As a Director of Photography, some projects revolve around realizing a narrative rather than creating it. When I was brought on to photograph a campaign for the American Museum of Natural History, I was given a set of scripts and had to hit the ground running.
Over the course of five days, we shot seventeen locations for three commercials; Curious, Scent and Species. When shooting at that speed with limited resources, consistency can suffer. Nonetheless, I prepared as much as possible with detailed plans on how to capture every image to the best of my ability.
Director: Jared Rosenthal
Director of Photography: Ahad Mahmood
Storyboards: Sam Smith
Production Designer: Lauren Flores
"To be curious, is to be human”.
The curiosity spot presented an interesting challenge; we had to find a way to showcase both a point of curiosity and the humanity of the person interacting with it. Sometimes we broke the sequence into multiple shots, but my favorite scenes are when we were able to tell the story in a single image.
This line in the script resonated as a great opportunity to play with perspective. Any drama in the scene would be lost if the audience knew what was under the rock; so the director and I quickly decided that it would be best if that’s where we put the camera.
After digesting the scripts, the director and I worked with a storyboard artist to compose each scene. We knew that to portray the humanity of the character lifting the rock, we would need a clear shot of his or her face. We believed that an integral part of the campaign would be getting an empathetic look at each character’s reactions.
Putting a camera under a rock is horribly impractical, so we decided to stage it. I worked with a production designer to design and construct a box that could house the camera and that we could dress to look like the underside of a rock. It was important that when closed, minimal light would get in so the shot would start appropriately dark: We needed it to feel as though you are opening a door to a new world.
It was important to us to have stylistic consistency between the three spots to create a cohesive campaign. This can be challenging especially when we were shifting between very different locations and scenes.
When appropriate, I lit each scene to have similar contrast ratios and quality of light. I also shot similar scenes on the same lens. I believed this would help tie together the distinct spaces across each spot. The color palate was an important factor in each composition; warm skin tones and a neutral key light were integral components to creating harmony throughout the campaign.