Elliot Randall and the Deadmen Album Cover Shoot

Photographed 10/22/2009
Photographer: David Arnspiger

Elliot Randall and the Deadmen is a band my sister manages. As they were coming up on the release of their second album, Caffeine and Gasoline, my sister contacted me about doing a shoot for a possible album cover.

I flew up to San Francisco and she and Elliot laid out what they were looking for from the shoot. They had some locations around San Francisco they wanted to shoot in for promo shots, and then they had a plan for the cover shot that would take place in a local cafe.

I had asked my sister to send me some shots of the cafe location in advance because I wanted to make sure I had gear that would work for the location. The space I had to work in was about 6 to 7 feet wide from where the band would be and where I had to shoot from. I was literally going to shoot with my back to the wall and I wanted a nice wide shot.

Luckily, I have an awesome wife who let me make a purchase to fit the bill. I bought a Canon EF 16-35mm 1:2.8 L II USM Wide Angle Lens and had it in time for the shoot.

I had my trusty Canon 50D with me and my new lens for the shoot. I was in the midst of my 'I only shoot in natural light' phase (which I should blog about!) so there was no flash involved at any point in the shoot. I had been shooting a lot in the low 'natural' light of clubs, so I was actually quite good at getting what I wanted from a room without flash.

We started off the day in the morning at my sister's house. We shot a series of Elliot by himself, then the three piece version of the band and lastly the four piece full band. Elliot performs in all three configurations based on the demands of the venue and availability of his band.

From there we walked down the street to a local park and took what were my least favorite shots of the day. The 'walking shots'. We had the band walk back and forth towards the camera on a path. These were truly boring photos. There is one example in the photos below that managed to get used, otherwise a total waste of time.

Then we did the 'hillside/outstanding in their field' shots which came out a bit better but were rarely used. It took me a long time to remove power lines from the shots because I did them using the wrong tools in PhotoShop. I later learned about the patch tool and suddenly I can edit them a lot faster.

From the park we piled into our cars and headed to the cafe for the main part of the shoot. The wonderful people who ran the restaurant gave us plenty of room to work and we ordered food while we were there. We had a deadline to get the shoot done before their next wave of customers showed up, so we worked fast.

The idea for the shot was the four guys in the band sitting at the counter with their backs to the camera but faces turned so we could see them. Just four guys on the road stopping for a great lunch at a greasy spoon.

Since the album was called 'Caffeine and Gasoline', I had originally proposed that we do a shot of the band in a booth by the window using a green screen outside and then laying in a shot of an old desert gas station with a couple of old fashioned pumps outside. The song references a 'turquoise pickup truck' and I would have loved to work that in too. Sadly, that idea got nixed early. It would have been a fun backup shot to do.

We got the guys set at the counter and I positioned myself against the wall across from them. I shot the scene at 20mm with the camera set for 1/60th of a second, f2.8 and ISO at 400. I was shooting wide open at that point because it was how I understood light at the time. I was not playing with depth of field, I was just trying to get as much light into my camera as I could. Thankfully, I got great shots with the band in full focus and that nice slightly fuzzy quality for the cook space behind them. It really lent itself to the retro feel of the shot.

We got the shot the band wanted. I had made another suggestion for the back cover of the album which was a shot of the empty chairs the band had been in and then a blurry image of Elliot walking out of the frame like he was leaving. We ended up using a shot that had none of the band in it, but it still came out cool. For the inside of the CD sleeve they used a shot of a chalkboard menu I took too. Overall I was really happy with how my

images got used.

I think we shot for a little over an hour and got out just as their next rush was starting. We headed to a nearby hill with a great view of the city after that.

We got one of the best shots of the day on the hill. The 'long shadows' shot. I like this one because every band member has this amazing and deep shadow trailing off behind them. I just love the look.

My sister wanted a specific look from the image and she asked a photographer named David Bergman, who I am a big fan of, to edit the image. I have included my original shot and David's blue tinted version here for you to see.

Finally, we went to an old factory near the water to get the last series of shots. These were fun because I laid down on the ground to get a cool upward perspective on the band with this amazing building in the background. Strangely, these shots were never used for advertising that I can recall. I loved the way they came out.

I had a certain level of experience at this point despite being in a snobby phase, undeservedly so. I walked in nervous and not sure if I could pull it off, and as the day passed I gained a lot of confidence that allowed me to get what was expected.

I learned a lot about listening to the customer and putting my ego in the background where necessary and making suggestions at the appropriate time. While this band is just starting out, they are the artist and it is my job to work with them. Having been around stars via my various jobs over the years, I learned a thing or two about how to communicate with talent. It helps now days as I work with my models. They are the stars while they are with me, and I want them to feel good about the experieince. I still have a good relationship with the band to this day.

This remains one of my best shoots to date. I hope when they do their third album they will consider me again.

Enjoy the images below.