Multi-Million Dollar Shootout and How I Created the Winning Photo

Multi-Million Dollar Shootout and How I Created the Winning Photo

A few weeks ago, I came across a post on social media from the Jônt about a shoot out contest inside a staged multi-million dollar estate which piqued my interest. Reading more about the shootout, it would be geared toward several different genres of photographers, as they would have vendors on site providing food, drinks, cars, and models at our disposal for the shoot out. First, you had to submit your info along with your portfolio to be one of the selected photographers to join the contest, I figured I would go ahead and throw my name into the hat and see what would happen.

I knew that they would be selected several different photographers within several different genres of photography so I had no idea what specifically they were looking for or if I would even be one of the 20 selected photographers. There was some trouble with the email I provided as my point of contact but I was reached out on my Instagram account for an alternative email address. It was coming down to the wire as the cut off time to accept entering the contest was a few hours, but I accepted and waited for my time slot to be chosen. I had issue after issue, but I was able to make the drive to San Antonio to attend the shoot out. If I am not mistaken, there was at least one other photographer traveling from out of town to attend the shoot out.

Each photographer was given only 20 minutes to do their portion of the shoot, but we had access to the majority of the house and several props and items from the vendors as well as models. Without seeing the property and the model talent that would be available nor knowing what car would be on the property, I already envisioned a few different options I could go with for my shot.

Before even arriving to the location, I already had in mind what I wanted to shoot as my first choice. I knew an exotic car would be on-site so I wanted to capture the car in front of the house showing the entry way. The final decision on how I would approach the shoot would all depend on how it looked when I arrived and finally saw the property. Once I arrived, I gathered my gear and had my lights set up on light stands and waited for my time to start. I also took a quick snap on my phone to think about the composition I wanted. Specializing as an automotive photographer, I decided to go ahead and do what I do best rather than try to make something happen in another genre.

iPhone snap

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The Gear

Creating the Shot

Once it was my time to start, I setup my camera on the tripod and activated my lights to start shooting once the Bentley was in place. The Bentley was actually facing a different direction than I initially wanted, but I decided to go ahead and take another shot before moving into the one I had planned. I had Jônt staff Adrian Garcia position the Bentley and helped move the lights as need along with staff Danny Batista. With it being a really bright day, I had the lights at full power to fill in the shadows as I wanted with only the standard 7" reflector cones attached to them. One light could have been used, but I decided to use the two I had to spend less time as I wasn't sure how fast or slow 20 minutes would go. Since my focus was on the car but I still wanted some clarity on the front of the house, I set my camera to f/16 at 1/100 and ISO 200. I took multiple exposures where the light position was changed for each frame. I left the circular polarizer filter in one position where it reduced most of the reflector in the car windows. Once I was done with this set, I had the car moved into position for the shot I originally planned on doing.

Two photos showing the different placement of the lights.

Being a car photographer, one thing I always pay attention to now is how the wheel center caps are in position. I made sure the “B” was as straight as possible when lining up the car in front of the house. Once again I took multiple shots with the lights moved in each frame to merge them later. I still had some time to spare so I re-composed my shot and went in for a tighter crop for the last one. It was a pretty hot day and I still had eight minutes left when I finished so I just called it quits instead as I already had the shot I wanted. Unfortunately, I don't have behind the scenes shots or video from my portion of the shoot out as their Sony camera was overheating outside. Like I said it was a pretty hot day, and the previous contest was shooting outside as well.

Post Process

The layer build up

I used Adobe Lightroom to select, group, and process my shots. Once I had the photos selected, I exported out into Adobe Photoshop with "Edit In > Open as Layers" in Photoshop. Even though the photos were all taken while using a tripod, I still used Photoshop’s "Auto-Align Images" feature to make sure they all lined up, which I must have bumped the tripod since they didn’t line up perfectly. I used one image as the base and switch the other layers to “Lighten” mode to get the brighter pixels to show. I then used layer mask and painted in the sections I wanted to be shown. Once that was done I created a merged layer and applied some final edits.

Final cropped version I entered into the contest


The contest ran for 10 days and whichever photo with the most likes at the end would be the victor. The Prize? The winning photo would be used for the cover of a coffee table book to be printed for the new owner of the estate, featured as the main image on the property listing page, and $500. The contest page now only shows my winning photo, but the contest was also shared on the local San Antonio news website which shows all the photos from the contest, plus additional photos of the property. Below are some of my favorites from the other attending photographers.

I loved the use of the ivory tusks to compose the shot. Photo by Tim Laielli.

Another creative use of the objects in the room for a unique perspective. Photo by Rachel Serda.

I didn't even think about bringing my drone out, cool view of the entire property. Photo by Kody Melton.

I really like this shot, I think it's well executed. Photo by Joshua Nolden.

I love the use of multiple rooms and shooting through the openings. Photo by Sarah Naselli.

As you can see, I had some good competition the contest. Which one is your favorite and why?

All images used with permission.

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Mr Hogwallop's picture

Congrats on the win, that's a lot of work in 20 minutes. I know that RR has self leveling center caps, maybe with Bentley it's a $1200 option LoL
To me the car looks sort of pasted into the background but that's a minor nitpick...

Never knew about the self-leveling center caps... now I am curious.

Matt Rennells's picture

They're basically on their own set of bearings and weighted at the bottom. When you see a Roller going down the highway, the "RR" is always upright, even at 70mph.

I think I did hear about that before but never looked into, thanks for the info.

Archie mae Canonigo's picture

I wish to be the one great of photographer but thats only dream that could never happened to me because i dont even have my own camera i cant afford of it ...such so expensive i just only watch and adored their excellent photos i wish my dream came true

I shot with an outdated rebel xti for a long time to get my start, you don't need the best camera to create great images.

One can get some pretty spectacular shots with just a pentax k1000 film camera, I actually ended up moving from my canon 7D to entirely pentax after shooting film on a $60 camera from 1970 for a month

Archie mae Canonigo's picture

Such so nice shot and excellent

Thank you, I actually want to do something like that for a future shoot. I might have done it there if we had another model as there were only the older gentleman as the model during my time.

Edward Porter's picture

Larger picture: Agent wants to taste test a bunch of photographers to shoot their high-end listing and only gives one of them half of what a normal shoot runs. The batch of photos produced have very little to do with the architecture and the masses end up picking a photo that has a pretty car in it....

Danny Batista's picture

E Port, the shootout was not to have photographers come out and shoot the property for free. This is not spec work. The photographers chosen to shoot at the property for the contest, come from all backgrounds (food, portrait, real estate, automotive, etc). The idea was to give photographers a chance to shoot at a location that wouldn't ever have the ability to use, for free, so that they could enjoy a friendly and competitive experience, on a time clock, AND give the house more marketing reach. The PR that the house received actually went as planned, and was picked up by local new agencies. The shootout got published in local media, the house got more market area, the photographers that came out had an amazing time visiting with each other, and being challenged to shoot in a location (this house) that wouldn't normally be accessible to anyone, except the owners of the home, and the realtor. Jont, the team that absolutely goes above and beyond to shoot the luxury properties in San Antonio, and other cities in the U.S. shoots the property with the package paid for by the brokerage, in the end, for marketing purposes on the web, MLS, SEM, print, and social media marketing campaigns.

Edward Porter's picture

Thanks for the clarification Danny. It's nice to know the agent hired a proper shoot and the contest wasn't meant for arch-photogs. Some agents can be shady like that. I'm sure most of us in the field wouldn't step foot in that home without guaranteed pay, so hopefully you can understand the initial rage :)

Parrish Ruiz de Velasco's picture

Literally described a spec job. Unless every Photog got paid... spec.

Parrish Ruiz de Velasco's picture

You wrote an entire post to brag about winning a spec job.

Jay Jay's picture

The luminosity and tones of the house and ground look... weird and overly processed (especially the doorway compared to the side left just behind the car, both luminosity and temperature-wise). Photos from the inside, however, look great.

Btw, the correct terminology is, "Piqued", not "peaked", which means something entirely different. :)

Jay Jay's picture

If a photograph looks overly processed, then it's being done wrong. A good retouch is one that looks natural and doesn't look edited- even though it has. It's just simply, not a very good photo.

I am going to refrain from using plain English to tell you how I feel about the ivory horns. I know that's not what this article is about, so to keep it relevant, I'm glad it framed the shot so nicely. It would have also framed the animal on which it belonged nicely too. Ruined it for me :( Congratulations on your winning photo though. I love it.

I am hoping they are fake but I didn't go in that room so I can't tell you one way or the other but I completely agree.

Peter Mayes's picture

They are not horns. They are tusks - the elephant's teeth. And ivory firmly belongs to the elephants!

I did not buy them, nor did I go in that room or even shot that photo. Just stating how I liked the use of them for the composition. The article isn't about the tusks but do you know if they are real or not?

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CORNEL STAN's picture

About the picture with a white car: It does not look like a photography ! It is not realistic and artificial! Counterfeit !
The car is too big ! The white statues look like floating ! It is a real and nice Kitsch !

Jonathan Pearce's picture

Great shot. But the lighting on the house feels like it's over done in my opinion. But congrats on winning

Thanks, normally I would have made the house a bit darker but went a different route as it was part of the contest and I wanted it to be the secondary subject.