This spring I was asked by Pocket Hercules to work with them on a campaign for the Nature Conservancy of Minnesota. They approached me with a concept to photograph and film, in slow motion, people from underwater as their faces just broke the surface of the water.
I fell in love with the concept, but this was a project where you immediately pause when you hear the description and begin to think about all the technical aspects that will be required to make it happen. I knew I would need to pull together a strong team of people who could each add their expertise.
Because of how much work it would be to put the camera and all the gear underwater, we flipped the set inside out, building a clear acrylic tank to hold the water. This allowed us to have cameras and lighting around the tank. Producer Bobbi Peacock helped make the tank happen, finding a local aquarium builder who could make a custom 75 gallon tank with high quality acrylic.
Adding the slow motion video to the shoot complicated things significantly over just still photos. Instead of being able to use strobes to freeze the action, we would need lots of flicker-free lighting to make things bright enough to capture at 2000 frames per second to create the super slow-mo look we were going for. Mike Handley of Tasty Lighting and Acme stage made this happen, using their high speed HMI lights to illuminate the set, outputting the equivalent of almost 50,000 watts of tungsten lights.
One thing the client wanted was to ensure the water used in the shoot would be from the Mississippi River as the whole shoot was about protecting Minnesota’s Headwaters. The City of Minneapolis draws its water from the Mississippi, letting us just use standard tap water in the tank for the shoot. Small bubbles in the water, and a dark blue hue gave us the sense of photographing in one of Minnesota’s lakes.
With the slow motion video, the ability for our talent to keep their eyes open as they entered the water was one of the bigger challenges. A split second delay in someone opening their eyes felt like an eternity when playing back in slow motion. We had a large pool of talent sourced by the Nature Conservancy, and had plans originally on who we would spend more time filming as hero talent, but shifted our focus as we found certain people were much better at entering the water with their eyes already open. The project was a great exercise in adaptability, working on a limited budget, in one shoot day, to make an incredible concept come to life.
See more from the campaign and check out the behind the scenes photos of the set:
Photographer / Director: Nate Ryan
Art Producer: Lisa Norman – Pocket Hercules
Art Directors: Chue Zeng Yang, Aaron Emery – Pocket Hercules
Gaffer: Mike Handley
Camera Operator: Steve Speers
Producers (preproduction / onset): Bobbi Peacock / Brenda Kaye Sowada
Styling Assistant: Sarah Jean Shervin
Hair and Makeup: Nicole Fae
Assistant: Martin Wheeler
Studio: Acme Stage
Camera: Phantom M320S