Brian Kuhlmann :

Technically Speaking: Brian Kuhlmann Creates a Shadow Forest in the Studio

Ungainly shadows cast by 18 trees made the placement of each light crucial.

Jan 6, 2010
As told to Jack Neubart

Photo Credit: © Brian Kuhlmann
A wintry scene was created with a thicket of trees and theatrical snow, along with lights on the backdrop and the set, and hard, directional lighting on the talent.

Assignment: Bacardi USA wanted to feature their product, Martini & Rossi Asti, for a holiday campaign.

Challenge: This wintry scene was shot in mid-August. The AD came up with the concept of a young couple running through the woods with snow falling, with one of them carrying the wine bottle. So we’d have to do this indoors and make it look real. The other problem centered on the trees themselves: Each acted as a gobo for the lighting, with shadows falling everywhere, and would have to be dealt with accordingly.

Gear: Hasselblad H2 with 50mm lens and Phase One P30+ back; Broncolor lighting.

Set & Props: We would end up using 18 12-foot-tall trees purchased from a tree farm which would be transported 600 miles from Wisconsin, with each tree mounted on its own 3 x 3-foot stand. We acquired theatrical Styrofoam snow from a local prop house. The set is about 40 x 40 feet.

Crew: Creative Director Brian Cleaver, producer Kim Knight, set stylist Kami Bremyer, Joyce Taft on hair and makeup, wardrobe stylist Joslyn Beta Lawrence, digital tech Brian Eaves, studio manager Maggie Dean, and first assistant Jacob Hand.

Exposure: f/11, 1/125 second.

Solution: We brainstormed and I drew up a layout for a monochromatic image, which would involve a thicket of birch trees in a snowy scene. After piling snow on the ground, we had several assistants tossing handfuls of snow at various points on the set as the talent moved toward the camera. I let the models control the pace, although I delineated the start and stop points for their romp through the woods.

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