BTS: Brandon Lyon & Pentatonix
Hello, my name is Brandon Lyon, I am a commercial portrait and fashion photographer. I work out of Dallas, Texas and I am excited to write my first article for the PocketWizard Blog. I grew up as an only child so I mostly lived inside my imagination, creating stories and characters to entertain me. I also really enjoyed reading. I craved the feeling of falling into a book for hours on end and losing yourself to a different time and place. We didn’t travel much so this was how I got away. I particularly loved science fiction and fantasy. The world was what you wanted it to be, and the rules could be different.
I wanted to share a recent project I shot for the musical group Pentatonix. They are an a cappella group of five vocalists that gained success after winning season three of NBC’s The Sing-Off and are currently dominating YouTube and the world with their fresh and unique arrangements of mainstream music from pop to hip-hop and electronic music.
Needless to say I was really looking forward to working with them and I wanted to take a portrait that in some way was more than meets the eye, just like they are. I wanted to discuss their success and to show how quickly they are becoming some of the hottest talent in the music world. I was inspired by a photograph I had seen of several chairs hanging on walls and I thought it would be interesting that if instead the chairs looked like they were floating. I love adding subtle hints of surrealism to my work. It can add magic to a portrait and I felt like this would be a perfect setting for Pentatonix. Also, the arrangement made the picture loosely resemble a pentatonic scale from which they derive their name.
Projects like this are always exciting but it does take a considerable amount of planning to pull off. We also had a narrow window of time to get the shot. Luckily, I had an amazing crew by my side to help accomplish the task.
We needed a large space where we could set up our scene and a friend of mine had a beautiful and simple warehouse space that he allowed us to shoot in. Each chair was handpicked and using steel wire we tied the top row of chairs to a large boom arm that was mounted on a forklift. The chairs underneath were tied directly to the ones above them which allowed us to keep them in uniform columns. The forklift was a wonderful and necessary component because it allowed us the freedom to adjust the height of the chairs with relative ease. Once the photograph was shot I would then take the steel wire out in post-production giving the illusion that they are floating in midair. Chairs were also placed on the ground along with smaller set pieces where most of the group would sit or stand.
To further heighten the surrealism in the photo I knew that I wanted Kirstie, the only female in Pentatonix, to be sitting on one of our ‘floating chairs’. To achieve the affect we placed a platform underneath the chosen chair to support her weight. I photographed her separate from the rest of the group because the platform would get in way of the props I wanted in the picture. She was then added in post to the final shot.
In comparison to building the set, lighting the scene was relatively simple. The warehouse had a large door to the right of our location so we set up two strobes next to each other and fired them through a large 5ft x 5ft white scrim that we had made ourselves. In keeping with the natural direction of light coming from the door we were able to seamlessly blend our lights with the ambient light in the room. I shot with a Canon 5d Mark II with a 24-70mm lens at f/8 and everything was triggered with PocketWizard Plus II’s*. I use the Plus II’s often because they are simple and effective, a must have when working on large and complicated projects. (*Editor’s note: The Plus II has been replaced by the Plus III Transceiver)
At the end of the day shoots like this are so rewarding. After weeks of planning and assembling the right props, clothes, location and concept it’s truly a feeling like no other seeing it come to life. I have so much respect and gratitude for my team because without them I could not have made this happen.
All images and quotes in this post are used with permission and © Brandon Lyon, all rights reserved; story is © PocketWizard. Please respect and support photographer’s rights. Feel free to link to this blog post, but please do not replicate or repost elsewhere without written permission.
Photographer: Brandon Lyon
Featuring Pentatonix: Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, Kirstie Maldonado, Avi Kaplan and Kevin Olusola
Makeup: Shawn Cude
Hair Styling” Rachel Andring
Photography Assistants: Steven Chan, Brent Hughes, Adam Hughes, Abigail Philp and Rebecca Burleson
Special thanks to Gerard Goh for the location.