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Recently I was asked to shoot 6 commercial portraits for Gila River Casino. This new ad campaign would not only be stills but a TV commercial as well. They reiterated to me the importance of bringing life to the characters in a still image. I needed to take each of the characters TV personality and summarize it in a single image. The narrative of the ad was “you do you.” So no matter your age, personality, or perception people have about you, just be yourself.

While meeting with the creative team, we discussed how important the backgrounds would be for each of the characters. I knew Savage Seamless Paper was the perfect tool for the job.

Color Choice

Each character needed a different color to help sell their persona. The characters all had a bright personality so we chose to pick colors that would compliment them. The colors had to be bright and vibrant, but not take away from the subject. I chose to use a background light on the paper to give the background a slight vignette. This helped keep the attention on the subject.

It was now time to get to know the characters. I asked the CD to give me a character briefing. I wanted to get to know each character so the direction, background colors, and the lighting were all cohesive. Choosing the right color background for each subject was integral to their narrative. The colors not only had to compliment the personality, but also the wardrobe of each character. The art director made the final decisions for the colors. After studying each character I was ready to start pre lighting. I had several ideas in my head, but ultimately I wanted these characters to jump out at the viewer. The background colors and lighting had to work in unison to sell the narrative. I was conscious though not to have the lighting take away from the character. It was now time to pre light.

Pre Lighting

Pre lighting was crucial for this shoot. We were using a 6 light setup, which meant each light had to be perfectly dialed in. When using this many lights it’s easy to lose control of each light’s job and get overwhelmed. I attacked the subject and the background differently. First, I light the subject, then make the necessary adjustments for the background. Here is the pre lighting run through I did with my assistant Matt. We ran through some different light ratios and positions until we got a result we liked.

After a few discussions with the CD we made some changes to the lighting. For the key we switched the silver umbrella for a white beauty dish, we also centered the light overhead. This reduced the shadows on the subjects face.

The 6 lights were: Key light – Beauty dish, Fill light – 6x6’ scrim,

Rim light – (2) strip boxes, Hair light – 3’ octobox, Background light – 7” dish. These changes helped balance the subject and background.

We were now ready to shoot.


This is the most crucial aspect of what we do as photographers. This shoot was all about direction. I had to take the character narratives that was written by the ad agency and translate that to the model. Since the models had already done the TV filming they know their character and the narrative, but it is now my job to help direct them into poses that summarize their narrative into a single shot.

It is imperative for me to introduce myself to each model and brief them on what we will be doing together. I find this to be very important, it helps establish and build trust with the model. I want to have a connection with each model so we can comfortably reach our goal.  I want them to know I am a person and not just a camera.  By doing this I can usually get them to open up more on camera. Nothing more awkward than a guy with a camera not saying anything to you, or just shouting at directions at you. Be a human to them, establish a connection!

After I introduce myself I will go over the narrative with them. I like to pose and mimic what I want from them. I will get goofy, awkward, energetic, etc.. I want to show them so there is nothing lost in translation. This also helps them connect to me and helps me show them where to start from. I will tell them to take it from there and let them run with it. I want to make sure I guide them but not micro manage the posing, this can be a delicate balance.


I make sure I keep a connection with the model throughout the duration of the shoot. I make sure to provide them with confidence and give them positive reinforcement. Tethering and having a digital tech is also a crucial aspect for my process. I have a digital tech running the computer which I am tethered to. This is where I have the creative team analyzing the images that are coming in. They can make comments on what they like and don’t like. They then will recite that info to me. From there we can start narrowing down on specific poses and expressions we like to get the exact shot we need.


I pride myself on establishing connections and  building relationships with people. I have to build a good relationship with the creative director so I know what he wants. I must have a good relationship with my crew so we can work seamlessly on the shoot and I have to know how to connect with my subject. I have to articulate everything to them in a clear way. My job is to keep everyone happy. I strive to make the shoot a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Here are the final shots from this commercial shoot:

Thomas Ingersoll

My name is Thomas Ingersoll. I am a photographer, retoucher, writer, and educator born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. I spent my life racing motocross, but hung up the helmet for a camera, never imagining photography would bring so much fulfillment in my life. Although I didn't pick up a camera until I was 21, I was introduced to art in the early days of my youth drawing Dragon Ball Z characters. I have dog named Winston, and a cat named Beau. Learn more about Thomas here!

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