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'He Ain't Pretty, But He Is a Model:' Behind the Scenes at an REI Photo Shoot

How does an older, balding guy like me become a model? Well, I work for REI, a place dedicated to authenticity. When we needed photos to advertise a new REI Adventures cycling trip, it was decided have a few REI employees who like to ride serve as models.

Taking pictures at ZionThe Trip

Zion and Bryce Canyon Cycling is a brand new trip now booking for 2011 departures. To keep it real, we followed the trip itinerary—stayed at some of the same hotels, ate the same food, and oh yeah…had the same fun. The trip was even led by a guide who will actually lead some of these trips, Brian Jump. Is he any good? After our week with him, I’d follow him anywhere.

Day 1: Vegas!

Bonus! Las Vegas is where most Southwest adventures start. This trip actually starts in nearby Henderson at the Green Valley Ranch, a huge hotel with a beautiful pool and a lively casino. It’s also a short walk from the Henderson REI store.

My modeling career began in the hotel lobby, with a posed re-creation of the pre-trip briefing every REI Adventures guide gives. Joel, the art director, said: “Just talk naturally and we’ll say ‘freeze’ when we’re shooting.” Yikes. The fake smile on my face couldn’t be any more frozen than it already was.

Luckily, Justin, the REI Adventures program manager who created this trip, said: “I’ll just give my usual pre-trip briefing and we’ll react to that.”

He began: “Tomorrow morning, we’ll meet here in the lobby at 7:30 to head to Zion National Park. You should be naked. Your daypack should contain gin and a Muppet shaved from the waist up.” (Note: This is not the briefing you will get on the actual trip.)

We cracked up and before we knew it, they had the shot.

Getting ready for the shoot Shaved Muppets came to our rescue numerous times during the week. When asked for “happy smiles!” out on some sun-baked chunk of desert highway, the mention of a shaved Muppet was guaranteed to bring a smile to our chapped lips.

Day 2: Leaving Las Vegas

Got to bed last night at midnight, up today at 5:30. It’s the same schedule all week, but I can’t complain; the producer, photographers and art director stay up even later, downloading images and planning the next day’s shots. They’re working on about 4 hours of sleep, yet never get cranky. They’re professionals. 

We hit the road for Zion National Park. In 160 miles we go from a brutal 102˚ to delightfully cool at Kolob Reservoir, elevation 8,100 ft. There we meet our ever-helpful National Park Service escort, Ranger Seth, and begin the photo shoot proper.

How to do Professional Modeling:
1. Set up a camera where you’ll catch some beautiful scenery in the background.
2. Send models up the road a bit. 
3. Have models bike or hike past the camera in front of beautiful scenery. Snap snap snap.
4. Give art direction: “Adam, move 2 feet to the right; Neil, stay back a bike length. Everybody smile for crying out loud!”
5. Models get back in position, discuss shaved Muppets, roll past camera again.
6. Repeat for about 2 hours per shot.

Riding bikes in Utah

When we finish today, there’s still enough light to ride our bikes back down the canyon. Yeehaw! It’s long, it’s steep, and we quickly lose almost 4,000 ft. in elevation. The heat gets so intense so fast that Adam thinks his brakes have caught fire! A fantastic end to a great day. 

Day 3: We’re at the bottom but we’re looking up

We got into town (Springdale, Utah) after dark last night, so we were not prepared for the staggering beauty of the red rock cliffs that surround the town. At Kolob, we were looking across the plateau at the top of these cliffs. Today, we’re down in the valley looking up at them, 2,000 feet up!

Years ago, the NPS wisely decided to keep cars out of most of the canyon from November to March. Tourists ride in on shuttle buses. Fewer cars equals more wildlife! Riding our bikes up to Zion Lodge at sunrise, we see 5 deer and a family of wild turkeys on the roadside, just hanging out and acting natural.

Models on breakWhile we models are pedaling past turkeys, the photo crew is packing 120 lbs. of camera gear up on the shuttle bus. They’re professionals.

After a great breakfast at Zion Lodge, we hike up the canyon to shoot cycling photos for a couple of hours. Then it's back to the lodge for lunch and more photos. 

Shaved Muppets fail me

By 3 pm, it’s over 100˚ and we’re sitting on the highway in the sun, waiting to “go!” and ride past the camera. Every part of my bike is too hot to touch.

We pedal past the camera and they yell “smile!” but all I can do is grimace. When I tell my fellow model Connie that I have no “smileage” left, she says: “Just think of a big box of kittens.” You try it.

Coming up next week: Part 2 of my REI modeling gig with searing heat, bone-chilling cold and a few near-death experiences!


Posted on at 2:02 PM

Tagged: Bryce Canyon, Cycling, Photography, REI Adventures, Travel, Zion National Park, adventure travel and national parks

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