The Explorers Club needs no introduction. Some of humanity’s greatest firsts, like the first ascent of Mt Everest and descent to the Mariana Trench, the first people to reach the North and South Poles and, of course, the first two human beings to stand on the surface of the Moon, were all members of The Explorers Club.
Fast-forward 119 years from the club’s founding, with the weight of all its member’s achievements and scientific support, you might ask yourself: “How do you photograph The Explorers Club Annual Dinner?” Well, photographer Felix Kunze has been up to the task for seven years and has broken the process down for us in detail.
He starts by planning for the difficulties he’ll face on the day. At his home studio in New York, he draws the lighting and floor plan. An Oliphant backdrop will be hung horizontally to create the “studio” in a VIP lounge next to the actual dinner venue. Then, he’ll implement this plan with a lighting test together with his pup and friends.
The Elinchrom Ambassador decided to use only Elinchrom lights and V-Flat World products for this year’s shoot. Armed with an ELB 500 and ELB 1200, two ELC 500s and an EL One in the Indirect Litemotiv Octa Softbox 190cm, an Elinchrom Rotalux Softbox 150cm, a Beauty Dish and a 14” Stripbox with grid, he sets up the lighting to complement the entire set. The large Litemotivs and Rotalux are stacked camera left at a perpendicular angle to the subjects. There is a beauty dish right behind the camera that provides the base fill and softens skin features. The strip box is three-quarters behind the subjects for a hair light. On the camera right, he builds a wall of V-Flats to bounce the light back into the scene, giving an even cast across the set. A final dark V-Flat is placed to the right of the set to create definition on the subjects, with a walk-in black reflector on standby for single portraits.
The biggest challenge of this type of work is the logistical flow of knowing whom you’re shooting, how long you have them for, and making sure you work through a long list of VIPs. To make this process flow smoothly, Felix has put together a top-notch crew to assist him. From assistants that build the set and rig the lighting to wranglers that keep track of and prep guests for the four-and-a-half-minute slot in front of the camera. He also has his trusted art director and DIT (Digital Image Technician) behind screens, marking selections and confirming usable shots. All of this is essential to him to get through the sheer quantity of portraits. He can focus on posing and directing esteemed scientists, team members, and explorers to get beautiful photos that seem to tell a whole story about the particular person or group.
Felix believes that it is really important “to elevate the standing of scientists and explorers through photography,” and that is why he funds this project out of his own pocket. He wants to put faces to the names of these extraordinary people and has made many friends within the club over the years. Representing people of importance and people behind important feats through images is a responsibility all photographers should take up. The general photographic community has become so obsessed with its own celebrity status that we’ve forgotten that part of our privilege as photographers is to immortalize the pioneers, the brave, and the inquisitive.
Images used with permission of Felix Kunze.