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Behind The Scenes Of A Cover Shoot With The Band Twenty One Pilots

Recently I had the opportunity to fly to Ohio and photograph the enigmatic alternative rock duo Twenty One Pilots for the cover of Alternative Press Magazine. Sure, you may have seen my posts before about shooting musicians and magazine covers, but never have I ever had to hang one of my artists upside down for a trick shot. Watch the video and read below to see how this shoot came together!

To their credit, the Twenty One Pilots camp really had their stuff together. They were probably one of the most prepared and organized bands I have ever shot for a magazine. Special thanks to Mark Eshleman for getting everything together such as styling, locations, and collaborating on creative concepts. It was actually their idea to offer to hang the band upside down using a rig and leg harness (well that's the best way I can describe it) as well as playing with markers and sharpies and getting messy. We really had a fun time working together as a team to play with props, clothing, and locations to make some cool fun photos.

The magazine released two separate covers from the shoot. I particularly really enjoy how the sharpie cover came out!

My gear of choice for the shoot was my Phase One IQ140 with 55mm and 75-150 leaf shutter lenses as well as my Canon 5D Mark 3 for some of the night photography where we needed some handheld high ISO shots. In studio, I used my Tether Tools Tether Table kit so I could shoot with my Phase One to my MacBook Pro via Capture One Pro 7 tether software (I'll note that Capture One Pro 8 has since released and is the most current). I also flew with my Profoto D1 1000 airs and powered them on set with a locally rented Honda EU2000 suitcase generator.

I will note that I love my D1 Air flashes but had one of my heads fail due to a bad circuit board as I later found out when it went in for repair. This is the FOURTH D1 that I've had to send in for repair due to some sort of power issue in less than a year. The light that failed on set for this shoot was plugged into a normal wall outlet in the studio and suddenly (without warning or any outside influence) started beeping rather than firing when I tried to use it. Maybe it's a fluke? Does anyone else have this issue? I assure you I am not beating these lights up. I am looking into this. One Profoto official told me I should fly with a voltage regulator to clean power currents with the variety of power sources I am using? That seemed odd, but as a traveling photographer, I am definitely willing to look into any solution.

Day one of the shoot was sort of a mess because rain decided to come into town the day of the shoot we planned on being outside. We waited it out and ended up having to shoot just as the sun was setting in a park and on a bridge in downtown Columbus, Ohio. As many shoots like this go, you have to have backup plans and/or be willing to wing it. In the end, we didn't get what we originally planned, but still captured some fun images and it served as a good warm up before we got the key images in studio on day two.

The hanging upside down rig was a first for me. We had trained professionals come in and create something that looked like a fancy heavy duty clothing rack with serious stands and cross bar. The setup was much more simple that I first envisioned it would be, but was VERY happy this was being setup by skilled professionals that have done this many times before and would be able to ensure the safety of our subjects.

The person that would be intended to hang would put on what looked like ski boots hooks on the end. They would secure the boots very tightly, flip around and hang by the hooks on the boots. It was actually a fairly easy process to get them up there, but shooting was a different thing. Very quickly the blood would be rushing to their heads and their faces would turn red. This meant that we could only shoot for a few minutes at a time before needing to take a break, or give me a harder job in post production (removing red) and risk them possibly passing out (not that this ever seemed like a risk because we were so careful and gave them plenty of breaks).

Alternative Press Magazine creative director, Christopher Benton, drew "Twenty One Pilots" on the band's t-shirts using sharpie for one of the covers. Came out great!

The band brought their own ski masks to set. The masks were something they used in previous creative projects and thought it may come in handy on set for this shoot. I opted to go for a dark background and a very narrow gridded strobe to create a narrow spot on their faces. I also but a gridded light behind them to create a subtle edge light on the backs of their masks/heads to separate them from the background.  The color of the masks and clothing really popped against the background nicely. I also captured them removing the masks in sequence, which the magazine so brilliantly laid out (as you will see below).

I would definitely suggest buying the full issue to see the magazine's brilliant layouts. This was one of my magazine designs to date using my photos!

Cool gif created by the magazine to promote the magazine issue.

This was a great final photo to wrap the shoot. After we drew on the band, the band drew on us (me on the far left and magazine creative director Christopher Benton on the right)

Thanks again to Alternative Press Magazine and the Twenty One Pilots team for such a fun shoot!

If you want to see more of my behind the scenes videos: CLICK HERE

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Christian Berens's picture

Very cool BTS

It seems you have a good time with your subjects on top of photographing them! Gotta keep it fun!
I definitely enjoy your BTS videos, thanks for posting Mr Sonders!

Deleted Account's picture

Based in UK, same problem here with the Profoto D1 Air. Just got it back from a Profoto dealer that replaced the Panel Board and Power Board. It cost me £30 to send it over by insured Special Delivery. Will never see a penny back.
The unit was bought in November 2015 and used for test shooting a few times and at very low power. Less then 50 flashes, if that.

Feeling let down by Profoto. Why can't they fit a voltage regulator in the unit itself?