Our friend Joe Miller of @GetGoingNC visited our 2018 Photoshoot in Saxapahaw, NC.  The following is Joe’s account of how it went down…

Models in ads and commercials typically look like they’re having fun. And they probably are. Just not the fun you think they’re having.

Take the three guys sitting around the table playing cards, a toasty fire burns in the wood stove behind them. Each holds a beer in one hand as they study, with wry smiles, the cards in their other. Suddenly, one breaks into a grin and triumphantly tosses his cards into the pile, the apparent victor of a high-stakes game, right?

Not exactly.

Laughter breaks out as the onlookers, fellow GOPC staff, heckle them over the sorry hand they’ve been dealt.  The poker-faced guys dressed in casual outdoor wear are having a good time. And helping to tell our story of the new fall shirts that will arrive this September.

The scene was from a three-day photo shoot earlier this year. Every year for the past four we’ve shot our own advertising video and photos, in large part to showcase our clothing and gear. But also to highlight the great natural areas in our region.

You’ll see photos from this shoot along the Haw River near Saxapahaw in central North Carolina on our website and in ads throughout the rest of the year. Conducted over three days, we shot more than 100 pieces of clothing (including the Fish Hippie shirts on the poker players) and 75 pieces of gear. 

Chair8’s Cam Barker getting ready to deploy a photo drone over the Haw

Certainly, the ads are intended to sell clothes and gear by showing the role they play in the culture of having fun. True, just because you’re paddling the same Hobie Mirage Pro Angler kayak that our own pro angler Jamie Dennison competes in doesn’t mean you’ll be a bass fishing whiz. But it does mean you won’t be able to blame your boat anymore. Besides, showing gear in action, in places you’re familiar with, adds that extra impetus to get out and explore.

Showcasing our great outdoor resources is another reason we do our own photo shoots.

“We look for a unique location with character,” says Chuck Millsaps, GOPC’s Minister of Culture. “We like to celebrate where we are. That’s a meaningful part of this as well.”

Past shoots have celebrated Umstead State Park, Hanging Rock State Park, and last year Carolina Beach State Park. This year’s shoot on the Haw was a celebration of the waterway itself, which currently has 14 paddle access points on its 110-mile run, and on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. On its journey across the state, from Clingman’s Dome in the Smokies to Jockey’s Ridge on the coast, the work-in-progress MST will spend about 50 miles along the Haw. 

What outdoor photo shoot would be complete without a black lab?

Sizing up the models

If you’re a visitor to our stores, you may recognize some of the “models” in our ads. Strictly speaking, they are not professional models; rather, most are employees. 

How do we select them? 

Largely by their size.

“For spring clothes, which are already in our stores, we’re able to pull them off the floor,” explained Jamie Coffey, an assistant buyer for the store. “For fall, we have to request samples, which mostly come in mediums for men, small for women.

Perhaps the most challenging subjects are shoes.

Peter needs shoes! someone yells across the staging area in a converted barn.

What size?


Can we get him into a 10? 

That’s the biggest size on hand for men; 8 is tops for women. (The ruling: “Shoot him from the ankles up.”)

‘This isn’t my water bottle!’

Anyone can model clothes and gear. But being able to sell them requires theatrical talent.

Ward Swann, head of the boat department in our Winston-Salem store, starts to climb into a Hobie Mirage Compass at the river access just above Saxapahaw. He pulls a water bottle from the boat’s cupholder and gives it a puzzled look.

“Ward,” asks Johanna Breed, paddlesports general manager in Greensboro, attempting to inject true meaning into the shot, “What are you thinking?”

“This isn’t my water bottle?” he replies, confused.

“No,” she persists, “what are you really thinking?”

Pausing a moment, then regarding the water bottle as Hamlet regarded Yorick’s skull, What!? This is not my water bottle! Whose water bottle could this be!? 

Collaboration, instincts, distractions

In a typical photo shoot, that direction to Ward would come from the shoot director. Johanna is another model, a colleague. Of the dozen or so others nearby, most are either fellow colleagues or photographers. No one person is easily identifiable as the director, though officially, it appears to be marketing guru John Millsaps. Chuck, the Minister of Culture, will interject a need now and then. The photographers will make suggestions. Johanna and others will, too, sometimes based on what they know about the equipment, sometimes based on their previous experience on these shoots. It’s a remarkable collaborative process considering the number of shots that need taking, the numerous pieces of gear and clothing that need to be captured, the seasons that need to be depicted (especially challenging with temps in the 30s). And all in three days.

Remarkable, but not surprising. The shoot is run much like the nine Great Outdoor Provision Co. stores, with contributions welcome from all sectors, from store manager to fledgling sales associate.

The shoot also reflects the think-on-your-feet nimbleness required of people who spend a lot of time outdoors.

Prior to an afternoon shoot that will feature folks lounging on a porch in their apres adventure wear, Charlotte store manager Rudy Hayden is darting about like a short-circuited Roomba, sucking up every bit of debris in sight, from stray leafs to twigs randomly stacked near the porch swing.

“They’re distractions,” explains Rudy, who is also a photographer. “They’ll grab your eye when you’re supposed to be focused on the clothing.” Likewise the cars parked just beyond the porch, which prompts Rudy to issue a series of “move-your-car” announcements. 

A good fire — and a spiffy short — to keep you warm.

March: It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Despite the fact it’s early March, clothing for the ever-important holiday season needs to be shot. Suddenly, there’s a scramble to create Christmas: a wood-burning stove makes a good central focus (Rudy gathers the leafs and twigs from earlier and conjures up a fire), a couch is moved from across the room, someone finds a throw rug (Rudy sweeps distracting dirt under the rug), a Charlie Brown Christmas tree is produced, as are festive gift-wrapped boxes. Voila! Christmas. 

The models take their places and begin handing out gifts — then handing them back, then getting them back, then handing them …  . This goes on for a good five minutes as photographers Hart Roberts and Cam Barker with Chair8 Media, and videographer Jeff Branch with Workshop Media digitally capture the scene.

Meanwhile, the search for motivation goes on, to depict the models in scenes the rest of us can relate to. 

“OK,” says John Millsaps, “you’re on a date, you’re on a first date and it’s not going so well. Tell her one of the great outdoor stories you have.”

“So,” begins the guy, “me and my buddies were out fishing the great Haw River this one time … ”, which conjures from her a “get-me-outta-here” look that just about anyone can relate to. (But I do like his Toad & Co. shirt.) 

Or to a group of “friends” who are supposed to be making small talk, Johanna says to one, “So you’ve got a secret that you don’t want to tell, but you really do want to tell.” Yup, we’d know that look anywhere.

So yes, when you see these shots on our website and in our ads, are the models having fun smartly attired and playing with the latest and greatest gear? Absolutely.

More than you could probably imagine.