Twisted or genuis? Call it whatever you like, but portrait photographer Patrick Hall‘s recent studio photo shoot idea to shock willing subjects with Tasers as a way to capture totally natural expressions is nothing if not effective:
No, Hall isn’t a sadist—at least, not as far as we’re concerned. His idea to tase portrait subjects spawned from a desire to do what all professional portrait photographers dream of doing: capture the bare, natural essence of people, that real character centered somewhere deep inside. As we all know, the process of uncovering that inner beauty can be lengthy and difficult, since people tend to feel nervous with a camera in their face.
“I get people in front of my camera and they give me all kinds of weird expressions because they’re aware that the camera is in front of them,” said Hall. “What’s interesting about this photo shoot is there’s no way you can fake your emotions and your expression when you get hit with 300,000 volts of electricity.”
What started out as a crazy idea that Hall wasn’t sure would even pan out became a compelling study into human reactions to pain, especially since Hall had his subjects tase and be tased by their friends and relatives.
“You never knew how they would react,” said Hall. “Some people screamed while others were quiet. A few people looked like they were experiencing pleasure while others had the most painful faces I’ve ever seen. I saw jumpers and fallers. People laughed and people cursed. I even had about four guys and girls who did not react at all.”
Hall anticipated hitting two major snags as he planned his Taser photoshoot. First, he knew it would be difficult to locate a venue that would allow him to shock people with a stun gun—and it was! Many venue owners cited liability concerns and wanted nothing to do with the shoot, but eventually Hall did find some folks that were willing to meet with his attorneys and draft a liability waiver for the event.
After that, it was just a matter of finding photo subjects who would agree to be tased. Hall wasn’t certain that people would want to be shocked after seeing the pain on others’ faces before them, but his subjects’ enthusiasm surprised him!
Since Hall held the photoshoot at a large venue that could harbor a large group of participants at once and wanted to create highly-stylized portraits with dramatic lighting, he needed a lot of equipment to conduct a successful photoshoot. Hall shot the photos using a Nikon D810 camera and a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, and the slow motion video was captured with two Sony FS700 cameras, one equipped with a second Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and the other equipped with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8.
Hall used three lights in his setup: two behind the model to create edgy rim lighting and one key light above and pointed directly down at the model to create minor shadowing and really illuminate subjects’ faces. The key light was composed of a ProFoto D1 1000 watt mono head studio light and a 2.7 x 2.7 softbox without the front diffusion panel. He used another ProFoto D1 light with only a reflector dish almost directly behind the models and another D1 behind and above models diffused by a 2′ x 3′ ProFoto softbox.
Finally, Hall set up two 7′ x 8′ Lastolite Hilite backgrounds to form the shooting alcove that separated tasers and tasees from the rest of the crowd. This allowed other photoshoot participants to look on without creating a chaos and a hazardous shooting environment.
Behind the Scenes
Curious about how Hall lit the scene and then convinced 100 people to sit in a chair half-naked while he shocked them with 300,000 volts of electricity and took photos of their reactions? Follow Hall behind the scenes in the videos below, the second of which includes extended footage of Taser-wielders actually administering shocks:
“When you got hit with this Taser, it was enough to make you scream, jump up out of your chair, give some great expression and emotion, but it wasn’t painful enough to 1) give you any kind of permanent damage or scar and 2) it wasn’t painful enough that you didn’t want to do it again,” said Hall. “I was shocked by how many people wanted to get back in the chair and get tased a second or a third time just because it was so fun and entertaining!”
Like This Article?
Don't Miss The Next One!
Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current: