How Robert Ascroft Shot This Series of Milk Images with Celebrity Angela Serafyan of HBO’s Westworld

How Robert Ascroft Shot This Series of Milk Images with Celebrity Angela Serafyan of HBO’s Westworld

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Robert Ascroft is known worldwide for his celebrity, sports, and fashion photographs. His client list includes Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Showtime, A&E, Puma, Vanity Fair, and Rolex. So, basically his client list includes some of the biggest names in his industries of focus! Not bad, right? Go big or go home I guess! This shoot is a special project for Robert because it is a personal series of images to be used in a gallery show and promotion of Robert’s work. 

Robert met actress Angela Serafyan at the 2018 Emmys in Los Angeles while photographing her for the official backstage portrait studio. Can we take a moment to appreciate how awesome that is? Not only is Robert chasing his passion but he has achieved enough success to attend the Emmys and mingle with some of its biggest stars. Bravo Robert, bravo! They hit it off and were able to capture some amazing pictures in the few minutes they worked together. A few weeks later through a series of texts, emails, and phone calls, Robert proposed an idea he had for years about a shoot of someone floating in a pool of milk. Angela was into the idea as well and they spent the next several weeks planning and preparing for the shoot. 

This is such a great example of being patient with your work. We always want to execute on every idea we have immediately upon having it but periodically its a case of timing. Do you have the best team in place for it? Does the schedule work? Have you found the right location? Keep thinking up new ideas but remain patient. Sometimes the best idea might need a little bit of time to “cook” before its ready.

Hair and makeup is done by Stephanie Nicole Smith who is a personal friend of Robert’s and has become one of the most sought after makeup artists in Los Angeles. 

One of the first challenges was for Robert and his team to have a tub or pool that they could fill without overflowing and destroying the studio cyclorama. As time went on, he realized that he needed to have one fabricated and got in touch with an aquarium builder in Los Angeles who built the 7’x4’ 16” deep pool made of 1” thick acrylic. There was no chance the liquid would break through at the seams as this was a small job for them, the company was used to doing room sized aquariums. 

I wanted the tub to be a piece of art in and of itself… therefore I could include it in the photographs to make a modern, clean and sophisticated series

Then they needed to find a studio willing to let them play with some water. Exactly what every studio dreams of hearing, right? Robert found a place called Issue Studios in LA that had access to water and also had a shower so Angela could clean up after the shoot. To protect the cyclorama, their production designer Tim Miller purchased a large piece of linoleum that covered the cyclorama and painted it the same color so that it was a seamless match. It was important to have the water flow almost to the edges as it made sense creatively to have it almost as an infinity pool. That proved to be impossible as every time they shifted positions the water came over the edges and they didn’t want to get electrocuted.

Robert mentions that for this shoot, the client was just him, which is a rare occurrence and with it brings it's own special challenges. He has had this shoot concept for 15 years and only just now got the opportunity to make it into a reality. With that in mind, he made sure he was able to achieve all the things he had set out to do. For this shoot, he managed to have the most amazing connection with Angela and emphasizes that there was no way he could have made these images without someone willing to go to the extra mile to get it done. She was in the water for around 3 hours with only a short break in the middle. They kept pushing each other to come up with new ideas and create work that is unlike anything that has been seen before.

Robert also had his friend Raoul Germain who is a DP (Director of Photography) that has been shooting films with video artist Catherine Sullivan work the RED Camera and they made a 2 minute companion film.

Lighting Setup

The final step of the production was to work out the lighting scenario. 

I felt it was important as this is a personal project to do something I don’t normally get a chance to do. I wanted to keep the lighting more ambient and not as directional as I use in my regular work.

To achieve this Robert used mostly bounced light and very little straight on directional light. His instincts told him that the light should feel as if its coming from some other part of the room and with that he chose a large overhead Elinchrom Octabank with Profoto head as a source from behind for the main lighting. He then filled the space with a Parabolix 45” with a Profoto tungsten 1K and another strobe head in a medium Photek umbrella. These two sources had to move with them with every move he made, changing position and angle. All the ratios were adjusted from shot to shot as well. “It is hard to look at a diagram and know exactly how it is done. It’s like a recipe, just because you have a cookbook and the ingredients doesn’t make you a good cook” says Robert. “ It takes time to learn the nuances of each light and the ratios and positioning. That is only learned through trial and error and years of on set experience.”

Equipment List

Robert chose to shoot with his Hasselblad and Phase One digital back because of its high dynamic range which provides the cleanest transitions from highlight to shadow and has a very pleasing digital texture that feels similar to film grain. He also prefer the larger file size as these will be printed on a large scale. 

Closing

Beautiful work and inspiring back story!

Model/Celebrity: Angela Serfyan

Producer: Shannon Hunt at Black Shepherd Productions

Set Designer: Tim Miller

Lighting: Jared Mechaber

Hair and Makeup: Stephanie Nicole Smith

PA and lighting Assistant: Lucas Ascroft

DP: Raoul Germain

Studio: Issue Studios LA

Images used with permission of Robert Ascroft

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7 Comments

I love this kind of shoot.

David T's picture

Very thorough article, thank you!

Love the shot with visible pool, it's a work of art itself indeed. So minimal and understatet that it gives sci-fi vibes.

Rob Mitchell's picture

How fantastic is that, That's properly worked out and executed. Love it.

Will Murray's picture

More of this type of article please.

All the guys look bored af while the women are having a laugh and enjoying themselves.

Ngaere Woodford's picture

Love the photos....and the tub itself is quite stunning, the light and colour is a real feature of it. On a personal note, I wouldve totally lost my balance and fallen in!

Ferry P.'s picture

Angela sArafyan...with an A ;)