Finally, after all this time, the shoot I’ve been planning/hoping for, for over a year, came alive!
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Walking Dead… posters. The show is alright, but the early key art for the series have been real works of art. Even before I got hooked on the show after finally revisiting the second season, I’ve been absolutely in love with the early seasons’ key art (because I’m weird and fall in love with things like television posters). The season two poster shown below is probably my favorite poster — if not, it’s easily in my top three. It’s just an excellent image.
And so, following my work on the Captain America kid shoot last spring, I put word out on Facebook for some friends who might be interested in doing a couples Walking Dead shoot. I had a few hits but couldn’t manage to get anything worked out.
Enter the Gliva’s! After going on a Stanley Paranormal Investigation with me a few months back, Andrea hit me up about doing some out of the ordinary family pictures with her husband and two daughters. She wondered if a Walking Dead style shoot would be something I could do or might be interested in. Boy, was I!
Shown below are a few of the original works and a few of my hasty mockup sketches.
Taking inspiration from Frank Ockenfel and Matthew Welch’s work for AMC, I wanted to go with in many ways a mimicry of what had been done, sometimes in content to be direct allusions, but overall in style. The apocalyptic feel of the photos is very stark, with a hint of desaturation and greens, yellows and oranges, lots of lens flares. We’re imagining an post-apocalyptic land with a very wild west undercurrent, hence the sepia-greens and bright sun. The storm clouds double as both a dose of epic and the thematic. Clear skies never last for long on the show (literally, too. Continuity issues must drive the editors crazy).
One of the things I wanted to change though, was the addition of some zombies. Where the cast and episode galleries often had the Walkers featured, the posters did not. From our end though, what’s a good Zombie shoot without any zombies? So we modified a few of the shots to include the zombies, even if it wasn’t perfectly in keeping with the posters.
That said, like the Captain America shoot from last year, I did want to try to emulate the posters as specifically as possible without using any of another photographer’s work (namely, cutting out heads and pasting them on pre-existing posters). That’s just lazy and doesn’t respect the work I’m so engaged in.
So we went about recreating the images. The family found a few zombies, a good friend who is a makeup artist, and a location with open fields, an unfinished road, vast sky views, and a lonely decrepit house. I hopped behind the camera and got to work.
Where in the show, the set photographer is typically already on a dressed set, with actors in full makeup, wardrobe, and zombies rotting and ready to go, here, we had to build most of that on the fly, primarily the zombies. I knew from the past that dirtying up clothes, skin, adding bruises and grime (unintended Rick pun?) would be pretty easy in photoshop (dodging and burning with no limits), but I wanted to be sure to have a base to work from. The zombie makeup then was more of a starting off point for me, giving me something to work with and build upon as we went.
The shoot itself was really quick. It’s part testament to how smoothly the actual shoot goes when you put in so much time pre-planning each image. But it’s also nice because you don’t have to worry as much about wrangling the kiddos. Where the traditional family photo hopes for a shot of everyone looking at the camera and smiling, here, nearly any expression will do, given the context of the images.
We even had an image where the youngest was crying, and it doesn’t detract from the moment at all.
Each image was shot on my Canon EOS 6D with the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II, typically around 1/60th of a second, f4 or f5, and ISO 100 as a rule. I shot with a single Canon Speedlite 430EXii camera left as a rim light/key light. We had a storm move in late that afternoon (unexpectedly) that had me worried until we got to the location. At that point, the cloudy sky gave a perfect even fill, and allowed the background to have exactly the kind of semi-stormy, epic texture we wanted. Adding a bit of flare in post in many ways only added to the feel of the originals.
By the end of the fourth shot, the rain began to spit a bit harder, and we packed it back to the cars.
Though this past year I’ve been leaning on my studio strobes out in the field, this was a wonderful reminder that sometimes, all you need is a good awareness of the natural light around you and a little kick from the side where you need it to give features some contrast and texture.
As I hopped behind the computer later that night, the pictures began coming alive. After that was a marathon edit, with each picture surpassing the ones before it (I didn’t even get to Game of Thrones until two that morning… which is saying something).
The only drawback? I’m not sure I’ll ever want to do a traditional shoot again 😉
Karl Pfeiffer is a conceptual and portrait photographer based out of Northern Colorado. He’s also a paranormal investigator and author. He won the first season of Ghost Hunters Academy and appeared briefly on the Ghost Hunters International series afterward. He’s the author of two books: Hallowtide and Into a Sky Below, Forever. You can find more of his work at www.KarlPfeiffer.com and catch all of his snark on Twitter, @KarlPfeiffer.