River Monsters

:   With all the recognition that this image has received lately, between the CA Photo Annual and Archive’s Top 200 Ad Photographers, I figured I would re-share the story that was the River Monster’s shoot   :

Lighting as a thought process is fundamentally easy to apply to schemata, water is not. Sure there are the physics that govern the drops via gravity and pull them back to Earth properly, but the abstract way that this is done is a logistical nightmare when combined with good ole electrons. Sure water makes for dynamic imagery when lit well, but what doesn’t get seen is the grey hair that the photographer grows as a result of the set.

When the call came from Discovery to shoot the ad campaign for their show River Monsters, I was thrilled. The concept was strong and the comps that we were to key off made visualizing the final image easy. However, creative potential and potentially dangerous walked hand in hand on this campaign. The idea was to have the show’s host Jeremy Wade wrestling a giant fish in the shallow waters near South Beach, Florida. Now by giant, I mean the kind fish that hangs out with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the weekends… probably having a glass of wine with its flippers and talking about the delicacies of krill. Where things get complicated is that we wanted to have Jeremy and mega fish in the water thrashing around…. lit. Obviously we didn’t want a bathtub with a toaster situation, so safety would come first, creativity second, after all electrocuting an actor is not a good way to land another job (the industry tends to look down on this).

River Monsters photographed by Blair Bunting


Knowing that this set would be determined by the quality and work ethic of the people on it, I flew assistants in that I had worked with on previous shoots. We approached the lighting situation with Photoflex Tritons, for their safety, weight, and flash duration (we would be freezing splashing water). We had a scout look for beaches with long gradations to the shore line and went to multiple locals just to walk into the water to his waste level. Background would not be important, as we would fade to black behind the subject. For cameras, I brought both the Nikon D3x and D3s to back it up.  Never on a shoot had I expected to destroy a camera more than this, so redundancy would play key to making sure I came home with the shot, even if the camera was a paperweight.

With lighting, safety and concept behind us, it was up to Jeremy to make the action, and he did it masterfully. Often he would bring advice and reality to the table that we could not have thought of in our wildest dreams… mostly because I have yet to catch a 350 lbs. grouper, and also because I don’t fish. However, one comment amongst all the others stood out to me… All of us (7 people, 1 fish) were waist deep in the water at night in the Florida ocean and Jeremy looked up at me and said, “you know, these are perfect conditions for a Bull Shark….” to which I replied, “haha, and when’s the last time you caught a Bull Shark?!?!”…. he replied, “I caught one here….. last night”. At that point, without any direction from me, the entire set moved about 10 feet closer to shore.

We shot for only a couple hours, not due to a time crunch, but because Jeremy, the creative director, and rest of the crew worked so well together that in two hours we had a solid 30 images that would work for the ad. Since we were in the ocean, laptop previewing would be impossible, but seeing the shots out of the back of the D3x, the CD was able to see that we had the shot directly out of the camera. Although this image was not the final one chosen because of the main subject’s address to the fish, it shows the strength of a RAW file, and gives an idea to the situation around us:

Jeremy Wade

Also, here is a short video to show how the prep work went. We had originally wanted to have a complete behind the scenes of the shoot, but with the dangers at hand (be it lights, sharks, groupies, sea turtles) we decided that everyone would contribute to make the shot. My assistant Matthew Coughlin made this video of the prep, and may I warn you, once you have seen this skinny, pale photographer without his shirt on, you might wish you had never watched it…

[UPDATE: Unfortunately the video offended some animal rights groups and out of respect has been removed]

I wish I could take 100% credit for this shoot, but, as in every shot, it is the quality of the people around you that make the image. So, Jeremy, Mike, Linas, Bryan, Matt, Grant, Paul and Lisa, here is your shot and thank you.


Read more.. Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

1 Photographer – 4 Teeth = The Deadliest Catch

How many photographers have ripped their teeth out for a campaign?

About a year ago, when asked to shoot the Deadliest Catch ad for Discovery, I was told of a campaign of violent, spontaneous portraits.  The concept was images of fishermen captured the moment catastrophe struck.  The shots included giant ropes wrapping around the fishermen (which means death aboard a crab boat), one of a massive wave, and a final image of a large hook crushing in a man’s face.  All of the shots would have to be composited as my insurance is not good enough to crush models with hooks (and neither is my conciseness).  To say that I was excited for this shoot would have been a great understatement, right up there with, “a couple people bought that new iPhone.”

We went ahead and did the shots, and they came out as planned, some near out of camera.  However, none saw the light of day.  You see, this campaign happened only days before the passing of Captain Phil.  In consideration for him, it was deemed poor taste to release such violent images depicting certain death on a crab boat.  I remember the call from Discovery telling me that the campaign I had shot would not be released. It was disappointing, but I also completely understood and respected their viewpoint.

With much time passing since this all occurred, I decided that the images should be released and I started looking into producing the finals myself. I contacted my friend Paul Hill to assist in retouching the plates we had made almost a year prior.  Not long after we started going through the files to make the images, we found that there had in fact been behind the scenes video from the set that was shot by a couple of my assistants, Mike and Paul.  The video is overall coverage and is actually more of them learning how to use the video mode on their Canon 5D Mk2’s.

Now by this point you’re probably asking yourself, “what about the teeth?”  During the negotiations the idea of a crab fisherman getting his teeth knocked out kept coming up.  It made the action, it carried the frame, and frankly, it sounded awesome… I was sold.  I was so sold that I moved up an appointment to have my wisdom teeth removed so that I could use them for the shoot.  After all, what says, “hey, great idea” better than giving up part of your body for it?  (A funny little side note: Our prop stylist on set mention that the teeth looked real and asked where I sourced them and I said, “they’re mine”.  He didn’t believe me)

So with teeth, models, hooks and crab gear we went to the studio.

OK, the tech side of things…  For set we had to use all Profoto bi-tube heads, as we needed the smallest flash durations possible.  Also, we found that deforming the face with 3 high powered leaf blowers achieved the effect that we wanted for the final image, but that it was brutal on the ears, so we had the models wear ear plugs and removed them in post.  Here is the lighting diagram from set drawn a the napkin while brainstorming.

Read more.. Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Blair Bunting Photographs The Mythbusters for Discovery Channel

In what was the schedule from hell that was February, I returned to San Fransisco to photograph the Mythbusters for a second time.  Like walking through a weird dream, M5 Industries (Mythbuster’s HQ) is filled with props from shows past, from fried crash test dummies, to boats that have been cut in half, to crossbows made from underwear, this place is odd to say the least.  After 5 minutes your immersion in to the MB layer becomes all encompassing and you are numbed to the oddities that surround you.  The line, “hey can you hand me the claymore sword sitting on top of the ejection seat next to the glass pains shattered by the dead chickens?” becomes the norm.

In a month filled with athletic wear campaigns one after another, it was nice to photograph someone my height for a change.  Choosing to make the set on top of the roof again was a no brainer as San Fransisco gave us a rare cloudless day and a low sun on the horizon provided the flare I need to counter my key and negate any kickers. All the Mythbusters were great as always, but one stood out yet again….. Adam.  Crazy as ever, I didn’t need to do any posing, but just say, “here is where focus is pulled,” and let him step into the image.  His personality is always pronounced and this photoshoot was no exception. After all, how many people have you met for the first time while they were riding on a 5 foot tall unicycle?


My only regret is not having a schedule that allowed me to stay in San Fransisco longer as I didn’t even get 24 hours before having to depart to Las Vegas, one stop away from returning home after a month away.  The road has taught me many things that I take for granted in my life at home.  With the givens such as friends and family, things like my shower, going to church on Sunday, not having to have GPS, and not having to buy another Xbox every time you know you will be in a hotel for an extended period of time.  Above all the hardest thing about a month long photo schedule is telling my wife good night over the phone and only seeing my pup through camera phone pics.  While I could say that I took two months out of my life traveling for photos this year, reflection on years like 2009 contextualize the circumstances I face, and I find embracing the ebb and flow of this job much easier.

So with that, a thank you to the guys that helped me on set, and to the readers, a random pic with me in front of the lens.


To those that have yet to follow me on Twitter, there are still a couple days left in the lighting gear giveaway, so go to Twitter and click “follow”



Read more.. Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Deadliest Catch Ad campaign 2010

Finally, the time has come that I can show the first photo from this years Deadliest Catch campaign. With so much production people behind the scenes, a veritable laundry list of people are due a proper thank you for this photoshoot.


The photoshoot was actually produced in Arizona with a multi-set studio being built, one inside, and one outside.  It was a testament to our nerves of, as we had  about 10 packs and about 15 lights on a subject that saw around 50 buckets of water mixed with milk, detergent and dirt thrown on him repeatedly. Not to mention the 3 wind machines that blasted his face to the point of rawness and ear plugs.

In the end though, it all comes down to the people that helped make it happen.   From the creatives at Discovery to the studio manager that worked overtime on prep days, the producers that made trips to Dunkin Donuts for my favorite breakfast, all of my assistants and grips that staggered lunches so that the set could be prepped properly, my stylists that nailed every aspect we needed and the talent that carried our vision to the camera.  This is your campaign guys

Read more.. Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Your pics for the day

Just thought that I would post some pics for you to enjoy…..  it’s Wednesday, and you deserve it

These were photographed off set during the Deadliest Catch season 3 campaign.  The first two were actually photographed from a moving vehicle, the last once we had parked.  For a size reference, the white spots in the last photo are actually large seagulls.


Read more.. Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Adventures of the G10 in the Aleutian Islands

So the topic sounds grand, but those who have been to the Aleutian chain off Alaska know that the experience can be anything but. With this being my second time photographing the Deadliest Catch for Discovery, I decided that I would try and show the world a little background of good ole Dutch Harbor. It was also at this time that I was able to get a Canon G10 early enough to take with me and test out. Do note: before this adventure I had never used a point and shoot camera, but the idea of a relatively high quality file from a camera I could keep in my jacket pocket when not on set captivated me. Another plus is that when not on set, I usually wear sunglasses, and having to take them off to snap pictures would be a drawback that could have negated the use of a P&S camera altogether.

With that said my clients and I (Jenny and Luke, you rock!) decided that each day after photographing we would go for a drive around the island in our rental SUV with no front brakes, multi-colored panels, and doors that would sometimes lock you out, and sometimes lock you in. To say that this paid off is an understatement.

We drove up a mountain that borders the area that the Deadliest Catch ships dock, known as Mount Ballyhoo. What’s the significance of this you say? Come to find out, Mount Ballyhoo was actually bombed by the Japanese in 1942 amongst two days of attacks on the US. What we drove into would captivate us, and proved to be just plain amazing when combined to the low angle of the sun’s warm diffused light. The natural beauty of the landscape combined with munition bunkers, pill boxes and turrets, this was a surreal journey that would have been a mental image if not for the Canon G10.

Please enjoy…

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Read more.. Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Welcome to all my Strobist friends

As many of you know, I am obsessed with lighting.  Whether it be people or cars, the idea of forming a subject and telling your audience what you want them to see captivates me. When I was approached by Dave Hobby of Strobist to do an article on lighting, it took little convincing.

For a very long time I have supported the idea of lighting made portable.  A prime example of this being a photoshoot I did recently in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.  We were photographing the ads for the new season of Discovery Channel’sThe Deadliest Catch.”  Dutch Harbor is remote to say the least with only one plane that flies in and out (and needless to say it’s a very small plane, incapable of holding a lighting kit with packs and multiple heads).  With that said we used small Nikon SB-900’s (often hand held) and custom made softboxes that I was testing for PhotoFlex.  Things went very well, and everything fit in a medium size backpack, incredible.

It is with this small story that I welcome those from Strobist, a site that helps many photographers to develope a knowledge of lighting in its most minimal form.

Read more.. Sunday, January 25th, 2009