Shooting the XoHo Ad campaign by Gidi Meir Morris

Oh no, we missed it?

The day before the scheduled shoot, after closing time, I went by Cafe Xoho on Mapu street in Tel-Aviv to drop off some equipment.

As I was chatting with the master Chef, Zoe Komarin, about the plans for the next day’s shoot, two American tourists walked in and, noting the chairs already piled on the tables, asked with a worried tone: “Are you guys still open?”.

When receiving the bad news that, no, the cafe had already closed for the day, one of the tourists made a saddened face.

"Oh no, we missed it?" he exclaimed.

Cafe XoHo has become more than just a coffee spot, it has become over the past three years a reputed and mandatory pit stop not just for tourists, but also for many Tel-Aviv based Anglo-Saxon entrepreneurs  artists, musicians and creatives in general, generating a following of loyal regulars, yours truly included among them.

When an opportunity to shoot an ad campaign for the cafe came up I found my self at a bit of a loss - how do I reflect what XoHo is in a handfull of photographs?

The approach

I knew early on that I wanted this campaign to reflect to it’s viewers what makes Cafe XoHo such a powerful experience - the mix between it’s clientele and it’s visual vibe.

I consideredapproaching this project with a more documentary approach, photographing the real clientele, in real situations, but very quickly I realized that this would not allow me to achieve the visual precision I wanted nor would that be a good reflection of my skill set and striving to improve my portfolio, I realized, I would need to close off the Cafe for a day and stage the scenes I wanted to photograph.

The incredible Xoli Ormut-Durbin, owner and manager of Cafe XoHo, had made a decision a long time ago that in order to keep the Cafe’s staff energetic and happy it would be ideal if the Weekend was a rest time for them all. With that in mind, she keeps Cafe XoHo closed on the weekends.

This offered us a great opportunity- we could open the Cafe on a Saturday for the photo shoot without the Cafe actually losing a day’s work and without disrupting it’s clientele.

So we scheduled the shoot for a Saturday and I moved onto the next task - assembling my team.

The team

Putting together the team was easy.

When planning a shoot like this you need to think first and foremost- who would you feel the most comfortable working with?

A team member can be the most professional person in the world, but if you don’t like being around them, it will affect your ability to do your job as a photographer.

So I approached people I knew I’d feel comfortable with and which I knew I could count on their professionalism even if not necessarily on their experience.

In fact, I’ve found that a less experienced person can be much more professional than an experienced one, when given an opportunity that they have not had before. Keeping that in mind I approached people who are, much like myself, early on in their careers but which I already knew I trusted, based on previous interactions.

For my assistants I approached two photographers with whom I have developed great friendships with - Fashion photographer Eden Gvili and budding Photojournalist Danielle Shitrit.

For makeup I approached Yossef Ashkenazi with whom I have worked in the past and which did the makeup for another project of mine - the Queen Bitch.

For styling I brought on a new name on the scene, but a promising one, Tal Weismark, who proved herself a valuable asset through out the shoot.

Another addition to the team was one I had never used before - Videographer Shani Brill, who shot a behind-the-scenes video for us which in now in post production and should be ready for you guys to view soon.


The shoot

The  Cafe XoHo photo shoot began early in the day as we had five frames to shoot and each frame had to be posed and lit in various ways as we planned on lighting individual actors separately and then composite them into the same image for every frame.

This meant we had multiple photographs to put together for every frame with five final frames in total.

The lighting setup was rather simple - a two light setup, consisting of a main light using a large 135cm diameter octa box, which gave a soft wrapping light which we used to portray a sun lit scene, not unlike the one which naturally occurs in Cafe XoHo on a daily basis, thanks to it’s large windows.

A second light, using a 44cm gridded beauty dish which we jelled yellow to resemble sun light, was used to create a nice rim light around our subjects mimicking the bright sunlight we often get from the direction of the windows.


The experience

There are a few lessons I learned while shooting this ad campaign which I feel I should share.

  • Always have backups. While shooting the image of the three friends we found that one of our flashes, the one placed outside with the beauty dish, wasn’t firing with the main light. For some reason the radio receiver inside the unit simply wasn’t receiving the signal after which was only ten meters away.
    It isn’t clear why.
    At this point I pulled out the backup Elinchrom Quadra system I brought along. The Quadra is a battery powered flash system which provides a more powerful light than the normal strobe units that Canon provides and can use all the Elinchrom lighting modifers I use with my main lights, which are the Elinchrom 500BXRi flash units.
    The Quadra, which was there as a backup only, proved up to the task and worked flawlessly.
  • When you wish to portray friends - try and cast real friends.
    For the same image as mentioned above, of the two girls and the guy, we brought along three people who are friends in real life. This made their interaction in the image that much more convincing - because it was real and not acting.
    Same, obviously, applies to the “Family” image and “Creatives” image, as you can see in the following image and contact sheet.
  • When you can - tether.
  • While shooting I was tethered to my laptop, which allowed my stylist, Tal, and assistants, Eden and Danielle, to keep an eye on my work as it came through.
  • Quite often they noticed things that I missed, as I was busy directing my subjects and was concentrated on their behaviour more than on the scene.
  • When setting up your crew - bring in friends when possible.
  • I wouldn’t have had such an easy time working through the long photo shoot if it weren’t for the fact that the crew was made up of friends whose presence kept me calm when faced with problems throughout the day.


The final images, which I feel portray exactly what Cafe XoHo is- a colourful, happy and homely place, are now being used by the Cafe for its own promotional needs and I can feel pleased not only with the fact that we managed to put together such a complex shoot, but also that we had fun doing it.

Here are the final images: