Chip Kalback is a photographer based in Denver, Colorado, shooting a mix of commercial and editorial work with a focus on environmental portraits. He’s been shooting professionally since 2008 for clients such as Target, ESPN, Land Rover, Ram Trucks, and Red Bull, among others.
“We need to show a guy working in an air duct and a busy doctor in an office full of patients”
My friends at Image Brew and TDA Boulder had a request that got my wheels spinning as soon as I hung up the phone. The client for this shoot would be FirstBank, and our goal was to show people working hard for their business just like FirstBank does.
How am I going to fit inside of an air duct?! I wonder if I know a doctor?
Immediately visions of falling through a ceiling vent with all of my gear, or trying to shoot around sick coughing patients in a waiting room filled my head… but gave me some inspiration too.
After a few more calls we decided to build a fake air duct inside of the Image Brew studio, complete with air vents on the bottom and dust and dirt throughout the space. We knew we wanted to keep it on the darker side with some interesting accent lights to make it feel like the viewer is in the space working with the HVAC tech.
I drew out a diagram for myself and my assistant, Ryan Dearth, so we’d have a roadmap to go by on shoot day. Despite my elementary drawing skills, drawing out a diagram beforehand makes things so much easier on shoot day, because it gives me the time and flexibility to make quick and easy tweaks already knowing what our general layout would look like. Here’s the diagram for the HVAC shot:
We built up the light starting with the B1 off to camera right. We kept it in close to the subject, just out of frame, and put a Profoto Zoom Reflector on it holding a 20-degree grid, as well as an OCF Gel Kit holding a 1/2 CTO gel inside of the Grid/Reflector combo. I knew that when I went to do post processing of these images that the overall color temp would be made to be a little cooler, so ultimately the warmth of the 1/2 CTO gel would be pulled back a bit too.
Next, we dialed in the light on the A1 underneath of our mock air duct, shooting up and through the air vent grate. We also put a 1/2 CTO gel on this flash using the A1 Gel Kit, as well as the dome diffuser, and pointed it straight up at the subject to mimic the look of lighting coming in from a room down below.
From there we dialed in the light on the B1 directly behind me with a large softbox on it, which gives a nice even flat fill light across the frame. I always like to try and keep this pretty low, with just enough power to put a bit of light inside of the shadows. I learned this technique from fellow photographer John Keatley. John often uses a large diffused light just above and behind his camera and it creates a very styled look.
Lastly we wanted to put some light behind the subject in our air duct, with the hopes of giving the illusion of some length to the air duct he’s had to crawl through. To achieve this we feathered some light across the back surface with an A1 on lower power and we kept it bare (no gels or diffuser) and zoomed. We wanted the light to fall off quickly versus filling the back of the space.
With all of the lights set and in place, we were ready to get rolling and shoot all morning with our awesome talent going through the motions of working on some HVAC equipment, with a mixture of helmets, glasses, headlamps, and tools. I used my Profoto Air Remote TTL-S to trigger all of my lights, and shot with a Sony A7R III body + Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens, tethered into an Apple 27” iMac 5K for client review while I was shooting. The Rolling Stones on Apple Music helped to keep things moving along nicely.
For our doctor’s office shot we were lucky enough to find a location that’s closed on Mondays, so we brought in a bunch of talent to depict our patients as well as our doctor (who would be the hero in the shot). We had to get creative with angles and placement of our patients to give the illusion of a full office, and we knew we’d also need plenty of space for lights, modifiers, and other equipment to control the light and highlight the doctor. Again, my rudimentary drawing ability would come into play as I sketched out a rough idea of the space, taking into consideration the placement of patients in chairs, a giant window (which we wanted to incorporate), space needed for stands.
We started by dialing in our key light, a Profoto B1 to camera left, with the OCF Collapsible Beauty Dish, the 2’ Softgrid and with a diffuser overtop of it. This gives us flattering, soft, directional light.
Next, we brought in the B1 in a large softbox behind camera, which again provided flat even fill light across the frame. I wanted to have a lot of flat even light in the photo to mimic the type of light you might experience in a doctor’s office. Given that we had a number of subjects facing different directions, I added two A1’s firing into big silver parabolic umbrellas with fabric diffusers to help even things out. This whole setup created a wall of lower power lighting across the entire frame, balanced perfectly with natural light coming in through the window. Our key light framed out the doctor as the hero in the shot. We also had set up a third A1 boomed from the back side of the doctor with the idea of providing a rim light, but ultimately ended up taking it out of the final setup prior to shooting since we were happy with the natural window light as it was.
I may have been able to get away with less lights on this setup, but ultimately, I’d rather have more than less so I can run them at lower power with faster recycling time, versus having less lights doing more of the heavy lifting and taking a bit longer to recycle at higher power. Similar to the last location, I used my Profoto Air Remote TTL-S to trigger all of my lights, and shot with a Sony A7R III body + Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens, tethered into an Apple 27” iMac 5K for client review while I was shooting. The ‘Talking Heads Essentials’ playlist on Apple Music provided the soundtrack for our shoot at this location.
After we captured a huge range of expressions and angles from the talent at both locations, the client and agency chose their selects, which were then sent to editing done by the fine folks at Wet Noodles, before final delivery to the client.
The final photos below will be used in print and collateral throughout the Western U.S. for FirstBank.