Inside the Making of Portrait

Words & Still Photography by: Nathan Avila

I quit film school on the basis that “I want to film dirtbikes, there is no way I am ever going to use any of this on-set bull crap!” Well, as fate would have it, I happened to be enthralled with the filming style of vurbmoto’s own Kyle Cowling (Art Dog.)  You see, Kyle runs his sets differently. They are more along the lines of what your typical Hollywood shoots would look like. Everything he does is intentional and will add something to the story he is trying to tell. Every shot he composes has a purpose, it’s not simply done “because it looks cool.” Yet, PORTRAIT featuring Corbin Hayes kind of falls into the idea of simply creating images that look pretty for the sake of them looking pretty and learning different creative techniques.

Corbin Hayes enjoying a very quiet Fox Raceway all to himself.

And, that’s brings me the point of this article I am writing and you are reading. We’re talking about Kyle Cowling’s PORTRAIT featuring Corbin Hayes. For this particular project, I was basically just a PA (production assistant) and my job was to help set up lighting, learn from Kyle, and take some behind the scenes set photos on an analog camera, a hobby I have recently taken up. Call time at Corbin’s was 8:45 a.m.. In the film industry, if you’re on time, you’re late, if you’re 30 min early you’re on time and if you’re an hour early you’re early. I try to show up to all the shoots at least 30 minutes to an hour early, so I was there at 8:00 a.m. sharp. 

We began by having a quick discussion in with Corbin about what we were going to be doing at his house, what shots Kyle was thinking, and where we wanted to start setting up the light. To me, an intern trying to learn and understand how Kyle’s mind works when lighting up a set, maybe my favorite part of the process. As a young kid and later a high school student, I hated asking for help and asking questions, I guess it just made me feel stupid unless I was really comfortable with the person. The reason being is once you unlock the door for my questions, you’re going to be getting a lot of questions from me. Why is that? Because I want to understand things through and through. Why there? Why this way versus that way? This is more efficient, but how so? Why does it save time? Why not do it in post? 

The Aputure 300d MkII in all of its glory.

I have become comfortable enough that I can rattle off a series of questions to Kyle as to why he does what he does and he’ll help me understand the process. Good sound and good lighting are important to a film. If it’s done right, you won’t notice it unless you’re really looking. If done incorrectly you’re going to really notice and it will take away from the film you’re trying to make. We started by setting up a key light to illuminate the kitchen while Corbin made breakfast. We set up some diffusion, and some flags to help shape the light in a natural way. Kyle had me stand in to make sure everything was lit correctly. There was a glare we could absolutely not get rid of and we probably spent a good 10-15 minutes trying to figure out how to eliminate it. Once we figured out that issue, we called action and had Corbin walk into the kitchen to begin cooking his breakfast.

The Aputure 300d Mk II shooting through some 216 Silent White diffusion for the kitchen sequence. The 300d was acting as our sun light for these setups.

It was a fairly light atmosphere, Kyle got some tight shots of the process of Corbin making breakfast, then we moved to the garage so we could get some footage of Corbin loading up. The garage door sequence took us a few times to get just right. It was maybe three or four attempts just to get the striking of the garage lights and our Aputure light at the same time. Then, we loaded up and cruised out to Fox Raceway for the riding segment of the video.

On our arrival to Pala, or Fox Raceway (whichever you prefer), Kyle started out by setting up underneath Corbin’s Ranger so he could capture a pretty unique shot of Corbin unloading his bike. AS I mentioned at the very beginning, this whole project was a bit out of character for what Kyle usually shoots. It was very loose and had no real plan, yet he still knew what he was trying to shoot. So, we wandered around the track, shooting just on sticks. While the rest of the facility closed down, no one really bothered us as we wrapped production just as golden hour ended. As you’ve seen throughout this article, I capture a few really good shots on my film camera of this process.

What is happening here? A cool shot.

Of all the shoots I have been on, this was the most challenging for me, as I really did no shooting, but I got to watch and learn from Kyle and I was forced to be a photographer for the day, something I am not very good at, or at least I don’t think I’m very good at. But, Mr. Cowling has a way of throwing you in the deep end, and I’ve noticed I’ve been better because of it. When I first me him and Wes I told them I wanted to learn it all. I want(ed) access to their knowledge of shooting, editing, sound, and writing. So, here I am, writing this lengthy article which at the time that you’re reading this, may or may not be a whole lot shorter than what I initially wrote.

Hopefully, I can continue to progress and keep writing articles like this right at

Portrait: Corbin Hayes

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