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?
Our shoot took us up the east coast to New Hampshire, the home of both Dean Kamen’s estate, WestwindÂ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 20Â° 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.
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.
The creator of countless innovations and technologies, the inventor of the Segway – on a bicycle. Sometimes you just can’t plan pictures like this.
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.