April 1, 2006 By Joe Morahan

Producing an Advertising Shot for Less Than $1000

By Joe Morahan and Tiffany Mulherin


Not long ago, my girlfriend Tiffany Mulherin and I were awarded an assignment for creating an advertising shot for a tea drink–good news and an interesting opportunity for two up-and-coming photographers.

The bad news? Between the two of us, our budget was $700 for everything: models, lights, camera, set, props and all the other hidden costs that go in to creating the final work product. That’s a rough budget to work with even with our strengths in professional planning. Accurate, thorough preproduction planning was essential to this shoot.

Fortunately, I knew from previous shoots, that Tiffany is a creative genius with a limitless imagination. So letting her take on the creative side of the project while letting me focus on the technical aspects was an easy decision. It seemed like a totally sensible delineation of responsibility… until my creative partner informed me that the idea we were going to work on would focus around the theme ofAlice in Wonderland in a tea parlor.

My first thoughts were “Oh no, more images centered around a movie I’ve never even understood, and don’t think I’d like even if I ever did understand it.” I knew my look of horror was evident, as Tiffany quietly provided me more of the details of the theme and why her approach would turn out great. I was a tough nut to crack because it took her three days to win me over to her concept. But, like most converts, once I got it, I was totally into it.

With the theme planned, colors agreed upon, emotional feel established and shot specifics worked out, our biggest problem was the location, or lack thereof. We don’t have a studio and our apartment was too small and would never work. But necessity is the mother of invention. We did have access to a carport. Yes, a carport. It was perfect for the shoot, as long as we could cheaply make sure the carport would look like a tea parlor that Alice would frequent. What could be so hard about that?

While the carport itself may have been perfect, it did present some logistical problems. Figuring out where to position lights, props and models in a space that was only eight feet wide with a wall on one side and overgrown bushes on the other was not unlike trying to solve a Rubik’s cube.

We built two false walls that Tiffany demanded must be “puffy.” I didn’t know what “puffy” walls were but I knew they didn’t sell them at Home Depot. However, Home Depot does sell cheap plywood boards, 2-by-4s, Styrofoam sheets and roofing insulation.

Presto! In the blink of an eye, we built frame walls, attached insulation to the sides and covered the contraption with sheets of blended colors in the hues Tiffany had envisioned. Pulling the sheets tightly over the insulation, we proceeded to poke tiny holes in the sheets at various points and screwed down the sheets to the wood, creating a pillowed effect across the body of the plywood. The result? Puffy walls. We attached painted pink buttons on top of the screws to give the walls an ethereal quality.

It all looked great except that the two plywood walls did not fit exactly right together. Then, in a flash, it occurred to me, we needed noodles. Yes, bright yellow noodles– the kind that kids use in swimming pools. I may not have been a carpenter, but I was once a kid. The walls looked perfect slid between the yellow noodles.

We then took a kitchen table, covered it with a sheet and took odds and ends and painted them all sorts of crazy colors. The same was done to inexpensive kitchen cabinet door panels, creating an otherworldly, but completely Alice in Wonderlandlook to the room.

Two lights were set up camera left. Camera right was set high in the bushes. The models were costumed and we began to shoot. Before long everyone on the tiny set actually believed we were in “Wonderland.” The location may have been tight and our budget may have been low but, with a lot of enthusiasm, a high degree of creativity and a good deal of hard work, we got the shots we needed. The end product turned out to be very high quality.

This was an excellent learning experience for me for many reasons, not the least of which was that I had to listen intently and use my imagination to understand the vision of another artist at work. Then, when I fully understood the concept, to respond to our set requirements with an enthusiastic, creative burst despite our obvious budget and site limitations. Throwing money at a problem is not the answer. At the end of the day, what clients want and what they pay for, is for you to bring your talent, ingenuity and creative flair to obtain the expected great shot.

I will never forget that crazy situation, and the great work that was produced by two young photographers whose energy and enthusiasm exceeded their pocketbooks.

You can see more of our work atwww.tiffanymulherin.com.

Joe Morahan is a professional photographer, with a degree from Brooks Institute of Photography. A talented athlete in his younger days, Joe never lost his passion for competition and thrills at the opportunity to catch an athlete in the midst of his struggles. His penchant for understanding the details of sports allows him to frame shots from unique and exciting perspectives. Whether a soccer match, an extreme sporting event, or a surf competition in dangerous waters, Joe is always in his element. Joe is a part owner in Fattail Gallery in Denver, CO. You can view more of his work at www.fattailgallery.com.Tiffany Mulherin is a professional photographer, a graduate of Brooks Institute, with degrees in commercial advertising and digital imaging. She has made her mark in, and has a passion for, fashion photography. Her easy to work with demeanor, yet critical eye, has led her to produce attention-grabbing work. Tiffany is also keenly interested in the production of fine art. She has focused in the field of Polaroid emulsion transfers and image transfers. This allows her to produce incredibly distinctive, one of a kind pieces. Tiffany enjoys not only her creations, but the process itself; it is a challenge to say the least.

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Joe Morahan