My Day as a Von Wong Model

Photo by Gilda Rottman

A few months ago my now wife Kat surprised me with an amazing pre-wedding present: a personal photo shoot with the always innovative and creative Ben Von Wong. He had visited SmugMug a few weeks before then and done a few photo shoots for employees but I wasn’t able to attend. Luckily my wife decided to cheer me up and get me something better :)

For about a month Kat, Ben and I chatted via phone and email, brainstorming ideas and possibilities. I’ve always wanted a photo shoot at the garage where my LeMons team and others reside, but wanted it to be more than just nice photos of average guys staring at a broken car. And that’s where Ben Von Wong comes in.

After some time discussing my interests, hobbies and what I wanted in the photo shoot we came up with the idea for a Mad Max post apocalyptic-style shoot. I’ve always loved futuristic, grungy movies and also wanted rockstar-like photos that were beyond anything I’ve ever done. I knew my garage could supply an atmosphere of broken-down cars, oil and dirt quite easily.

During this time Kat was also coordinating with her amazing friend and hair & makeup artist, Dinah Raphaelle. Dinah and Kat have worked together many times and she was super happy to travel up from LA to transform my pastey white skin and unruly hair into something acceptable for photos :P . Dinah spent a few weeks researching and visiting various costume shops to find me a few different costumes consisting of leather, gloves and other industrial grunge pieces.

Skip forward a few weeks to the day of the photo shoot. We knew it would be a long day due to the amount of setup needed. Each shot would have cars, engines, smoke, multiple lights, tools and myself. We had a lot of work to do!

During the morning I spent a few hours with Dinah on makeup. At the same time Ben, his assistants and my friend/teammate Jeff who volunteered his time to help with setup and tools worked on arranging the first shot location.

Photo by Gilda Rottman

After copious amounts of spray-tan, eyeliner (or referred to that day as ‘guy-liner’) and some fake grease I was ready for my closeup. Ben and I discussed that the first location was most likely going to be a ‘warm-up’ shoot where he would get familiarized with his camera and lighting. I would get comfortable being half naked in front of a dozen strangers while holding a tool that could easily saw my arm off if it slipped.

This is one of my favorite behind-the-scenes photos of that day, really shows you what it looks like on a photo shoot:

Photo by Joe Na

Surprisingly after just a few shots and me practicing making sparts, we had a fantastic set of photos! While taking the shots Ben provided lots of feedback on facial expressions, posture and where to shoot all the sparks (directly at his multiple tens of thousands of dollars camera!).

At first we tried some ‘angry’ faces or grimaces but after a few shots we decided that really wasn’t working and moved on to a more neutral face. Ben also had me try a few different poses and suffice to say what looks good on camera is never comfortable. I was usually off-balance, straining one set of muscles to stay in position while also flexing every other muscle in my body. All of this was happening while I had to shoot sparks at the camera (while not looking at what I was doing), smoke was billowing, flashes were going off, sparks were flying and Ben was yelling at me “FLEX! FLEX! LOOK LEFT! RIGHT! UP! LEAN!” over the deafening noise of the 25lb angle grinder I was using. It was sensory and muscle overload!

Final shot:


Everyone there including Ben was amazed out how well the first few photos looked. At this point my expectations had been thoroughly exceeded and if that was the only photo take that day I would have been content. But, we had 4 more locations to shoot!

Over the next 8 hours we moved lights, equipment, cars, engines, frames, rusty pieces of metal and all sorts of accessories all around the shop. Each shot took at least an hour to setup and then teardown afterwards. We played with various tools trying to figure out what generated the largest sparks or flames. I spent much of my time either contorted in various painful positions, being sprayed with sparks (I still have a few burn marks on my skin months afterwards) or sweating holding an oxyacetylene torch. It was a huge group effort that involved every single person there.

Here’s a few more behind the scenes photos:



Photo by Gilda Rottman

The entire day was a non-stop process and of course we went far over our estimated amount of time. We ended up shooting our final shot while a fellow race team was wrenching on their car in the background! (Just off to the right in this photo)

Photo by Brandon Wells

During the shoot Ben showed us the unedited photos and we were all amazed at how dramatic the lighting and effects were. I was in awe at how I looked, I barely recognized myself!

After nearly 12 hours of makeup, costume changes, inhaling smoke (real and fake), getting burned, straining my muscles to the point of cramps and sweating like a pig at a BBQ we wrapped up our final shot on top of my race car with my wife:


Of course, it had to have the danger of being set on fire :)

After all was done we cleaned and packed and headed out to a celebratory dinner:
Photo by Brandon Wells

But the excitement wasn’t over yet. After a few weeks Ben started editing the photos and cranked the awesomeness up to 11. Here are two more final shots:



Once again Ben Von Wong lives up to his reputation.

And to make this shoot even more rewarding Chris MacAskill, co-founder of SmugMug picked one of the photos for super-mega-huge printing at SmugMug!

Photo by Travis Theune

One more thing…

Empty Duck Digital was at the shoot and created an incredibly awesome behind-the-scenes video: