Posted by: David Vernon | April 19, 2010

Illinois Bureau of Tourism, Day One

IBOT: Best of Trump Plaza 1

A nice couple enjoying the night at Trump Plaza

Last September I was privileged to photograph part of the 2010 Illinois Bureau of Tourism Summer marketing campaign. Like so many commercial shoots, I was unable to show you any of the images from that shoot until it went live – which it did a week or two ago on both the web and in print. Since most folks haven’t spent much time around a commercial shoot – I thought I’d give you a little backstory and show you some of the images from the campaign. More on those top images in a second – let me first get into the logistics of a job like this.

I was contacted in June by Dan Bruce, a Creative Director at the agency J Walter Thompson (JWT) in Chicago. They were originally interested in stock photography for the campaign but eventually – over a series of conversations – it turned into a shooting opportunity as well. Most photographers work directly with an “art buyer” position on the background production set-up, bids/approvals, etc. on a commercial shoot. I worked with the wonderful Beth Valenti at JWT and details were ironed out for a shoot in late September of last year. The plan called for a day in Chicago and then two days down in Alton (where the Mississippi and the Illinois join – along the Great River Road). It also called for a full-blown video production in addition to stills. JWT hired a production company from Chicago for the video while I would handle stills. Shooting along side video is often complicated. When shooting at the tractor company in Peoria, I often shot with video. It was usually a case of taking turns to get our shots. In this case however, we had long days of shooting and it was deemed that I’d be shooting along side the video folks as they worked. That’s great for a few reasons. One – they would light everything wonderfully. I’d get a grey card shot with their lights and be off and running. Secondly, JWT would handle all the producing. That means they’d hire all the talent, feed everyone, and make all the arrangements. And that is a big load off a shooter’s shoulders.

Our day in Chicago would encompass four set-ups for me in one day – three with the video folks and one with just me in a small afternoon window. The theme of the campaign was tied to Route 66 (starting in Chicago in Illinois and ending in Alton at the other end of the state). So we were trying to highlight activities at both ends.

IBOT: Best Of Chicago Shakespeare

Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier

We started the day at the wonderful Chicago Shakespeare Theatre out on Navy Pier. We had two actors for a good ninety minutes and we just ran them back and forth on the stage (an amazing black floor with a highly reflective finish). The video folks ran dolly track most of the day. This means they laid out 20-30 feet of rails that their camera would drive back and forth on. In the theatre they laid their track out literally about five feet from the front of the stage. This meant all of my shots were either going to have to be very tight or would take place in front of the dolly with me being low enough to not obstruct the camera yet high enough to see over the edge of the 18″ stage front. I was saved by the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye – lemme tell you. Extreme depth of field and angle of view mean I could really pull it off – and still see the amazing array of stage lights far above. The actors just acted – different scenes that would look great on video as the camera trucked back and forth. I just shot along with them. Where it got fun was when they added fog. A number of jets would let loose a torrent of pressurized liquid nitrogen, which at room temperature fogs very nicely. VERY nicely. The stuff would cover everything for a few seconds – and then we’d shoot just as it started to clear. It also made the floor a little slick as we did take after take. This made it interesting for our actress – who fortunately only went down for the count once. I was also able to take advantage of one other thing all day. Whenever they had to change film racks or lenses – I had a minute or two to shoot from anywhere – as long as I kept my scenes clear. That at least afforded me a few other positions.

IBOT: Best Of Art Institute

The amazing Modern Wing at the Art Institute

After a short lunch break, I had a window of opportunity before our two evening shoots. JWT wanted something artsy inside the wonderful Art Institute Modern Wing. What we didn’t want to deal with was paid talent so we shot with the folks who were touring the place on a Tuesday afternoon. We also didn’t want to deal with model releases so long shutter speeds combined with in-shot zooms not only added the look, but it made sure to we couldn’t identify anyone. I didn’t have a lot of time but was able to shoot both general spaces and a few galleries for about 90 minutes. These were simply fun – and unique in black and white.

IBOT: Best of Trump Plaza 2

The Terrace at Trump

Around 5pm, we reconvened on the 16th floor of the new Trump Plaza for a restaurant/skyline setting at The Terrace at Trump. This production involved about 16 actors and a “restaurant set” that would work for video. The couple at the very top – they were the highlight couple that the video folks would concentrate on. Everyone else in the scene were extras – and filled the set nicely. The video crew – some 15 folks strong themselves – continually dressed some fantastic sets in record time. We started with terrible ambient light and a lot of video light – but just as sunset approached we were gifted with parting clouds and the warmest kindest light of the day. Most of the sequence at the top of this entry were shot in natural light in about a 10-minute slice of time where the sun couldn’t have been more wonderful. Everyone just had a glow – and the buildings were fantastic. The Terrace overlooks both the Wrigley and Tribune buildings and is a fantastic location. It was hard to take a bad shot up there. While video focused on our couple, I was relatively free to roam and catch all the talent doing their things – including the lovely sunlight on downtown Chicago’s buildings. We stayed until just after sunset when we finally had to add one light – which you can sort of pick out on the left-most shot in the sequence above. But the lights on the city – well that’s the beauty of things isn’t it?

IBOT: Best of Wine Night

Wine and Photos at Navy Pier

We wrapped the day back at Navy Pier with another set featuring a wine and cheese party overlooking the Chicago skyline and the big Ferris wheel at the Pier. Our Trump Plaza couple were joined by one other couple as were focused on getting shots with the skyline behind them. This – I gotta tell you – would have been a heavenly location for the new Nikon 24mm f/1.4 lens. The set location was a landing on the sixth floor of the same building that houses the Shakespeare Theatre. A set was created but was lit softly for TV with some back light. The dolly track was set up about 10 feet from the talent and I took a small space on the other side of the track up against a back wall. I shot the entire thing with a 50mm f/1.4 lens wide open at ISO 640 and it wasn’t quite enough. The 24 would have solved a number of problems in terms of seeing the scene and still letting me get about 1/60th of a second. I think I had more misses here then anywhere. The action for TV included lots of extras working back and forth in front of the video camera which left me fewer opportunities for a clear shot at the talent across the room in such a way that I could still see skyline. But I shot like a madman and got a few keepers – just like any shoot. And what a view it was too. Just lovely.

That wrapped the day. Even though it was nearly 11pm and I had to drive back to Peoria that night – I still snuck out to Adler Planetarium for a nighttime shot of the Chicago skyline first. It’s a great spot to see back into the city.

Chicago Skyline a 10

We’ll save Part II until later when we talk about the action down in Alton – in the rain – and then back to Atlanta, IL for some great pie at the Palms Cafe.


  1. thnx for the look inside the shoots, your personal style/approach is easy to take in through the writing, your attention to detail while enjoying what you are doing is quite evident…xlnt post and fantastic images from all the locales/shoots & you gotta love the wide primes, best glass $ can buy imho

  2. I’m so excited to see these finally. Your work looks great and it seems like this was a long day, but an amazing opportunity. You even found a reason to use “sam” the fisheye. 😉 Well done.

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