Tips & Techniques - Jerry Avenaim    

Advertising Photographer Jerry Avenaim Takes you Behind th Shot

Specializing in advertising and commercial photography, many top advertising agencies such as Young and Rubicam and J. Walter Thompson have worked with Jerry to create attention-grabbing, award-winning campaigns

Advertising Photographers

As seen in Photo District News (PDN)

Jerry Avenaim has been a photographer for more than 20 years. He began his career as a fashion photographer in the eighties, and since moving to Los Angeles in the early nineties, Avenaim has made a name for himself as a highly sought after celebrity photographer. Halle Berry, Ben Stiller, Charlize Theron, James Caan, and Mel Gibson are among the stars he's created defining images of. His images have appeared in Vogue, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Movieline, In Style, Glamour, and Vanity Fair, and he can count to his credit scores of magazine covers from all over the world. So when the J. Walter Thompson agency was looking for a photographer to shoot the prestigious 2005 national advertising campaign for Ford Trucks and SUVs featuring Country superstar Toby Keith last July, Avenaim was their natural choice.

The Ford shoot took place over four days in conjunction with filming for the TV ad campaign. In addition to the organically set up shots, I photographed Toby, the trucks and SUVs against a green screen. I also photographed landscapes and still life shots to be used as background for the final composite image. We shot in and around Los Angeles in environments as diverse as the Disney Ranch and underneath 4th Street Bridge in Downtown L.A. I would shoot Toby in between filming shots for the commercial, often in sessions of just 10 minutes at a time.

Celebrities, and actors in particular, often dread photo shoots because there's no character or dialogue for them to retreat behind, and when they're in front of a still camera there is only a fraction of a second to project a certain mood or attitude. When I'm working on an assignment, I'll often have to come up with a scenario to help the actor get to that place. The nice thing about this shoot was that, because I was shooting Toby in between takes, he would have just finished a scene and would still be in character. So it was quite easy to keep him in that mindset. The challenge was to capture the same character/emotion in that fraction of a second.

The sets were fairly elaborate and the production team created special effects, like steam emanating from mock sewers. With this backdrop the stills become cinematic. Having a film crew at your disposal is great. You've got a team of people, the lighting crew, grips, and gaffers, taking care of lighting for you. If I needed more light here, more shadow there, it was taken care of immediately. This type of shoot is very different from an editorial or magazine assignment, where you have to focus on everything, light, the mood, the character. So although I had limited time, I was able to focus all my attention on my subject.

Given the limited time I had to shoot in, my choice was digital photography. It was fast enough that even in the lowest light situations, such as when the film crew was shooting, I was even able to snap photos from the sidelines, reportage style. And at the end of the day, I don't have to worry about the quality of the images. I know that my images are going to be sharp as a tack and that the color quality will rival that of actual transparencies.


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