zones are tubers, grains, greens, nuts, and beans. “It’s the peasant diet,” says Dan.
Another important piece of information: Dan is incorporating the Blue Zone approach into communities across America, including Fort Worth, Texas. Lifestyle changes are rather difficult to implement en masse. Here’s what Dan shared with AARP about his approach:
The way we did it was not trying to convince one million people in the Fort Worth area to eat their veggies, start running, and socialize more. We did it by changing the environment. We said, ‘here are 30 things that have worked elsewhere — such as adding sidewalks and bike lanes and creating ordinances to encourage nonsmoking. Pick eight of them and we’ll help you implement them over the next three years.’
Partly as a result of Dan’s visionary work, Fort Worth’s smoking rate has decreased by 31 percent since 2014. Learning about Dan’s forward-thinking goals helped Edward get a better idea of the author as he researched his subject, but the Florida resident still couldn’t have imagined how smoothly things ended up going on shoot day.
I hadn't heard of Dan prior to the shoot, so I tried to do as much homework as possible. There really is no way to tell what it's going to be like working with someone, so I just keep an open mind. But Dan was awesome — a true professional and a very energetic and positive person.
Dan’s upbeat, optimistic disposition set the tone for a loose yet productive day for all involved. If the outtakes are any indication, Edward and his team had a blast hanging out with a fun-loving person whose findings are incredibly important for people all around the world.
By far my favorite things about photography these days are working with a great crew on set, managing all the energy into a fun, cohesive work environment, and having everything fall into place.
From start to finish, this shoot was an example of why I love what I do: an editor that I respect put his trust in me to come up with something different under relatively specific time restraints and I was able to manage the resources at my disposal to pull together a great crew at an awesome studio.
We came away with some fun, artful images that spoke to the story and made everyone happy. It doesn't get much better than that!
Check out more of Edward's work at edwardlinsmier.com.
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