Photography grants you access to an infinite number of worlds different than your own. This is one of the reasons I love my job so much, and one of the reasons that shooting Simon Fraser University’s viewbook campaign this year was such a treat. SFU is at the forefront of groundbreaking and world changing research; 12 faculties enthusiastically welcomed us into their labs and workspaces and I feel lucky to be able to share some of the highlights of their research as well as some aspects of shooting real-time with scientists in active labs.
From a robotics laboratory where engineering students are working on a robot exo-skeleton to help paraplegics walk again, to a freezer of cells where science researchers are working on a cure to HIV, to exploring virtual reality; the creative team at DDB/Twice made sure we had some amazing and diverse projects to document. This project was a valuable glimpse into the lives of undergraduate researchers, and a reminder of the incredible things that go on behind inconspicuous doors in our own city.
The goal was to create a series of black and white, documentary style images over five days, covering both the SFU Burnaby, and Surrey Campuses. We'd need to highlight all 12 faculties with narrative driven stills all while working in tandem with a video team who would be making a video viewbook. In our pre-production meeting we decided video/constant lighting over strobes was the best choice. The plan was to shoot in working labs and spaces to keep things as real as possible, which fit well with the polished documentary style we were aiming for. However, this did limit our time for each shot. Using one set of lights for both video and stills in each situation was the best way to cut down on set up time. I’ll go into a bit of my gear choices in more detail below.
I used two cameras, the Canon 5D Mark III and the Hasselblad X1D - I would liked to have used the Hasselblad for it all, but my local rental store doesn't rent the 30mm XCD lens so there were a few wider angles that I shot on the Canon. An advantage of using the Canon is that it enabled me to set "picture style" to monochrome while still shooting full RAW files (which can be converted to colour later if desired). Basically, this just changes how your photo renders in the preview on the back of the camera. As the end product was going to be black and white, and since we were moving from location to location fairly quickly I was able to document our set up on the Canon and share it with Tim our Art director, providing him with a general preview of what we were working towards without needing to tether to my computer.
SFU’s HIV research centre’s vision is to prevent HIV/AIDS, improve the health and well-being of persons living with and affected by HIV, and engage with the world through HIV/AIDS research, education and dialogue.
There is nothing like looking up at the sky and nothing quite as mind blowing as someone explaining to you, that in a sense you are looking back in time at old light from stars so far away it is hard to comprehend.
weather balloon Launch
The SFU Satellite Design Team is an applied sciences club run by space enthusiasts from SFU. They design and build satellites, that monitor weather patterns in the lower mainland.
The Cover: Inspiring Awe in Virtual Reality.
The virtual reality shoot was one of three potential setups that would become the cover, and the one I was looking forward to the most visually. The photos of the space I had seen ahead of time already made me feel like I could be in a future world. It provided a unique set of constraints and considerations as shooting into a wall of screens would pose a risk of reflecting our own lights back into our cameras. We had to be creative about how we positioned lighting in order to prevent such a situation.
As we were waiting for the screens to boot up, I learned that astronauts leave earth often as engineers and scientists, but come back in some way philanthropists. They want to make the world a better place and this cognitive shift in awareness is called the "Overview Effect". It is a real, and researched state of mental clarity that occurs when someone is so far away from earth they become completely overwhelmed and awed by the fragility, and unity of life on our planet. It's what you might call "the true big picture" - a feeling of connectedness to everything on the planet.
Not even a small fraction of the earth's population will be able to experience seeing the earth from space- or could they? Imagine a world where everyone could.
How, using VR technology can we induce a true sense of awe both mentally and physically? How could we bring The Overview Effect to Earth, goosebumps, and adrenaline included?
Virtual Reality, like all technology has moral implications. SFU's applied sciences faculty encourages all students to be using technology to better the world and the motivations behind this project couldn't be more true to that.
Arri LED Skypanel
Shot through 5x5' Screen
Left: Assistant Alexa Mazzarello Sits as a test subject before we start.
For our first set up, the idea was to keep it simple. I knew our lights would reflect in the screen itself, so one light would be easier to hide from than two or three. We set the Skypanel up about a foot above our subject angling it down giving the light some direction, and then set a 5x5’ screen just in front to diffuse the light, and spread it as evenly and deeply enough to light all three subjects.
After learning about the challenges of virtual imaging, our digital imaging constraints seemed easily conquerable.
Below is the ‘big picture’ of the setup we used for the cover shot:
The Fresnel acted as the main light source, which was shot through the Octabank in order to soften light on the subjects face . We positioned this camera left and angled it carefully to avoid any light falling onto the screens. The Portable video light was hand held below the subject camera right (thanks to my assistant Alexa). I wanted to create some definition between the subject’s black hair, dark clothes and the background while maintaining a documentary-feeling photo . My thinking was to mimic/enhance the light that would come from the Sun on the screen. The light is harsher with no diffusion, but would appear motivated from the Sun itself.
Exomotion is a wearable robotic exoskeleton that offers full lower limb mobility for individuals with paralysis. It is still in the prototype phase seen below but should be available by 2020.
Dave and Gabe, were in charge of the video and a dream to shoot alongside of.
Left to Right: Shooting like a team, Dave and Gabe, Learning... I mean... Light Testing
Improving Helmets and Protecting Against Concussions
The final research photographed was that of Daniel Abram of Shield X. Shield X makes a few different products from caps to gel stickers that significantly decrease concussions across the board. Brain Injuries can happen to anyone, and watching their self made testing device smash helmets to the ground at the average speed of impact in football made me appreciate how vulnerable our little skulls really are.
Thanks to everyone who brought this project to life. Creative / production team on set: Tim Hoffpauir, Chloe Hoppie, and Donna Dove . Video Team: David Brigden, Evan Petka, and Gabriel Colome Camera / Lighting assistants: Alexa Mazzarello, Rachel Pick, Marley Hutchinson, and Richard Schmon, and all the "Talent"ed students.