Soiree August 2013 Cover Story // Behind The Shoot


So that's the cover image, but first, a little backstory:

I was in Denver on a three day shoot in June and had to catch a flight back to Little Rock late in the afternoon on a Thursday to do the Soiree shoot early Friday morning. My flight was set to leave Denver at 3:45pm and by the time I got to the airport and found my gate shortly before 3:00, the flight was delayed. And again. And then again. 

By the time the delays stopped hitting the screen, the flight was behind over four hours. I had to go through Dallas first, and the last flight to Little Rock out of Dallas that night would be leaving only 20 minutes after I landed there. I called my contact at Soiree and told him he might need to go ahead and set up a backup photographer, but that I would do my best to get there in time for the shoot. 

When the wheels touched down in Dallas I was out of my seat and ready to run. My arrival gate was pretty much as far as possible from where I needed to be and I knew I had a couple of train rides to get around to the other terminal before they shut the plane door. I bolted off the flight and sprinted around to the train and caught my breath as it hunkered along the tracks. When the train doors opened I blasted out and ran past at least twelve gates before I landed at the one I was looking for and my heart sank. The gate was deserted and the screen informed me that my departure gate had been changed to two gates down from the one I had just left. I had under six minutes to get back to where I started. Unbelievable. 

After another soul-crushingly slow train ride back to my original terminal, I sprinted back down to gate B23 and slipped into line as the last person to board the flight. I handed my boarding pass to the gate attendant and laughed as I slouched toward the plane. I dropped into my seat, texted the folks at Soiree, and shut my eyes. It was almost midnight. 

The next morning I woke up at home and packed up my gear and headed downtown to the studio. The theme for the shoot was "Sixty-five Roses," a common monicker for Cystic Fibrosis. The story profiles Aven Emery, a six-year-old girl living with Cystic Fibrosis, and Mackenzie Horrell, co-chair of "Taste of the Finest", an event that raises awareness for the disease. Our first shot of the day was with Aven, a really cool kid who was super excited about getting her hair and makeup done by a pro. 

My setup for the first shot was on a simple white seamless, which is a great easy way to start the day. I set up a single shoot-through umbrella to camera right and that was that. Aven came in holding a bouquet of roses with more in her hair. She was pretty nervous at first at first with a room full of people staring at her and a camera in her face, so I used a trick that always works with kids. We screamed. All together. On the count of three. Her mom even joined in. Kids love screaming, especially inside. A few people poked their heads in from the hallway to make sure everyone was cool and after that Aven was having fun. We shot several frames and when I felt like I had what I needed I asked her to bring the roses up to cover her mouth. I snapped one more shot and it ended up on the cover. Here it is again.



After that we brought in Aven's breathing machine to get a few shots showing what she has to deal with one a regular basis with Cystic Fibrosis. We kept the light setup roughly the same but I raised the umbrella up several feet to bring down the shadows and add a little more emotion to the shot. We originally had the machine off to the side but I thought it worked better under her feet where the hoses catch your eye throwing off the symmetry of the shot. What a cool kid. 


While we were wrapping up with Aven the stylists were working on getting Mackenzie ready for her shoot. I ducked into the green room to see how things were coming and to start planning out my lighting. Our awesome makeup artist Dustye was finishing up and I snapped this shot with my iPhone. 



I was super excited about this next shot. After talking with the Art Director, Dean, we came up with some cool ideas for a wild portrait on a red backdrop. I set up the red seamless and put a strobe with a reflector about 12 inches away from the paper and popped a few test shots and liked the sunburst style we got from it. Then I set up a beauty dish high and to the right to give Mackenzie some definition in her cheek bones. After a few test shots with an assistant standing in the shadows were looking too dark so I added a six foot softbox directly behind the camera for a soft, even fill. Mackenzie came in ready to get to work and we knocked out a great set of portraits. The one that made the magazine was definitely my favorite from the series. It worked great as the story opener.

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After the portrait we had about five dozen more roses that hadn't been used yet so we decided to see how many of them we could fit into one shot. I ditched the beauty dish and moved the softbox in super close and right above my camera. There was no easy way to get all the roses in the shot with the hands we had on deck, so we grabbed a few people from the hallway and recruited them to stand in as voice-actived vases. Mackenzie had a great time with this shot and she did a fantastic job giving me a solid strong expression. This shot ended up on the table of contents page.

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Once we had the shot I stepped back and grabbed a little behind-the-scenes shot with the extra hands on flowers. Nice job everyone :)


The shoot was an absolute blast and I think we ended up with some really great photographs. It's always a pleasure to work with the folks at Soiree and I'm never disappointed to find out my shot ended up on the cover. Thanks again to Dean and Amanda at Soiree, to Aven and Mackenzie for doing a fantastic job in front of the camera, and to our wonderful stylists Carrie Parsons and Dustye Helms for making our subjects look and feel fabulous. Well done team!

To read the full story, check out the digital edition here or pickup a copy pretty much anywhere you can find people in central Arkansas. You can also read a quick blog post of the story here