Bates Motel Cinemagraph Photo Booth at A&E

This past month I was invited to shoot a photo booth for a very prestigious client, A&E. I’m not a typical event or photo booth kind of photographer— in fact, far from it. I’m a commercial, fashion and portrait photographer. I pride myself on creativity, high production value, and offering something one-of-a-kind. So when this opportunity came along, I was a thrilled when I heard the concept! 

I was invited by the team at A&E and Flixel to shoot a photo booth of moving images (cinemagraphs) for A&E upfront event. An upfront is an event where networks introduce their upcoming season’s lineup to potential advertisers to share advertising opportunities. A&E wants to not only create a fantastic event to introduce their exciting new programming, but also to create a ‘wow’ experience for all involved. 

For this reason they decided to create a Bates Motel themed photo booth—but with a twist. They would build an elaborate set and the final images would be living photographs with elements moving in the frame. How do you make a Bates Motel photo set interactive and creepy? Add a flickering light, real stairs and ominous clouds in the background—talk about a memorable photo booth!

Bringing this photo booth to life was an exciting challenge. First a background was designed with the Bates house in the background, and then stairs and lamp would be built out from the background to provide interactivity. Once the background was complete and the real stairs mostly finished, I had to bring my team and lighting gear to Brooklyn to light the stairs exactly how they would be lit on the day of the shoot. I shot tethered so that the set designer could accurately paint the stairs to match the background under the lighting I was providing. 

To create the cinemagraph, artists and illustrators would create an animated plate of the house—with moving clouds in the background, the flickering light, the Bates Motel blinking logo and even fog across the bottom of the screen. Because this illustration would be created before the event, I would have to exactly recreate the camera angle, lens choice, perspective and lighting to have the set and the background line up on the day of the shoot. They would be designing their art to match all of these elements we decided upon… so I had to take exact measurements of the lighting placement, camera height, color toning and all other variables— definitely a unique element of this particular shoot! This was going to be essential to create a REAL but SURREAL result that we were seeking! 

We wanted to keep the lighting relatively simple, and decided 2 lights would be best. I choose to shoot with my Profoto D1 Air 500 watts. The main light was a Westcott Zeppelin 47in parabollic umbrella to give me soft light but with faster and more dramatic fall off. The large light source would also allow me to shoot groups of people and still light them evenly. I used cinefoil to block off the lower half of the light to tone down the highlights and exposure on the real gravel that would appear in the front of the frame. 

The second light was Profoto barn door with several yellow Rosco gels layered upon it. This would help mimic the overhead streetlamp in the scene. 

For the actual shoot we had something called a ‘pre-light’ day, where we showed up at the A&E event the day before. The entire set was complete and I was able to make sure I was able to match all my photo specs (camera angle, lens choice, etc). 

On the day of the event, it was nothing short of exciting and inspiring! Massive screens showing all of the newest TV shows in the works, presentations by the most important people in the A&E networks, food, drinks, performance by Fallout Boy, celebrities wandering around, music and more! 

My job was then to direct the attendees to the space, pose them and help create a memorable image. I shot tethered using strobes for a still frame, and a group of Flixel artists sat behind the background to bring the cinemagraph to life with what they had animated. Attendees left their email addresses and they would receive their living photo before the night was through (even in a few minutes often!). A lot of people who stood in line for the cinemagraph booth rushed back for another photo the second they received the original in the email. They couldn’t wait for another one! 

Another highlight of the night was my opportunity to photograph the cast of key characters from the show “Bates Motel” on A&E. Having watched the awesome series it was fantastic to meet and photograph the actors! Because of the hustle of the event, I captured just two frames of the cast for their cinemagraph, and here is one of the results! 

The entire process was really challenging and exciting— from speaking to the team on their concept development, to set building, to actually being able to photograph the cast that inspired the set. Definitely looking forward to more of these one-of-a-kind, high-end, LIVING photo booths!

Gear used

Canon 5d Mark III

Profoto D1 Air

Profoto Barn Doors

Rosco Gels

Westscott Zeppelin 47'' Parabolic Umbrella


Below are some behind the scenes photos from the event. (click to englarge.)

Click images to enlarge

To see more of my work with Flixel please visit this blog post

If you'd like to create awesome cinemagraphs easily (keyword EASILY) I recommend giving Flixel's Cinemgraphs Pro a shot. It makes doing the whole process sooooooo much easier and is totally worth it in this ever evolving world of media. 

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