Stuntmen are badasses

Sometimes you meet some interesting people.

Once upon a time I was shooting production stills for a short movie called Just 3 Girls. While shooting on set I met a guy called Mana Hira Davis – you’ve seen him before, you just didn’t know it was him – he’s a stuntman doing films around the world, jumping out of buildings, being set on fire, no big deal, the usual stuff. We got talking about doing a photo shoot of sorts with no real plan in mind just something involving tactical gear, firearms, badass facial expressions with a vaguely paramilitary air.

These guys go all out. It’s 100% all the time. If they’re asked to take cover behind a wall of tyres, they don’t stroll over then crouch down. They run full tilt like they’re dodging bullets, yell for suppressing fire, then slam into the tyres and bring their weapon around to bear. It’s amazing to watch and shows the chasm that exists between the real-life working pros and the play actors phoning it in.

Humourous Interlude: The 3 guys met me outside the office. Mana asks me what kind of gun I’m looking for in the shoot. “Something big” I replied. “How big?” he asks, while opening the boot of his blacked out Subaru. “The biggest you got” I say, because really, that’s the only answer.

The boot swings open – and this is on a pretty busy street at 5pm so everybody is leaving work and driving past – and there’s a stack of guns in there, shiny, black, oiled, maintained. These aren’t water pistols, they’re legit replica guns (legit replica? you know what I mean) from movie sets so they’ve got the proper weight, the correct balance, all the moving parts like triggers and slides just without any of the firing mechanisms. Basically they look darn real (apart from the one from Halo for obvious reasons) and you’d be forgiven for thinking we were conducting some kind of clandestine arms deal in West Auckland. So if you drove past, looked over and saw a blacked out car full of guns and a guy saying “wow, nice balance” while hefting a Desert eagle, then you mashed the accelerator to escape the crazy people, my apologies. It was all for a photo shoot, I swear.

It’s a carjacking with a very big gun.

This was a bit of a challenge to light… well I say challenge, but I threw up one light on the left which is lighting Mana (on the bonnet), which left Tori’s face in darkness. What do? Throw another light on camera right to light the near side of the car so you get the balance in the frame and some context, otherwise Mana is just screaming at shadows which I don’t think he does frequently. I shot this at f/11, 24mm. The light on Mana is on about 3/4 power, the one round the other side near me is on about 1/4. I didn’t want equal brightness across both guys because to me the attention needs to be pulled upward to Mana’s ever so emotive expression so I left the car technically underexposed. Basically, it’s 2 lights almost facing each other. I hate on-axis lighting (like an on-camera flash would be), it’s flat, boring, 2d, and it eliminates all depth. If the light is coming from the sides or going across the subject though, that’s cool.



That’s an alternate angle from a bit later in the day. Same lighting. Same screaming.


As the shoot went on we got closer to a narrative as to why this was all going down. A guy lost something, he wants it back, he punishes the people who took the thing. That’s essentially it, but it gave us something to pin the pictures too and a story to work with.




Ambidextrous gun control there. Lighting in both those pics is a single big octabox pretty close at around f/5.6.






I wanted to get some solo shots of the guys, both for some characterisation and also so the guys would have something of just them if they wanted to include something in their portfolio.

Set faces to stun.

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Lighting here is an octabox directly above, sort of in between camera and subject. If it’s directly above the face it leads to big deep shadows under the eyes which I didn’t want, so by bringing the light out slightly towards the camera it still looks just as cool but there’s enough detail in there so the viewer has something to connect with. Since the first thing people look at is the eyes, it makes sense to make them visible.

And that’s about it. Guns, lights, knives.