Jonsar Studios Photo Experience - VIP Dinner in Miami (Art Basel)
At an exclusive dinner atop the Betsy Hotel on South beach, Jonsar studios created portrait moments for guests
Client: Kevin Barry Fine Art & RH Contract Venue: The Betsy Hotel Rooftop, Miami Beach
Agency: White Label Creative Mobile Studio Dimensions: 8’ x 8’ (open top)
Production: Event Revolution Sessions: 54
Guests: 80 Booking Duration: 4 hour
Equipment: 2 Nikon D800 camera bodies, Nikkor 24-70mm F 2.8 lens, Profoto strobes, beauty dish, 2 strip lights, wind machine, video hub, edit bay, printer, social media kiosk, router/mobile hotspot, PA system & headsets, 2 iPads for guest sign-in
Jonsar Personnel: 2 photographers, 2 editors, 1 guest experience coordinator
White Label Creative—an agency we’ve worked with in the past—booked us for a VIP evening at Miami’s Art Basel. The client was Kevin Barry Fine Art, an international art consultancy, and they were planning a rooftop dinner with 80+ guests, including industry-leading designers. Our booking was only finalized a week before the event, so pre-production work had to happen quickly.
While reviewing location stills we realized that the area selected for our activation was under a 6’ metal overhang. This low clearance would have seriously hampered our lighting. Upon closer inspection, we saw that the overhang was not fixed, but bolted on, which made us think it could be temporarily removed. After much back and forth with the venue, they agreed to let the production company, Event Revolution, unbolt the overhang — and fortunately the lighting crisis was averted.
Space was our main challenge, overall: the initial area we’d been given for our mobile studio setup was only 6’ x 6’. We were able to expand that by two more feet on either side by rotating our backdrop and shooting west to east, instead of the initially proposed north to south orientation. This also gave guests watching the experience on the sidelines a much better view: They could clearly see the person on set over the photographer’s shoulder.
The exclusive event called for an timeless look, so we decided to deploy a classic black backdrop. But wind is always a factor in rooftop activations, and the Betsy Hotel is right on the beach, which means it gets strong gusts off the ocean. So instead of our usual pipe-and-drape fabric background, we had Event Revolution build a solid background using two 4’ x 6’ joined panels that were then covered with dark gray muslin and anchored in place. We also took additional steps to secure our equipment via tie-downs.
Our final logistics challenge presented itself when we arrived in Miami the day of the event: the venue had no elevator that went directly to the roof, which meant we had to carry all of our gear up from the hotel’s top floor by hand. When the event was over, at two in the morning, we repeated the process in reverse for load out—then boarded a flight back to New York for another booking.
Given the elegant, intimate setting, we shot portraits in black-and-white, with stunning results against our dark backdrop. We also wanted to incorporate a touch of Miami in our activation, so we customized our social media kiosk’s home screen with a bright watercolor-inspired vision of South Beach.
We began making portraits during cocktail hour, directing individuals and small groups in over 100 videos and GIFs. As the cocktail hour wound down, guests didn’t want to leave our studio! We powered down our lights so everyone would take their seats. Because of the overall enthusiasm we ended up staying an extra hour: as guests watched their friends being directed on set, they realized they wanted to have their celebrity moment, too. “Just one more session” led to “just a few more sessions,” and we didn’t want anyone in the VIP crowd to be left out.
It was all worth it to see the genuine excitement on guests’ faces—and to hear the rave reviews from our clients afterwards.