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“Taboo” National Geographic Shoot

June 15, 2012 //  How To Back to posts

I collaborated with the great team at Variable on a video / stills integrated shoot for National Geographic Channel’s newest season of Taboo. In one day, Variable’s Jon, Khalid, Tyler and crew shot on the video portion while I focussed on the still campaign images.

We had a great set built by our friend Joe Sciacca using old barn wood for the floor and a hand painted background. It was all installed in the B2PRO Studio space in NYC, which allowed us minimal transportation of lights and a great team of gear experts on set.


For those who haven’t seen it, Taboo explores customs or practices that are acceptable in some cultures, but forbidden, illegal or shocking in others. The subject of the main print ad was “puppy play”. In a nutshell, this taboo involves subjects who enjoy dressing up as dogs and getting in touch with their deep animalistic instincts. Here’s one of the final print ads in a portrait orientation:

My favorite part about this shoot was using constant light. Since we had a video and still shoot happening at the same time, it made the most sense for everyone to share the same equipment. The quality of good constant light is beautiful and hard to replicate with strobes.

The lighting setup is extremely simple by nature but is something that always works- one extremely soft light source wrapping around the entire scene. In this case, it was a 10k Tungsten bulb through a Briese Focus 180. This light was then channeled through an 8×8 frame with single stop silk, providing an additional layer of diffusion which created and even softer light source. This is all expensive stuff, but it is mostly just replicating daylight through a giant window. On the opposite side camera right, we had a simple piece of white foam-core providing a slight bounce / fill in the shadows. My camera was medium format digital – a Phase One P65+ DIGI back with Phase One / Mamiya 645 camera.

More importantly than the technical details of the lighting is the thought process behind the image. During the pre-production (the most important part of any shoot), we played around with the word “taboo” in our head.

Our first approach was to stay as far away as we could from smutty, dirty looking pictures. In my opinion, that would be too easy. Something “Taboo” may be dark, weird, or shunned by society, but these brave souls are willing to show it to the world and share their story on national television. These are subjects who we want to approach as humanistic portraits. Dignified.


Thanks to the lovely Aurora and Ekaterina for channeling their inner puppy for the shoot!!

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ADD A COMMENT (18)

Dave Laslett // June 16, 2012 04:23

Hi Joey,

What lens did you use on this shoot?

admin // June 16, 2012 05:19

Hey Dave. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe I used the 80mm prime lens.

David // June 16, 2012 19:12

Looking forward to watching the show on Father's Day. Thx.

Luis Sarmiento // June 16, 2012 20:42

All fantastic images.

Congratulations from Ibague-Colombia,Southamerica!!!!!

Mark // June 18, 2012 17:55

Whoa......this is too much for a young small town Ontario boy raised on Catholic values .....but I like it

Stephen Metz // June 18, 2012 19:33

I'm only telling you this because I am a blogger too, and I would want someone to tell me...I think you want the word "collaborated" in the first sentence. Great piece....beautiful photograph. Really edgy for NG! My grandfather would be mortified. :)

admin // June 19, 2012 01:42

Stephen- Got it! Thanks for spotting that typo

Eric Willingham // June 20, 2012 02:44

Great Shot!
Do You Prefer Speedlights Or Monolights For Studio's With Size Constraints?

PS can you critique my blog i'd really appreciate it

Joey // June 20, 2012 09:13

Hey Eric- I def prefer monolights. Speedlights don't give me the power I need. For more information, check out my gear list here: http://www.joeyl.com/gear/

Maribel // July 03, 2012 19:56

Nice photograph, it reminds me al little of Erwin Olaf but this is way cleaner...

Richard Melanson // July 08, 2012 07:24

I saw one of these ads on TV just the other day and remember thinking quietly to myself, "Oh, Nat Geo went ahead and got themselves some PROS to do these new spots! Much better than the old ones, much better...". Now I'm not at all surprised to find out you had a hand in it!

Great stuff as always Joey.

Jennifer // August 28, 2012 22:58

Can someone please tell me when the puppy play episode will air or even what the title of the episode is. Thanks

Tyke Puppy // October 01, 2012 01:16

The puppy play episode airs october 9th! I'm the puppy!

Courtney // October 08, 2012 15:13

Excellent image, and as always great post too!

TIERNEY // February 28, 2013 22:54

Joey, how much equipment do you own vs. how much you rent for shoots in general? I'm trying to build a base of equipment that I'll own, but it's difficult as there are so many different possible lighting solutions depending on the shoot and desired effect. And being that quality equipment is pricey, I'm trying to gauge how much and what I should buy vs. rent at this point.

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