Brand Strategist of Jaguar Land Rover North America, Christopher Jeyes takes us behind the wheel of his creative process in a recent campaign titled ‘John Mayer Goes Outside’. Strapped with a Leica SL2 by his side, Christopher gives us a sneak peek of the moments that built this campaign.
Could you share the process of photographing this commercial piece from concept to execution?
I’m in a unique position because I’ve been managing content and productions for Land Rover for the last 5 years. When on set, my primary role is the Client but I’ve always got a camera in my hand and my images regularly wind up being a part of the campaigns.
With ‘John Mayer Goes Outside,’ our concept acknowledged the production in the finished video where beautifully polished verite footage is cut together with genuine stand-ups, BTS, and outtakes, effectively breaking the 4th wall. For the photos, it provided a really interesting opportunity to emulate one of the most fascinating but seldom seen genres of photography: Set Still Photography. Capturing a mixture of ‘BTS’ style images and polished movie-poster-worthy images references that genre while fitting nicely together with the concept of the final video.
Working in this capacity just reinforced that there’s so much more I’d like to do in this genre, should I be lucky enough to have the chance.
What photographic challenges did you encounter with this piece, and were they resolved?
The final scene at the beach was one of the most spectacularly beautiful scenes that I’ve ever had the privilege of shooting. We had one pass walking down the beach with the sun backlighting John. I could feel him settle, like his train of thought was interrupted by the sheer beauty of what was unfolding in front of him. Although the ocean mist diffused the light, it was a staggeringly bright scene. The SL2’s crisp and bright EVF enabled me to quickly dial in the exposure and take full advantage of that moment. While I knew the image files had information in the shadows and highlights, I still held my breath all the way back to the hotel. Thanks in part to the exceptional quality of the SL2’s image file, I had the flexibility to pull in shape, depth, and color in all of the right places. Now, I look back and they are some of my favorite shots from the whole campaign.
John is also a Leica photographer, how does this impact the dynamic of the production and in making the images for the campaign?
Anytime you see someone with a Leica in their hand, you know they have a unique appreciation for the craft of photography and storytelling. John is also a very talented photographer in his own right. That element certainly makes it a bit intimidating but also somewhat liberating because you know he understands the process; not just as a subject on set but as someone that understands what it takes to get to a good frame.
John is a self-aware individual with a quiet confidence that manifests in a very warm and engaging demeanor; almost instantly he will make you feel like you’ve known him for longer than you have. He both engages with the camera and ignores it completely, at all the right times, which I found makes it very easy to take photos of him.
Out of all the images you’ve made for the campaign, which speaks to you the most?
It’s two, but they are the same location, 180 degrees apart. I was standing just behind Camera A as John was playing ‘Simple Song’ by the beach. I took one of my favorite ‘4th wall’ images of John in the back of the Land Rover Defender, framed in by a few members of the production team. I then turned around and snapped another frame of the massive group behind the overarching production. It’s my favorite because the first photo represents the idea of production to my family and friends: it seemingly “sexy,” fun, simple and they don’t quite understand why it’s a job. The second photo is the reality of production. Its massively complex intertwined web of exceptionally talented people who, as a collective group, all rally around creating something exceptional. It’s simultaneously the most rewarding and draining experience.
How did the Leica SL2 fit into your workflow? What lenses did you pair the SL2 with?
The Leica SL2 was perfect for this project. The Northern Coast of California is a beautiful part of this country, characterized by vibrant color, massive scale, and terrain that feels otherworldly. I shot primarily with the 50mm f/1.4 Summilux-SL for the portrait shots and 16-35 f/3.5-4.5 Super-Vario-Elmar-SL when shooting landscapes. First and foremost, the light and color rendering, even SOC, is simply staggering. The files possess a texture that breathes life into the final images in a way that no other camera does. It feels great in the hand and the user interface is staggeringly simple yet effective; it’s truly an extension of my creativity and never got in the way of making great photos. Lastly, the Fotos app and wireless DNG RAW file transfer meant I could share a high-quality image with John on set that he then shared on social in real-time. As an overall package, it’s just about impossible to beat.
How did you first become interested in Leica?
A Brand Strategist that I worked and traveled with had one. Everywhere we went, he woke up before the sun to take photos of how a city wakes up. He said it was a form of meditation for him and a way to get to know the personality of a city. Although his photos were incredible, it was more his approach that fascinated me. When I picked up an M10 for the first time, my own interest became an obsession.
What initially sparked your interest in photography, and how would you describe your photography?
I joined Land Rover in 2015 to manage content and productions and have been fortunate to work alongside an incredibly diverse and talented group of photographers, creatives, DP’s, Directors, etc. I initially picked up a camera in a more serious capacity because I thought it would help me collaborate on set. The Eclipse in 2017 was the fulcrum of my journey as it was the first time I developed an image in my head, funded the project, and then executed it to a degree where I was happy.
It may be a cop-out but I shoot and edit for how I feel. The Instagram age of photography and the sheer volume of photographers out there pushes people to believe they need to specialize to ensure their “grid” all look like one body of work, but I don’t love that. If you subscribe to the notion that photography as an art form is created to provoke an emotional reaction in someone, why would you set boundaries for yourself to operate within. Whether it’s the macro elements of your photography, like the genre you choose to shoot, or the microelements like color palette, these are all tools for our expression. Right now, I believe in using them all to create based on what I feel.
As for my own “style,” I’m still finding it and I’m not sure I’ll ever really be done. I’ve been fortunate to work and learn from talented photographers in a variety of different genres from street photography, commercial automotive, and editorial to portrait, outdoor and adventure, etc. Each of these disciplines has such a unique set of challenges and my understanding of one certainly benefits how I think about another. Truthfully I’m in love with creative permissions that come from each of them and enjoy mashing certain elements together.
Also, the fact that I’m able to shoot commercial projects for a brand that owns equity in both Adventure and Luxury, all without being directly dependent on any of them for my income, is a privilege that is not lost on me whatsoever. The creative flexibility to experiment and learn without worrying about how a particular set of images will fit into a cohesive body of work is massively freeing.
Did you have any formal education in photography with a mentor, or were you self-taught?
I do not have any formal education in photography but I’ve certainly had some incredible mentors that have had a huge impact on my journey. The barriers to entry in photography have never been lower but the barriers to success have never been higher.
Was there a photographer or type of photography that influenced your work or inspired you?
Without a question, there are quite a few photographers who have played a large role in helping me progress to be where I am now – whether as a mentor or a source of inspiration. Alex Bernstein has been helping me for the longest and he is one of the most talented commercial guys I know. He’s the type of rare individual who’s an incredible artist but also a complete nerd for the highly technical elements of photography and lighting. Alex Strohl has been another of my biggest mentors and friends. He’s a fearless adventure-based storyteller who has pushed me outside of my own comfort zone on a few occasions. Joe Greer is a constant source of inspiration and one of the hardest working photographers I know. His capacity to take a photo of something you’ve seen 1000 times and show you something you’ve never seen before is nothing short of amazing. Honestly, I’m convinced I could hand Joe a toy camera and he would create more interesting images than just about anyone I know. Last but not least, Ted Gushue is an immensely talented reminder that you are truly the author of your own story and about how important relationships are. There are countless others, but those are people who’s work I see and think about on a daily basis.
What does photography mean to you?
I’ll accept the irony of what I’m about to say but we walk around the world with our heads buried in our phones, thinking about other people and places. Photography to me is a never-ending lesson on how to be present and truly see what’s right in front of you, even if it’s through a camera lens.