Make way for the Robots.


Robots are coming. From airborne drones to assembly line workers, operating room surgeons to… comedians? Yes it’s true, our eventual robot overlords might just have a sense of humor thanks to the work of Social Roboticist Heather Knight. When we received a call from the fine folks over at Wired UK Magazine to photograph Heather and her Robot companion Data for the cover of their March 2013 issue, we got to work. What happened next? Keep reading for behind the scenes and a breakdown of our shoot…

chris crisman wired uk heather knight robot

We spent the better part of the day with Heather and her robot companion at Carnegie Mellon University, shooting their portraits for the cover and inside feature.

For the inside spread, we wanted to illustrate the deep connection between the two – Heather as creator and Data as her creation. This metaphor goes one step deeper since Heather previously worked for Aldebaran, the company responsible for creating and developing the Nao robot system (if Data looks familiar it’s because the Nao robot body is also used by the Robot Soccer World Cup).

chris crisman wired uk heather knight robot

After first meeting up with Heather, Chris and our art director Andrew discuss their plan for the cover. This discussion clearly involved quite a bit of pantomime to get their ideas across.

chris crisman wired uk heather knight robot

Going into the shoot we knew that Heather and Data’s portrait for the cover was going to be on seamless and therefore we wanted to work out some creative and compelling light.


Technically speaking, for the cover we used a four light setup – a gridded octabank and 20° gridded strobe head worked together as our key light while we had a large octabank behind camera for a touch of fill light. Also in the mix was a gridded and 1-stop diffused strobe head aimed at our seamless backdrop to create the diffused glow behind them.

Our key light(s) for this shot might seem a bit unusual, but they are working together to create a sharp and shaping, yet still soft light. Adding a grid to our octabank cuts and shapes the light output quite a bit, but for this instance Chris wanted to take it even further, by adding a gridded strobe at only a slightly higher output to get even more of a dialed-in and focused light on Heather and data’s faces.

chris crisman wired uk heather knight robot

chris crisman wired uk heather knight robot

After our introductions with Data, it was time to shoot his portrait for the cover (I think he may have been a little nervous at first). In order to get the perfect composition for the cover, we had to shoot our two subjects separately and bring them together in post. This also freed up Heather to help out Data with his modeling skills.

chris crisman wired uk heather knight robot

After shaking out the initial jitters, he proved to be a very well mannered subject, taking direction from Chris and Heather without a problem – all it took was an Ethernet cable tethered to the back of his head. If only human models were so easy.

If you can grab a copy of Wired UK in print, make sure you check out the March issue – or take a peek at the iPad edition, available through iTunes. Any questions, comments? Let us  know below or @crismanphoto!

6 replies to “Make way for the Robots.”

  1. What a great BTS! Could you translate the WS readings though into f-stops for the main, gridded spot main & fill? That second image is just killer!

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