As seen in Photo District News (PDN)
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
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.