June 2011

About two weeks ago, my baby boy walked across a stage in cap and gown, and picked up his well earned high school diploma, complete with honors.  Though I don’t think it has fully sunk in just yet, the vibe in the house seems different.  While Betty and I will always be there to provide help and advice to Nathan, there is a sense that, to a small degree, our job is done.  The decisions in his life from this point forward will be his to make, and the consequences of those decisions will be his to bear.

Sounds scary, doesn’t it?  A small part of me feels that way, but when I think back on my life, and many of the emotions I was feeling when I was freshly graduated and the world lay at my feet, I don’t remember being scared.  I was excited, and I imagine Nathan is excited now.  And I am excited for him.

If I ever do feel scared, I just sit back and look at the young man Betty and I have created, and know that we did alright!

©Jeff S. Saxman

©Jeff S. Saxman

Super! ©Jeff S. Saxman


Had a fun opportunity recently to work on a project for Afton Chemical Company.  We’ve done a few things for them in the past, and they are generally interesting and fun challenges, put forth by Mike Wilson.  For Afton in the past, we have digitally created a fictional “Auto Repair Row,” with a range of vehicles stationed in front (from, I think, about a zillion source images):

And, we have created a jungle scene in the studio (very little post work in this one, actually):

For this most recent one, I got to play with fire.  Literally.  The concept was to show a fireman donning a fire proximity suit proximate to, well, fire.  Intense heat was what we wanted to communicate, as the Afton product provides protection in such situations.

There was discussion of using stock imagery for the fire source, but I really wanted to provide all the source images (and besides, could not pass up an opportunity to set things on fire.)  I started small in the studio with the old lighter and can of hairspray technique.  It was fun, but the resulting flames were too jetted.  A friend told me that corn starch, when blown across a candle, will burst into a fireball, and this was the sort of thing we were after.  So, this time in my backyard, I blew cornstarch across a couple candles, and, sure enough, it does burst into a fireball (as long as you don’t make a direct hit and snuff out the candles, that is, which I did with a fair amount of frequency.)  These were promising, but the technique itself was not quite reliable enough to give me the number of source images I wanted, and, too, the flames were not “rolling” the way I had envisioned.

So, getting impatient, and thus far disappointed my neighbors had not yet called the police, I decided the best way to get what I was after was to build a fire in my fire pit, and douse it with gasoline.  A zip lock baggie was just about the right amount of gas, and provided a handy delivery method.  With the continuous drive on the camera firing away, I dropped about a dozen or so bombs on the fire and ended up with some great source images for my big fireball:

Digitally putting various bits and pieces of these and other source photos yielded a pretty good fireball to begin with:

Believe it or not, about the most difficult part of this job was finding the fire proximity suit.  I had put in calls to several prop houses in California, and I talked to one source that said they could get me the suit.  The cost of rental plus shipping was going to be high, but at least I had found one.  Fortunately, I did not cease looking locally, and heard that the only folks in town that would have one would be the airport fire department.  I made a call over there, and they did indeed have a suit that we could use.  (Side note:  When picking it up, I had the opportunity to drive across multiple runways through the airfield, which, if you have not done it, can be a bit unnerving.)

The challenge in the studio was to photograph Rich in the suit in a manner which would tie in with the light and color of the fireball.  Several gelled lights on either side of the suit, and white lights above and front did the trick, along with some photoshop work on the face shield for dramatic effect.  We wanted to include a reflection, so Rich was photographed standing on black plexi:

And finally, the elements were pieced together with care taken to give the appearance of flames lapping around the subject:

All Photos ©Jeff S. Saxman and may not be reproduced in any form without expressed written consent.



Back in the day, when I was still assisting, we would often find ourselves on a shoot in a public place, and as assistants we would find ourselves to be the front line between the photographer and/or AD, and the curious general public.  Invariably, bystanders would approach and either ask “Are you making a movie?” or “Will I be on the news?”  Nevermind the fact that we had neither film nor video equipment, but rather still gear and strobe lights.  Popular in Richmond at the time was a collection of Duke’s Mayo ads, and so it became common practice, and a bit of a game, when faced with inquisitive passers-by to answer “We’re shooting a Duke’s Mayonnaise commercial.”  Almost without fail, this elicited responses of great surprise and admiration from the onlookers, and made us feel just a little bit more important.


Fast forward 15 years or so, and, believe it or not, I find myself actually producing still content for Duke’s Mayonnaise.  While I cannot say yet we are shooting Duke’s Mayo commercials (though as we get more into video, I am hopeful we can soon), we have been shooting fun photos for the great folks over at CF Sauer and Duke’s for a few years now, including images for ads, packaging, TV, POP, and web.  Here are a few samples of some we did recently, and you can see more if you hit those links above…

©Jeff S. Saxman