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Lighting Recipe: Cade Martin’s Whimsical Advertising Work

By Meghan Ahearn


Cade Martin Tazo Tea campaign
© Cade Martin

When Cade Martin first met with the in-house creative team at Starbucks to discuss a new campaign for its Tazo tea brand, they presented him with keywords like thrive, rest, settle and focus. “The majority of the image concepts had a keyword,” Martin explains, adding that he and the creatives discussed “what did [the words] mean to them, what did they mean to me, and we talked and hashed out our ideas.” The Washington, DC-based photographer, who is known for his whimsical, cinematic style of imagery, says the assignment evolved from there, and that Starbucks was “both collaborative but super supportive.”

Fast-forward almost two months, and Martin was on location at the Greystone Mansion and Park in Beverly Hills, California, getting ready to shoot some of the campaign’s images. The historic house has been featured in a number of movies, including There Will Be Blood—something that a cinephile like Martin appreciated. “Personally I’m much more influenced by going to the cinema,” Martin explains. “I certainly look at photography and collect photography books, but ever since I was a little guy I’ve always loved going to the movies.” He says that he wanted the images for the Tazo campaign to have “a cinematic quality.” Martin adds, “I like the idea that there’s a sense of narrative—you have the final image but you almost feel like it’s a still out of a movie filmstrip and the story goes on beyond that one frame.”

For the photo featuring a model balancing a stack of teacups in her hand while a floating teapot pours tea into them, Martin used HMI lights, a staple on film sets. He’s worked with the continuous lights before, and says he became interested in them after doing set photography for small films. “I just really loved the quality of light, and I was really intrigued by it,” Martin explains.

Martin used a Canon EOS 5D Mark III for this particular shot, set at a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second at focal length 34mm. The lens was a 24-70mm f/2.8. Though it looks as if the photo is a composite, it was actually all shot in camera. A contraption—later removed in post-production—was used to hold up the teacups and allow the teapot to pour liquid into them during the shoot. “I think it’s just so important to have props and things really there, just to have something real for the subject to interact with,” he explains.

The setting for this particular shot was a dark room in the mansion; almost no sunlight shone into it. To emulate the feel of “natural light streaming in,” Martin had three HMI lights set up along the exterior of the building, about ten feet from the room’s windows. The ARRI 18K, 6K and 4K lights were placed on light stands eight to ten feet from the ground. Because the room’s window frames were so narrow, Martin had to direct crew members, who were outside near the lights, using a walkie-talkie in order “to find the right spot for the light to come in and light the subject correctly.” Additionally, in pre-production he planned on the window’s older glass panes helping to create light that “feels like something that would naturally come in during the late afternoon, light that looks dappled as a result of coming through leaves or stained glass,” he says. A light hazer was also used “to haze up the room and help give a little shape to the light.”

As much as Martin likes the look of HMI lights, they do present logistical issues that must be handled in pre-production. “The majority of time, strobes plug into regular house outlets, or you’re working with battery-operated strobes,” Martin says. “With big HMIs, the movie light approach, you need a large generator to go with them and lots of cabling.” Additionally, extra manpower is required. Martin notes, “The 18K light, it takes a minimum of three guys to lift it up and put it on a light stand, so it’s a big sucker.”

The images will be used in a variety of ways, including on packaging, on the website, in advertising and as decoration in the first Tazo Store, which opened in Fall 2012 near the Starbucks headquarters in Seattle. Martin says he’s thrilled with how the images came out, adding that “it was an amazing project and the Starbucks team was a dream to work with.”

Editor's Note: After publishing our Lighting Issue with a Cade Martin image from the Tazo campaign on the cover, we received a number of letters noting the similarity between the cover image and a photo by Rodney Smith. Editor Holly Stuart Hughes responded to the criticism in this blog post.

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