Engine of Progress – Dean Kamen for Wired UK

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

When the phone rings from across the Atlantic, we’re always excited to take the call. Earlier this year we took an assignment from our editors at Wired UK to photograph the genius inventor Dean Kamen. Famous for a series of amazing inventions including the Segway, we were tasked to make portraits for an article on his latest and greatest invention: The Slingshot, a water purification device aimed at bringing clean accessible water to the developing world.

When given an opportunity to work with one of the worlds brightest minds, only the best will do – we knew our portraits would need to express the unique vision and imaginative spirit of Kamen’s intellect. Did we succeed?

Keep reading to see the rest of our photos and behind the scenes of how it all came together…

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

Our shoot took us up the east coast to New Hampshire, the home of both Dean Kamen’s estate, Westwind and his company DEKA Research and Development. Starting the morning early, idling in the car outside of his property, we were curious as to what was in-store for us beyond the gates. As we wound our way up the mile-long driveway, we knew this was going to be a great day for making photos.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

Going into the shoot we knew that Kamen owned an enormous 40 ton, 19th century steam engine occupying three stories in the foyer of his home – not exactly something you would find in most residential spaces. With this in mind we planned out our hero shot around this engine, convincing him to step out onto the flywheel for the image we’d been hoping to make. As he very cautiously took a few steps onto the wheel, Dean mentioned that it was entirely functional free-spinning. A little bit of danger always makes for a great picture.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

For this shot, we needed to create light that was both broad enough to illuminate the entire interior space, yet focus in on Kamen and highlight his presence within the engine. To achieve this we used two octabanks. Our main light was a small, 48” octabank, approximately six feet away from the engine, keying on our subject from camera right. We balanced the shadows and filled the overall space with a large octabank directly behind camera.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

And if nothing else, we’re just happy that we packed the extra-tall tripod that day. You never know when a 12-foot extension is going to come in handy.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

After finishing our first shot, we were lucky enough to take a personal tour through Kamen’s house. On this tour we learned of his affinity for Albert Einstein and Chris decided to work that connection between two brilliant minds into a few of our other portraits.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

On our tour throughout Westwind, we discovered an Einstein marionette – a perfect yet unexpected prop for a simple, close cropped portrait. In terms of lighting these shots, we wanted to keep it clean yet directional, opting for a single gridded octabank to create concise and shaping light on both Kamen and the mini-Einstein.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

After the Einstein portrait, we explored Kamen’s personal labs and workshops, deciding to photograph him working with some LEDs and electronics on the bench in one of his labs. While shooting this portrait, I was struck by the way Kamen focused on the electronics in front of him; he may have only been tinkering for the sake of our camera, but his concentration and interest were genuine

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

Working in the shop, we wanted to really take advantage of the ambient exposure from the task lights and LEDs that Dean was working with. Keeping this in mind, we worked with a single XS softbox with a 20° grid to focus in some light and highlight our subject, ever so subtly adding shape and contrast to the natural exposure created by the environment.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

To further the connection with Einstein (an avid bicyclist), we asked Dean if he had any bicycles on the property. Calls were made, a search was started in the garage amongst his various autos and helicopter – A few moments later we had a bike and before we realized where Kamen disappeared to, he began cycling around his driveway in the misty New Hampshire morning.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

The creator of countless innovations and technologies, the inventor of the Segway – on a bicycle. Sometimes you just can’t plan pictures like this.

chris crisman wired uk dean kamen portrait

We left our shoot knowing that we had made the most of the experience. Kamen was an excellent photo subject, generous with his time and willing to entertain our sometimes crazy photo ideas.

An artist in his on right, we felt the need to pay homage to his amazing creativity and genius by capturing those ideas in our pictures. Hopefully we succeeded. If nothing else, we left our shoot with Dean Kamen feeling a bit… enlightened.

Questions? Comments? Let us know @crismanphoto, /crismanphoto, or in the comments below!

7 replies to “Engine of Progress – Dean Kamen for Wired UK”

  1. The first portrait is soooo sick. Please put that in your portfolio… What a setting, background, lighting… ethereal.

  2. Fantastic shots as always! Thanks for the lighting details. I enjoy trying to guess how you lit the shot, but it’s nice to have the tutorial at times to. Do you come in pre-planning the lighting for your shots, or do you figure out the subject first and then the lighting (for example the shot in the lab – was that fully pre-envisioned light and and composition, or just used your gut as you let Kamen go in his lab)?
    Cheers.

  3. Thank you Jim – good question also. Every shoot is different and has different constraints. In this case, Kamen was very generous with his time and we could setup shots in the house without him using assistants for stand-ins. If we were in a crunch for time, we would have treated the day very differently and had multiple options pre-lit ahead of time. Thanks!

  4. I liked the “hero” shot but the one that does it for me is with the Einstein marionette. I think that pretty much tells his story. Great images as we have come to expect. 🙂

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