Author: Jared Lazarus

Video+Photo Working Group Macro Workshop in Duke Gardens

About 20 communicators across Duke, many of whom had not been on campus since the lockdown 15 months ago, participated in a macro photography and videography workshop in Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Wednesday June 9, 2021. Armed with mirrorless cameras, DSLR’s, GoPro’s, iPhones and Androids, the Video and Photo Working Group participants walked from the University Communications office to the Gardens Terraces for the field trip.  “Macro photography takes a little bit of specialized gear, and a whole lot of patience,” Bill Snead, digital asset manager for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications, told his fellow communicators.

Communicators from across Duke participate in a Video-Photo Working Group meeting to learn about macro capture at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

The working group, led by Julie Schoonmaker, video producer for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications and Shaun King, Senior Public Relations Specialist for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, has been hosting topics like “Small Cameras, Big Pictures,” “Creating Effective Virtual Events & Ceremonies,” and “Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic” through monthly Zoom sessions since February 2020, and before that, in person at the University Communications office. Snead, who also has a commercial remote pilot’s license and has been doing aerial photos and video on campus for two years, was a great choice to lead a macro talk. “I got into macro photography as a way to deal with being a landscape photographer in western New York, an area devoid of any real dramatic landscape features like mountains or oceans,” said Snead. “It’s essentially a vast glacial plain. Turning my focus to the macro world allowed me to explore micro-landscapes that were much more interesting.”

Video+Photo Working Group macro workshop in the Gardens' Terraces.

Video+Photo Working Group macro workshop in the Gardens’ Terraces.

“It may take you many minutes to frame up and focus onto a mini landscape barely noticeable to others, and you may end up waiting a really long time for that dragonfly to re-alite on the leaf you’ve previously focused on, or for the wind to stop blowing it around. And you’re often doing all that while kneeling, sitting or laying on the ground. It’s not for everyone, but when you come away with a unique image that offers others a peek into the microverse, it can all be worth it.”

Dew drops on Eastern Tent Caterpillar during a morning rain, Hillsborough NC

Some of Snead’s suggestions included a tripod for camera stabilization and focus, and a reflector for bouncing light onto an object or acting as a scrim to block harsh mid-day sun. He also suggested purchasing a used, cheap ($50-70) manual focus lens that could be attached to a current model camera with an adapter. Bill’s go-to macro lens is a 1974 model Nikon 55mm f3.5 lens, mounted with a micro 4/3 adapter to his Olympus E-M1 Mark II camera. “This lens is as sharp or sharper than anything you could buy today.” Snead also recommended extension tubes as a cheaper alternative to an expensive macro lens. Extension tubes are designed to enable a lens to focus closer than normal.  Other iPhone or Android options include macro diopter close-up screw on attachments or clip-on macro lenses, for $15-40.

Bill Snead, digital asset manager with Digital and Brand Strategy/University Communications, offers helpful advice for macro capture.

Bill Snead, digital asset manager with Digital and Brand Strategy/University Communications, offers helpful advice for macro capture.

Julie Wynmor, program coordinator for the Department of Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, photographs students and faculty for department news stories and website acknowledgements, as well as in classrooms, meetings and program events.

Julie Wynmor, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies communicator, practices capturing macro shots during the workshop in the Gardens.

“I went to the workshop for two reasons, one is that I joined the group while we were remote, so it was a fun opportunity to meet people that I’ve only seen on Zoom,’ said Wymor. “The second reason is I’m always looking to learn more and whether its Zoom or in person the Photo/video working group meetings have been very interesting, diverse and informative.”

Julie Wynmor's cactus close-up.

Julie Wynmor’s cactus close-up.

Schoonmaker, who edits and produces overarching, strategic videos like “Duke Commencement 2021 Glory”, “Toward Our Second Century,” and “Presidential Awards Virtual Ceremony,” started the working group with King five years ago. The group now has 111 email subscribers with 20-25 who participate in the monthly meetings. “We began the group with the goal of offering our Duke videographers and photographers ranging in experience a place to connect, exchange information, learn and grow,” said Schoonmaker. “After over a year of only meeting through Zoom, it was wonderful to finally see each other in-person and return to hands-on teaching and learning together.”

Julie Schoonmaker, foreground, video producer for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications, and other communicators capture footage of Canada geese walking through the Terraces.

Veronique Koch, science producer with University Communications, recently did a virtual tour of the Duke Greenhouse, and Snead tagged along to capture some macro shots. “His videos and still were just gorgeous… I was delighted when I heard he was willing to give a masterclass to our video and photo group,” Koch said.  To prepare for the workshop, Koch purchased a clip-on lens kit for her iPhone, which included a macro and wide angle lens, as well as a small light, and a mini tripod, all for $57. “I didn’t want to invest in too much expensive gear right away,” she said.

Veronique Koch, science producer with University Communications, practices capturing macro shots with the new setup on her iPhone.

“I was really surprised at how well they worked, and learning his tips and tricks during his class, and getting to practice on my own in the Duke Gardens was so much fun. I made some mistakes but I got a couple of great shots that I am very proud of. I can’t wait to practice some more.”

Koch captured this bumblebee visiting flowers.

Koch captured this bumblebee visiting flowers.

Koch photographed this detail of a flower.

Koch photographed this detail of a flower.

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes of our Class of 2021 Celebration video

Our team wanted to create a special experience for the graduating Class of 2021. In March we weren’t even sure if the Commencement ceremony would be in-person or virtual, so we came up with a plan to film about a dozen seniors reflecting on their time at Duke, as well as film those same seniors jumping, tossing caps, blowing bubbles, etc. for a second celebration video. My colleague Megan Mendenhall would edit the Reflections piece, and I would be responsible for editing the celebration video.

Julie Schoonmaker, our video manager, reached out to the Special Events office, who was planning Commencement, to help us find seniors. Terry Chambliss and Kaitlin Briggs recruited 13 amazing seniors from the Dukes and Duchesses to participate.

Our filming session was set for March 9 and everything went smoothly – the 13 seniors we filmed were a joy to work with and made for some great moments.

Members of the Digital Brand Strategy team, from left, Megan Mendenhall, Bill Snead, Blyth Morrell, Jared Lazarus, and Julie Schoonmaker.

Members of the Digital Brand Strategy team, from left, Megan Mendenhall, Bill Snead, Blyth Morrell, Jared Lazarus, and Julie Schoonmaker.

While editing the video, I wished we had even more seniors to include. I decided to create a 90 second video that showed two three-second clips of each senior, but couldn’t help but think if I was graduating I would wonder why only 13 students were chosen for a video that had space to show them each two times. I decided to complete the video and see if my teammates felt the same way. A week later when I shared the video, my feelings were confirmed when Julie suggested we film at least 15 more students for the celebration video. One of the seniors in the video brought along two friends in her Covid bubble and those moments were among the most special because they showed the wonderful friendships made over four years at Duke.

Seniors Emine Arcasoy, Serena Lim-Strutt, and Molly Mendoza celebrate together during our filming session.

Seniors Emine Arcasoy, Serena Lim-Strutt, and Molly Mendoza celebrate together during our filming session.

Another senior happened to be in an acappella group and was a natural performer, so his scenes were some of the most entertaining.

Senior Andrew Zheng brings comedic flair to our filming session.

Senior Andrew Zheng brings comedic flair to our filming session.

I also knew that a big effort was needed to make the video as rich in diversity as our student body.

I emailed James Todd at Duke Chapel to see if we could film in the arcade again and also to work out logistics for running extension cords for our lighting. With the date secure, I went to Sign Up Genius and created a sign-up for our second filming session on Thurs. April 8 with 22 timeslots from 1:30-6pm.

And I drafted emails – the first letters I sent out on Mon. March 29 were to every a cappella group on campus, which I thought would help me check all of the boxes for fun, outgoing and diverse. One might not know this, but there are actually nine a cappella groups on campus: the coed Rhythm & Blue and all-male The Pitchforks are perhaps the most well-known, but others include Out of the Blue, Deja Blue and Lady Blue, and quite possibly my favorite name for a student group ever, the Temptasians.

The Temptasians, Duke's own Asian-interest co-ed a cappella group, perform on the Bryan Center Plaza during the 2018 Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Temptasians, Duke’s own Asian-interest co-ed a cappella group, perform on the Bryan Center Plaza during the 2018 Mid-Autumn Festival.

I also emailed every student dance group I could find, 10 groups including Kpop dance team Pureun, Latin dance group Sabrosura, Bollywood fusion team Duke Rhydhun, and multicultural dance group Defining Movement.

Seniors Shalin Kapil, Meghana Giri, and Aneesha Raj perform a Bhangra dance on the Chapel steps during the filming of our celebration video.

Seniors Shalin Kapil, Meghana Giri, and Aneesha Raj perform a Bhangra dance on the Chapel steps during the filming of our celebration video.

But by Fri. eve, only eight of our slots were full, so on Sat. April 3, I began emailing students directly who I photographed in the Fall, juniors from last Spring, and so on, and attached a photo to refresh their memory and also to help incentivize their participation. Now seniors, I had captured these students studying and socializing on the quad, in a Bass Connections Project Team, with puppies from Puppy Kindergarten, and whenever I happen to photograph a group of about four or fewer students I’ll typically get their names and their year. Here’s one of those emails:

Hi Allayne, Katlyn & Martin, I photographed you during Spring ‘19 in front of Brownstone (see below) when you were sophomores. I’m with University Communications and we’re looking for seniors to film in celebratory poses for a video that will play on the Jumbotron during Commencement ’21 in Wallace Wade Stadium and also be available on the Commencement ’21 website. Will you please consider participating in or sharing this fun opportunity with your fellow classmates. The filming session is on Thurs. April 8 in the Chapel arcade (raindate will be Tues. April 13). Please sign up for yourself or bring a few friends in your Covid bubble. Outgoing personality and diversity encouraged! Here’s the sign-up link: xxxxx

Hi Allayne, Katlyn & Martin, I photographed you during Spring ‘19 in front of Brownstone (see below) when you were sophomores. I’m with University Communications and we’re looking for seniors to film in celebratory poses for a video that will play on the Jumbotron during Commencement ’21 in Wallace Wade Stadium and also be available on the Commencement ’21 website. Will you please consider participating in or sharing this fun opportunity with your fellow classmates. The filming session is on Thurs. April 8 in the Chapel arcade (raindate will be Tues. April 13). Please sign up for yourself or bring a few friends in your Covid bubble. Outgoing personality and diversity encouraged! Here’s the sign-up link: xxxxx

Almost immediately after sending an email like this directly to students that knew me, one or more of them would sign up, so the spots started filling up more quickly now. That night I went out to eat with my family at Bonefish Grill and sitting next to us outside was what appeared to be a Duke student (he was wearing a Duke polo and was the right age) with his parents. My wife Kelly is more talkative than me, so she began chatting with the parents and we discovered their son, Daniel Wright, was a forward on the Duke men’s soccer team graduating in May. I call this serendipity and of course asked Daniel if he would consider participating in our filming session.

Seniors Daniel Wright and Tess Boade, from the Duke men's and women's soccer team, head each other the ball during our filming session.

Seniors Daniel Wright and Tess Boade, from the Duke men’s and women’s soccer team, head each other the ball during our filming session.

During our team meeting on Monday April 5, our director Blyth Morrell suggested we include the Blue Devil in the filming session and worked out the $100 appearance fee. It was a great idea, and I was excited about filming the Devil with Daniel and two of the Dancing Devils I recruited. I had met and filmed one of them, Hannah Folks, kayaking at the Duke Marine Lab when she was a sophomore and she asked a friend to tag along.

Hannah Folks, then a rising sophomore, enjoys a sunrise paddle at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC during summer 2018.

Hannah Folks, then a rising sophomore, enjoys a sunrise paddle at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC during summer 2018.

Dancing Devils seniors Hannah Folks and Alyssa Nicholas perform with the Blue Devil during our filming session.

Dancing Devils seniors Hannah Folks and Alyssa Nicholas perform with the Blue Devil during our filming session.

After our meeting, I ordered a 24 pack of big bubble wands and 20 pack of no mess streamers from Amazon.

By Tues. April 6, I was still sending emails to seniors, trying to fill the remaining handful of spots. By Wednesday April 7 about 10pm, more than 60 emails later, I had filled all 22 spots.

I made a few mistakes with my sign up that would create hours of additional work in my efforts to get organized before our session. I did not include a space for a phone number and make this required, and I did not ask the students to write the names of the seniors they would be bringing along. In general, students are hit or miss at returning emails, often requiring a second reminder email to get additional info. So I spent most of the day before the shoot gathering the names of every senior we would be expecting and creating a log, as well as swapping several timeslots for those who needed to reschedule.

I made a few mistakes with my sign up that would create hours of additional work in my efforts to get organized before our session. I did not include a space for a phone number and make this required, and I did not ask the students to write the names of the seniors they would be bringing along. In general, students are hit or miss at returning emails, often requiring a second reminder email to get additional info. So I spent most of the day before the shoot gathering the names of every senior we would be expecting and creating a log, as well as swapping several timeslots for those who needed to reschedule.

I laid out three lights, stands, extension cords, gaffers tape, some caps and gowns we acquired,  and our fun props for me, Megan and Bill Snead, our digital asset manager and resident drone pilot, a couple of days before the shoot. Megan brought large helium balloon numbers to spell out 2021, which would be a perfect way to help kick off the video.

Seniors Lavonne Hoang, Alice Zheng, Genoveva Ntirugelgwa, and Sonia Lau celebrate with 2021 balloons during our filming session.

Seniors Lavonne Hoang, Alice Zheng, Genoveva Ntirugelgwa, and Sonia Lau celebrate with 2021 balloons during our filming session.

Megan would capture the groups from a different angle with a GoPro and also shoot with a telephoto lens to help create a wider variety of imagery. Bill would use his mirrorless camera that has a slow motion setting to capture in slo-mo and also transition to the drone in the afternoon to give us some nice aerial footage.­ ­­­

We all met at the studio at 11:45am on April 8 to load up. Blyth and our student intern, Anna Markey, would greet the students and help us run on schedule, and Blyth would also help direct scenes and our overall coverage.

Blyth and Anna were essential in helping us stay organized as I created an ambitious shooting schedule with a different student group arriving every 10 minutes for 4.5 straight hrs. with a 30 min. recharge/bathroom break and a couple of additional 10 min. breaks built in.

The Blue Devil arrived at 1:30pm and stayed until 2:30 so we were able to use the Devil in our first five student groups. All three of us were capturing these fun scenes from different perspectives, focal lengths and frame rates.

Slow-motion of seniors Akylah Cox and Elise Malone doing a "High School Musical" jump with the Blue Devil during our filming session for the celebration video.

Slow-motion of seniors Akylah Cox and Elise Malone doing a “High School Musical” jump with the Blue Devil during our filming session for the celebration video.

We had a short break as our next group was at 2:40pm, and Blyth and Megan were rightly concerned that if the three of us continued to shoot every student group for the rest of the afternoon we would be overwhelmed with footage to edit. So we decided to break up into two different shooting stations to help streamline our coverage and tackle the groups that were beginning to arrive either five minutes early or five minutes late. Next time around, I’ll likely schedule every 15 min. so there’s not as much overlap and to give us more breathing room.

Also at this time, Bill got the drone ready and was mostly flying from 3-6pm, creating beautiful perspectives and shots with skilled pilot maneuvers.

Seniors Rishika Gundi, Saloni Bulchandani, Anisha Watwe, and Rand Alotaibi throw their caps as drone pilot Bill Snead maneuvers toward the top of the Chapel.

Seniors Rishika Gundi, Saloni Bulchandani, Anisha Watwe, and Rand Alotaibi throw their caps as drone pilot Bill Snead maneuvers toward the top of the Chapel.

Megan put away the C-200 and would use the GoPro for the rest of the afternoon to be more nimble – creating fun, intimate, and ultra-wide angle views.

Seniors Jiwoo Kim, Martin Trinh, Lenique Huggins and Allayne Thomas blow bubbles as Megan Mendenhall pans the action with a GoPro.

Seniors Jiwoo Kim, Martin Trinh, Lenique Huggins and Allayne Thomas blow bubbles as Megan Mendenhall pans the action with a GoPro.

We filmed 60 different seniors in groups of mostly two-four on April 8, so combined with the 15 from March 9, and five more I found at the Chapel doing cap and gown shots two weeks later (as I was wrapping up the editing), we had 80 faces in 47 scenes of our 3.5 min. Duke Class of 2021 Commencement Celebration video!

Virtual Veterans Day Ceremony

Back in September, our Creative Team received a request from Paul Grantham, Asst. VP of Communication Services, to produce a virtual version of the annual Veterans Day ceremony, which was exciting and anxiety-inducing at the same time because we’ve never done anything like this before.

We have produced components of events – history of Founder’s Day video, short videos for Marking the Moment, and even the New Student Convocation ceremony, which was mainly speeches.

But this was a production from start to finish of an event with multiple moving parts: ROTC color guard, speeches from administration, highlights from Duke staff and faculty talking about what it means to be a veteran, cadets and staff paying tribute at the Memorial Wall outside the Chapel, the National Anthem, and a bagpiper.

To coordinate all of these efforts, components were assigned to individual team members and we used Monday.com to post updates about in-the-weeds details and progress for each segment with real-time feedback. My colleague Megan Mendenhall created a storyboard detailing the elements for each production.

Megan also took on the intro for the video, diving into the Library archives for historical photos illustrating Duke’s long history of engagement with the Armed Forces. Megan was also in charge of all of the filming at the Memorial Wall. Our video manager, Julie Schoonmaker, spearheaded the efforts to film all of the speeches from Duke leaders and was responsible for editing the entire production. I led the Color Guard efforts. But each of these components was a team effort, many of them involving four members of our team.

My component was the Color Guard. I started thinking about what would be the ideal time of day to film this. Usually, the Veterans Day ceremony is at 11am, but by then the sun is high, creating flat, unattractive light with harsh shadows in the eyes. Since we had flexibility to film the cadets separately from the administration, I wanted to film the Color Guard at sunrise when the light is prettiest and most dramatic. We did some test shots beginning before sunrise until the sun was high enough in the sky that the shadows on the Chapel doors became problematic, and pinpointed a start and end time for the filming. We only wanted to ask for one hour of the students’ time. I then created a shot list with four different camera angles, including a a GoPro for on-the-go, documentary style footage, and a drone for flyovers. Our digital assets manager Bill Snead has a commercial pilots license and this been creating amazing aerial views of campus for the past two years.

During this time, we were still waiting on one of the two OIT drones checked out to students to come back from loan so we could use it, as our office didn’t own a drone. But those drones had not been returned since the pandemic began after Spring Break and we had no idea if or when they would be available. We had been hoping to purchase our own drone for more than a year, so our director, Blyth Morrell, used this opportunity to put in a special $2499 purchase request for a drone and fortunately it was approved, after showing the multiple photography and videography uses in everything from #dukeuniversity to presidential messaging videos to Duke’s annual financial report.

Julie reached out to numerous Duke staff and faculty who are veterans to see if they would be interested in participating in the ceremony, and if so, film themselves speaking with a smartphone. She also lined up the dates to film the various administration’s speeches, including President Vincent Price; Kyle Cavanaugh, VP of administration; Antwan Lofton, asst. VP of human resources; and Paul Crews, director of the Durham VA., as well as a morning to film James Chambers, the bagpiper.

We tried to film everything on as few dates as possible to streamline the production and also to strive for consistency with light. But we ended up having to film over multiple mornings due to various schedules, with both full sun and cloud cover.

We soon realized with our shooting schedule, spread out over a few weeks, that a traditional wreath with fresh flowers wouldn’t work so Bill volunteered to make one with plastic flowers from Walmart. Though smaller than the typical wreath, the end result was beautiful and subbed in nicely.

We had to reschedule our filming of the Color Guard multiple times due to overcast and rainy weather, as I was holding out hope for that sunny morning I envisioned. The nearly two-week delay in shooting was a plus and minus for us. Our new drone arrived the day before, so that was a huge bonus. Otherwise the drone footage would have been of just the Chapel without the cadets. But we ended up having to shoot without our key video team member Julie, out on vacation, so I divided up her shots and asked Blyth to operate the GoPro and help keep us on schedule.

After filming the Color Guard, we then transitioned to the Memorial Wall, where Megan and Julie had scouted and strategized about different camera angles and shots of the cadets paying tribute to fallen soldiers.

We learned that a director to oversee each shot and camera angle was key. Another lesson: it was virtually impossible to film any aerials while any other filming was going on because our crew and gear were in the shots.

Once I saw the awe-inspiring drone flyover of the cadets up to the top of the Chapel spires, I realized I needed to find equally inspiring National Anthem music to match. After sending out a handful of emails, including an alum who I photographed with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, I was connected with junior Logan Welborn, also with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, Out of the Blue, and a recording artist in her own right with Small Town Records. About a week later Logan sent a beautiful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, recorded on her iPhone.

Julie was able to line up James the bagpiper immediately after our session with President Price, so this was another busy morning. Since we took the opportunity with Pres. Price to film multiple different messages, we set up two locations with lighting before his arrival. Since one of the locations was in the Chapel archway, Bill and I stood on either side holding signs asking pedestrians to stay quiet while passing through, while Julie and Megan filmed Pres. Price.

 

We then spent a fun hour with James filming him in the varied positions Megan and Julie had worked out, and ended the shoot with him walking under the canopied woods behind the Chapel as Bill filmed from above with the drone.

All told, team members posted 57 virtual Veterans Day ceremony updates in Monday.com from the initial request on Sept. 11 to project completion on Nov. 10. We set Fri. Nov. 6 as the date for completion and review by Paul, Pres. Price, and Mike Schoenfeld, VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations, and the video was approved on Mon. Nov. 9. But in sharing the video with Army ROTC, I discovered I needed to make a minor change to the sequencing of the color guard, so we ended up finishing it a day before the ceremony.

Now with the added title of video and event producers – I say this half-joking – our team is poised for more challenges and adventure in the year ahead.

Pursuit of Dancers in the Cube

I began chasing this picture of the Rubenstein Arts Center – kinetic students in the second floor fishbowl space known as the Cube – for the past 14 months, but started thinking about it months before. A beautiful visual representation of learning, teaching and discovery inside Duke’s blossoming arts scene and the crown jewel on Central Campus.

On Oct. 10, 2018, after photographing a Hoof n’ Horn dress rehearsal, I walked out of the Ruby at 10:30pm to see Street Medicine practicing their dance moves inside the large space adjacent to the street. I worked the scene for the next half hour from multiple views, and liked this frame enough to post on our #dukephotoaday, but knew the upper level would be a more dramatic and interesting composition.­­­­­

The lower level of the Rubenstein Arts Center at night.

I also figured that twilight or “blue hour” – that short window of time just after sunset or before sunrise – would be an ideal time as the sky begins to darken to a rich purply blue, matched in brightness by the glow of incandescent, fluorescent or LED light indoors. This harmonious light lasts only 10-15 min., until the sky becomes a dark inky blue and the indoor light appears washed out in contrast.

So I reached out to the dance program to find out their schedule of classes and began my quest last November.

I brought along a 10 ft. ladder, but even after moving it closer to the high ground near the intersection, the dancers were still too hidden from view.

The upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center, as seen from a ladder.

I then coordinated with the Ruby’s tech. person, John Kolba, who had offered the use of their lift. We set up the lift just inside the front door, but the reflections from the glass and the scarcity of energetic movement led to a lackluster result.

The upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center, as seen from the lift in the building.

By now, it was the end of Fall 2018 and the photo would have to wait until all the elements were in sync again.

On my commutes home I would cross Anderson Street on Campus Drive, occasionally glimpsing a dance class teasing me in the Cube.

During the summer, my colleague Bill Snead, our digital assets manager, had obtained his remote pilot license and we talked about doing the shoot with a drone during the coming Fall 2019.

The stakes were higher now: my colleague’s time, coordinating the drone rental from the Innovation Co-Lab, and finding the right dance class to photograph.

Additional emails were exchanged. Would a student dance group work? No, because they practice later at night, well past twilight.

The director of the dance program now became involved because they had recently started a Master of Fine Arts in Dance synthesized with a new undergraduate curriculum. It was important to the dance program to photograph a class that best represented thoughtful embodied movement, which investigates the deeper nuances of the mind and body as a whole, and explores multiple genres, multiple methodologies, and inter-cultural styles. We settled on Andrea Woods’ Modern Dance class.

On Nov. 5, 2019, Bill and I began prepping at the Ruby about 4:30pm for blue hour beginning at 5:32pm. We began flying about 5:15pm and decided to make some initial passes as the drone captured video of the class, but due to excessive interference we were unable to continue flying.

The Rubenstein Arts Center as captured by a drone.

Now was the time to ask John Kolba a big favor – can we use their lift outside, which he had previously said he doesn’t like doing for safety reasons (i.e. – uneven ground, wind, etc.).

John agreed and we set the date for the next attempt, Dec. 3 with set up at 4pm.

Shooting from the lift, I would have to be deliberate about the position because once blue hour started at 5:18pm, we wouldn’t have enough time to reset the lift.

I chose a spot near the tree in the outdoor courtyard – I helped John stabilize the lift with plywood boards…too close…we repeated this process three times until I found the spot I liked.

I set my camera on a tripod and waited for peak flurries of dancer activity, all the while hoping for the Duke bus to anchor the composition in the lower right corner. The bus came at 5:27pm but didn’t have its interior lights on as it stopped. A very colorful bus arrived at 5:40pm with interior lights on, but the dancers were static, taking direction. The sky was a bit dark by then but could be brightened in Photoshop.

The initial photo of the upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center, as captured on an outdoor lift.

I kept shooting until I was happy with the dancers’ movements at 5:54pm.

A darker shot of dancers in the upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center.

Bill, a Photoshop master, then worked up the base shot of the dancers and grabbed the right hand portion of the earlier frame with the sky, bus and street, and finessed the straight lines from the building.

The final image was all I had hoped and imagined on those rides home with students dancing in the Cube in my mind.

The final shot of dancers in the Rubenstein Arts Center, after being edited in Photoshop.

Dean’s cabinet photo

At the beginning of last Fall, our office received a request from Hallie Knuffman in the Provost’s Office to take a group photo of the Dean’s Cabinet – all 10 deans, the Provost and President – and I was asked to spearhead this project.

I was excited by this opportunity because I don’t think this has ever done at Duke – I have never seen a historical photo like this and university archivist Valerie Gillispie hadn’t either.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how challenging it would be to find a Dean’s Cabinet meeting when all the Deans were actually present. In mid-Sept. one of the Deans couldn’t make the meeting and then in the beginning of October two deans were out, and we kept pushing back the shoot date every two weeks until their next meeting. This went on and on until February when it was decided it wasn’t going to happen in the Spring and to set our sights on the first meeting of the academic year when all of the Deans should be in attendance, August 26.

I’ve done hundreds of School of Medicine departmental and divisional group photos, as well as group photos with every professional school on campus. Usually these are taken on steps and done in a formal fashion, with the participants lined up like soldiers, and several frames later (perhaps two minutes), everyone is on their way.

A tradition group shot of people arranged on the steps of a building

I didn’t want to approach the Dean’s Cabinet this way. I wanted to make it special and different, relaxed and contemporary.

I’ve been a big fan of Annie Leibovitz’s work for more than 25 years and I admire her group photos in Vanity Fair. They seem so timeless and effortless, though there’s no doubt the opposite is true and photo assistants, publicity handlers, and furniture/props people are involved in some way before or during the creation of this image.

An Annie Leibovitz Vanity Fair photo that inspired this project

But as critical as the end result was the experience – we wanted the shoot to be smooth and efficient, so the Deans’ Cabinet could get on with the important business of the day. Hallie had told me we could have 15 minutes and possibly up to 30 minutes for the photo session. I felt confident we could do the photo in 20 minutes but felt like we could do it in 15 if we had to. I had photographed a group of Heart Center leadership several years before with a similar approach in mind and the photo took 15-20 minutes – most of this time was spent on posing the doctors to look more relaxed. My director, Blyth Morrell, asked me to take no more than 15 minutes of their time, and I felt like we could compromise a little bit on the styling and still create a natural looking arrangement with relaxed poses in this amount of time. 

A photo of doctors posed in a lab used as inspiration for this project

I had scouted multiple locations near the Allen Board Room that we could potentially use for the photo to look at space, light, etc. and had come up with the Gothic Reading Room and Brodhead Center. But neither of those spaces were going to work on the first day of classes, so Blyth suggested we do the shoot in the Karsh Alumni Center’s Moyle Board Room. I was nervous in July and August as Claudia Attarian with Alumni Affairs kept me updated on the furniture delays from England, but a week before the shoot, the tables, chairs and couches arrived and we were finally able to look at all the elements together – space, furniture, and sunlight – as well as figure out where the President, Provost, and each Dean would be positioned in the photo.

A sketch of how everyone will be positioned in the photo

Then, five days before the shoot, Claudia (on behalf of director of operations Scott Greenwood) asked us to move the shoot to the atrium so the Deans could have their meeting in the Moyle Board Room – the setup and breakdown of the lighting equipment would be disruptive to the meeting so we needed a different space for the photo.

We hadn’t really considered this space before and I immediately liked the brighter, airy space, though the rays of sunlight at 10am looked like they could become problematic and create uneven light across the group. The forecast was showing rain all weekend and 98% cloud cover for Monday so I liked my chances.

On Saturday morning, Claudia graciously opened up the Karsh Center for my colleague Megan and I – she photographed the Price family earlier that morning in the Moyle Board Room. We then set up four large softboxes and experimented with different furniture arrangements – two chairs and a loveseat, two loveseats, until we settled on five chairs near the center of the room.

The night before the shoot, I rehearsed running through a quick 30 second intro to what we were trying to accomplish – a natural looking group picture in which everyone looked relaxed in their individualized pose. I showed a Vanity Fair photo as a reference, though I knew this would bring laughter because one of the participants was lying across the floor. I assured them I wouldn’t ask anyone to do this.

On Monday at 7:30am, I fine tuned the lighting, tethered my camera to my laptop for immediate feedback, and reset the furniture that the cleaners had put back.

At 9am, we began doing test shots. I had sketched out where each Dean would sit or stand and we had several stand ins: Blyth, my colleagues Sam Huntley (web developer/information designer) and Caroline Pate (web developer/information designer), Claudia and her colleagues Courtney Hill and Emily Deahl, Hallie and her teammate Mary Greenway. I tweaked the lighting for several minutes – it was looking too flat and I wanted more ratio between light and shadow on the faces – until it was to my liking. The skies outside were still overcast but my anxiety rose as clouds were starting to reveal some sunlight. Blyth suggested we swap in three stools instead for two of the chairs to create some height differences, which I favored to make the group appear less rigid and formal.

A test shot with volunteers occupying the positions of the Deans

Shortly after, my colleagues Megan, Julie Schoonmaker (video manager), and Bill Snead (digital assets manger and Photoshop master) arrived from capturing exterior drone footage of the Karsh Alumni Center, to be used in a video announcing its opening.

Most of the Deans had arrived several minutes before 10am and Hallie asked if I wanted to begin arranging people. I’ve made this mistake before – as soon as people are sitting down for the photo they become more anxious and impatient as the shoot progresses. I said they should keep talking and catching up for a couple more minutes. By 10am we started – turning Dean Ravi from right to left, angling Dean Steelman to the camera, moving Dean Broome several inches to her left, shooting several frames as we kept making adjustments. The clouds had parted by now and a ray of sunlight was creating an unwanted halo effect on Dean Klotman’s hair. I stopped shooting and looked at the lighting on my laptop with Bill, and he assured me he could swap her hair from another frame in which the exposure was good.

A behind the scenes shot of the photo being taken showing camera and light setup

I kept shooting, all the while Blyth, Hallie, Sam, Bill and myself helping to fine tune the grouping and poses. About ¾ into the shoot things visibly gelled – expressions, poses, body language, all coming together – and 48 frames later it was a wrap. The Deans, President Price and Provost Kornbluth crowded around my laptop to look at the photo and everyone seemed happy with the end result as Julie captured several behind the scenes moments with her phone.

The final Dean's Cabinet photo

Blyth looked at her watch and was smiling as she declared I did it in 15 minutes. I felt good, relieved that we had finally pulled off this picture I had envisioned and planned for months.

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