Here at Wonderful Machine, we frequently receive requests from creatives looking for photographers, usually in specific locations or with certain specialties. However, a request came in recently that somewhat surprised us. A production director at the digital strategy firm Undercurrent was looking for photographers in several locations. But that wasn’t the surprising part. They not only wanted the photographers to be skilled shooters, but they also specifically wanted them to have a social media presence. This was a first for us, but not totally unexpected. With the rise of the importance of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc, it’s no surprise that brands are starting to take notice—and play with ways to promote themselves.
This particular Undercurrent project was for their client Land Rover. They were planning on shooting five different Land Rovers, each in a different city. 50 photographs from each photographer would be licensed and released on a unique new Tumblr, The Official Tumblr of Land Rover USA. Undercurrent described the assignment as more of a blog or photo essay project than a traditional commercial shoot. After gathering the details, we put together a list of our top recommendations and sent it over to Undercurrent.
Soon enough, we found out that two of our members had been selected for the gig: Jayms Ramirez, adventure and travel shooter out of San Francisco, who also hosted two Travel Channel shows, and Atlanta-based Zack Arias, who has an impressive online social network that includes over 40,000 twitter followers. Jayms and Zack joined three others for the project—well known actor, director and photographer Adam Goldberg, New York fashion shooter Frances Tulk-Hart and Arizona photographer, Chris McPherson. All impressive in their own right.
Below, Zack and Jayms have answered my questions on this exciting and progressive assignment:
Jayms Ramirez: I got a call from the guys at Undercurrent. They liked my work and thought I would be a good fit for The San Francisco shoot. They wanted an organic feeling series unlike standard slick car photo shoots, that presented mix of city and mountains with an adventurous feel. The details were vague our first couple of conversations, which I loved, as I had the freedom to construct the premise from scratch. I created an itinerary and ideas for stops to incorporate an on the road feel with friends in the new Range Rover Evoque. I also wanted focus on the moments in between, vs just getting to a destination. The guys were on board, so we let it fly through the mountains out of SF.
Zack: Undercurrent asked if I would be interested in a group project of sorts. They wanted different photographic styles for each shoot. I was told I’d be given access to a range of Rovers and could do just about whatever I wanted to with them.
Zack: Not at all. I’m very much a portrait photographer, and that’s 90% of my work. The cars and the absolute freedom to do whatever I wanted [made this shoot different]. The client really had a great attitude of trusting all five photographers to do what we do.
Jayms: The biggest difference that I loved was the freedom to shoot what I wanted and express my feeling of a road trip Land Rover. Undercurrent basically gave me carte blanche to orchestrate the day, and It was so refreshing as opposed to have a few producers or art directors trying to style every shot. It was a blast.
Jayms: The whole idea was interesting and I see much more of these style campaigns coming in the future, as it’s a new model of marketing and very effective. I shot the images with the social media dynamic in mind, and tried to visualize how they would transfer to the blog and screens of iPads, phones and desktops. My social media presence is ever growing and I put effort into letting people know what new work I am doing via these channels. It’s surely not as large nor influential as Zack Arias, but trying to move in that direction!
Zack: I suppose it’s the new print for now. I know there’s a lot of discussions that could be had around that… Maybe it’s the new “banner ad.” I don’t know, but I for one spend far more time searching social media outlets about products and services I’m interested in then I do at the official company web site. The more connected a brand is to the areas where I hang out, the more connected I feel with them. For example, someone I’m following on twitter posted about new luggage they bought from Eagle Creek. They hash-tagged #eaglecreek and I clicked on that. My luggage was falling apart and I thought it might be a good time to get some new bags. I ended up reading Amazon reviews and watched youtube videos and bought their bags from ebags.com. Not only that, but I love my Eagle Creek bags and have tweeted about them now myself. All that, and I never once visited Eagle Creek’s official web site. That’s crazy in terms of traditional marketing strategies.
Zack: I went to the job straight from shooting promotional images for Fuji Film in India with their new X-Pro1 camera. It’s a very small but very capable rangefinder-esque camera. It’s much smaller than standard DSLR cameras and lens combination and I ended up shooting a lot of the Land Rover job with that camera. I also had a full 35mm kit and a PhaseOne medium format kit. I would shoot some with the PhaseOne and everything else with the X-Pro1. We did a good bit of off-road work in conjunction with the Land Rover Experience crew at Biltmore and I would end up walking the courses as the cars came through. Having the Fuji, I wasn’t weighed down with gear, which allowed me to move easily and effortlessly through the brush and thicket. The camera worked flawlessly on this job.
Jayms: I used a Nikon D3, 14mm, 50mm, 24mm and 80-200 lenses, a Hero II camera for stills/video, a Fuji x100 and an iPhone 4s. My main stay was the D3, as I wanted to get a lot of the action flowing with the talent in and out of the vehicle, but also for some of the dark areas in the forest in which the D3 handles very well. I mounted the Hero cam on various points of the outside to get some moving shots and video while were on the windy roads. I’m an iPhone photo fiend, so I always shoot with it for behind the scenes if nothing else, but at every break we had, I was snapping iPhone shots and video.
Zack: I wasn’t expected to but I know they did look at the social media presence of the photographers who were up for this job. I don’t look at social media as a promotion tool per se; I just like to talk about stuff that interests me and stuff I’m working on. Land Rovers are awesome vehicles and it was something I was working on, so the client encouraged me to chat about it and show images while I was doing the job. I could shoot a photo and tweet it the same day. That was a cool part of the job. One night we all went out to dinner and I showed the client an image I posted on Instagr.am. It had received over 600 likes and they were really excited about that. If you think about it, it makes sense. This job was for social media outlets so why not bring part of that into the production of the job as well?
Zack: I wasn’t quite sure how to approach this job, so I decided I would just treat the cars as people and wherever I’d shoot a portrait of a person, I’d just stick a Land Rover there instead. There were a few times I would find a location that screamed “car commercial shot” and I avoided those for the reason they weren’t looking for that in the first place. That kind of nixed all the S-curve shots.
Jayms: From day one, we’d discussed having a pretty low production value in terms of gear, lighting etc.. We wanted to keep it fast and loose along with an organic unraveling of the day. I wanted to shoot in my lifestyle mode, with a look that parallels my work and with an emphasis on really capturing those little details and moments, that might be otherwise lost in the start/stop style that is necessary on some shoots. I enjoy mixing a photojournalistic style into a commercial shoot, which really lends to a genuine, authentic product. I think its clear that this type of model is going to change the marketing strategies for a lot of companies, who are trying to tap into the genuine social sharing of experiences.
Jayms: We shot a lot, but I’d have to say my favorite part of the series was a few in the mountains, with a couple of women playing guitar, sitting on rustic fences with beautiful glowy sunlight, and edges of the Land Rover in frame. The feeling of adventure, fun, friends and Land Rover was all illustrated for me in those images…
Zack: I think my favorite is one of a 1966 Series IIa that was part of the heritage fleet in Asheville. I spotted a beautiful hill when I arrived the first day and started working on getting access to that spot right away. Biltmore Estates is a working farm, so a number of people had to give clearance to some of the locations we used. Things like making sure there weren’t any cows in that field on that morning were important details to cover. We ultimately got access to get one of the cars on the hill and I chose what I felt as the most classic Land Rover to put there. I called the ’66 “Old General” and thought it would make for a nice image.
Jayms: I had a blast on this one, and Land Rover has always been up there on my dream client list… I’d say one thing learned, or was reminded of, is I will always use a producer when possible! I love creating the whole shoot, and I figured I would produce all the details, permits, insurance, locations, etc myself… but at the end of the day it twas a lot of work! I’ll leave that to a pro producer any day of the week!
Zack: “Internet Campaigns” are real jobs with real clients with real budgets and can be booked via social media. The first hint I had of this job was Wonderful Machine tweeting they were looking for photographers with a social media reach. I tweeted back and y’all said my name was already in the hat. So… thanks for that! …and I’d like to add that I have a greater appreciation for car photographers.