One of my most recent level ups is shooting for two local magazines, our local city lifestyle magazine, Hamilton, and its sister publication Biz, a business magazine published quarterly.
I love shooting editorial portraits. They allow me to meet some really interesting, fun and smart people, and also provide me with the opportunity to experiment and play with my subjects. (I have a new project in the works that will combine three different types of photography and [hopefully] help put some great Hamiltonians further into the public eye.)
In July, I had my first photoshoot with Biz magazine. I was shooting local business leader Dan Lawrie of Dan Lawrie Insurance Brokers for the cover of Biz. I was nervous for my first shoot, but I really think nothing is as good as calming your nerves as a good plan, a tight schedule, and clear direction.
I'm a firm believer that pre-production is the key to a successful shoot. My improv background allows me to be extremely flexible and go with whatever happens and still kick out some half-decent work, but in reality, I want to be fully prepared, and I want my work to be a cord above "half-decent." Below you can see the production schedules I put together for the shoot.
Editorial Shoot - Production Schedule
We did the shoot at Mulberry Street Coffeehouse. This is a hip café in the heart of the revitalized James Street North community, and happen to be in a building that Dan co-owns. I had 90 minutes to get the shots the magazine needed, and had to get as many setups as I could. This eventually cut cut down to 70 minutes as our subject was running behind schedule. This happens. A lot. It's normal.
At the top of every shoot, as you can see in the schedule above, I always include a short period of time to chat with my subject and get them to open up. Having an extensive background in teaching improvisational comedy for more than 12 years, I find this to be a key component of my approach to dealing with my subjects. Many people get nervous in front of a camera, they don't like being in the spotlight. I strive to make sure my subjects feel relaxed, so I can capture an authentic representation of them and stay truthful to who they are. A quick chat let's them know we're in this together.
Dan was great. He's a very open and genuine guy. It was really great to meet him and find out how playful and fun he is. While he's a pinnacle in the Hamilton business scene and the James Street North revitalization, he's also a really down-to-earth and funny guy. Something I truly appreciate.
Setup #1: White Seamless
We setup a roll of Savage Super White seamless paper in the gallery — which doesn't quite fit a 9-foot-wide roll of paper — and had to roll the paper out at an odd angle to make it fit. Since I needed a complete white-wash on the backdrop, I lit it with a 7-inch silver reflector and knew the umbrella on the key light would fill in where the light from the reflector began to fall off. You can see the fall off on the left side of the frames, but there wasn't much that could be done about it in the tight space, with the backdrop angled away from us at camera left.
For the key light, I used a Photoflex 60" convertible umbrella in the bounce position. For a kicker, I used a 24x36" softbox behind the subject at camera left (you can see it peeking into one of the shots below).
Setup #2: Brick Wall
After the white seamless setup, I had my awesome assistants (Less Lee, Rachelle Ireson, and Ashley Taylor) switch the backdrop. Because there is literally no time to waste standing around during a shoot like this, while they were changing the backdrop, I had Dan stand against the brick wall of the gallery and got some great shots of him with just one light.
The next shot below is the kind of shot I really love. While there is no connection with the viewer in this shot, it's an authentic moment of pause and reflection. A shot between the shots. This is often where the truth lies.
If you look at the production schedule above, you will see that this accounted for during the shoot. You will also notice that there are no shots with Dan in the gallery window. We didn't have the time or the space to make the shot happen.
Even though I scouted the location a few days before the shoot, looking for interesting shots, I didn't account for the fact that we would also be able to see all the studio equipment setup in the gallery through the window. So, I scrapped that shot. On the day of, though, I didn't even mention that it was on the list. I simply told Ashley — who was acting as the producer for that shoot — that we'd be skipping it and moved on to next item on our list.
An expression I heard recently that I love is "Give me the baby, not the birth." I love this quote because there's no point complaining about what you can't change and, honestly, the client doesn't care. My job is to get some great shots, not to make excuses about the shots I couldn't get. The client has hired me for my talent, my expertise and to make great images, and that's damned well what they're going to get.
What I did manage to do, though, we take Dan out of the gallery section of the coffeehouse and move into the café. He took a seat at the table and I started shooting him with in the existing light. I felt the the shots were flat and lacked kick, but I definitely enjoyed watching one customer who didn't seem to get that we were doing a professional shoot...
Setup #3: Thunder Gray
For these shots and the shots against the Savage Thunder Gray seamless, I used only one light, with my current favourite modifier: the 48" Westcott RapidBox XXL Octa. This modifier puts out a nice, soft light when double baffled and can also be stripped down to have a harder, more direct light without having to put out the dough for a Westcott Zeppelin, despite the Zeppelin being on my wish list.
The first image below is the one that was used for the cover of Biz. The idea for Biz is to present these figureheads and pillars of the community as regular people — which, from my experience shooting for corporate clients, they really are just hard-working folks like you and me. The first image accomplishes just that. I love the second image, but it's much too stately for the current tone of the magazine. It's a great image, Dan just doesn't look approachable in the shot, and approachability is key.
Setup #4: Chillin' on the Couch
For our last setup, we shifted the (horribly uncomfortable) couches at the back of the café, so we could highlight the café's rustic walls and a fantastically worn-down green door, which looks more like a decoration feature than an actual working door. I sat Dan on the couch and, again, shot only with the XXL Octa.
During this setup in particular, I was operating under the impression that one of these images would be the cover shot, but I also knew I had to cover for interior shots, as well. While this setup was the original intention for the cover, the shot on the Thunder Gray seamless ultimately won out for its simplicity and more polished look.
The first image below ended up inside the magazine as the hero image for the article. However, you can see from the images I've included, that when I was shooting, I making sure to leave room for the magazine's masthead. When you're shooting editorial, just like when shooting advertising, you always have to leave room for copy space.
NOTE: If any of these images were to have ended up going to print, I would have removed the distracting switch plate on the wall behind the subject.
After most photo shoots, I like to sit down and deconstruct the shoot with my assistants and crew. This is a process I carried over from my improv days when we would hold "pow wows" at the end of each class and do "notes" after each performance. The objective is to identify, while it's still fresh in our minds, and bumps, hiccups, and/or areas that we can improve upon for my next shoot.
Photography, like any craft, requires constant growth and a clear feedback loop in order to facilitate improvement. I know from experience that if we can continue to make incremental improvements — in our performance, in our skill-sets, in our scheduling, in our whatever — that those incremental improvements add up over time, and build on each other like compound interest.
One of the things I learned during our post-mortem lunch at Ben Thanh, is that I was saying "gorgeous" a lot, and it might have had Dan thinking I was talking about him. It's a weird thing to say about a wealthy businessman unless you're trying to pick him up (and who wouldn't, am I right?!). The reality is I was referring to the photos as they came up on the screen. With such a rushed shoot, my first editorial shoot(and a cover no less), and the client watching me as I shot, I was likely subconsciously trying to reassure myself, and possibly the client, that everything was going great, because it was, and it did.