This week I was commissioned by Buzzfeed to go to Newham Collegiate 6th Form Centre and photograph the students' reactions as they opened envelopes containing their A-level results. I met some amazing people and some students going on to study at some of the country's top universities. I've been wanting to shoot a series similar to this for a long while and I was overjoyed when I got asked to shoot this.
I recently shot portraits of Will I Am as part of an advertising campaign with Mother advertising agency. We photographed him in the penthouse of the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch.
Sometimes in my job I'm required to shoot an editorial portrait in an incredibly tight time frame and in a totally uninspiring location. I really like these situations and have realised over the years that I work better when I'm under pressure. The more experience I get as a photographer, the more I manage to turn these high pressure situations into a fun and exciting challenge.
I recently had a shoot that was a perfect example of this. I was hired by a long term magazine client to shoot a potential cover portrait of world renowned architect Lord Norman Foster. When I shoot editorial portraits, many clients give little to no creative direction at all. There's no call sheet, no picture editor on site and no hints as to how they'd like the results to look. The brief I got for this shoot was an address, a time, and a heads up that I'd have a maximum of two minutes to get what I needed. Through previous experience I already had enough info to get a pretty good idea of what I could expect........
For a start the location was in a hotel and during a huge conference. This meant that I was likely to only be given whatever room the journalist was given to conduct her interview. There would almost definitely be chairs, a table and walls. It was unlikely to be anything more than a meeting room so my best bet was to think along the lines of a head/upper body portrait. When you're given a hotel suite to work with its a totally different story, but knowing this was being done at a business conference there was a 99% chance of being given nothing more than a meeting room.
Here's what I had to work with. This is the hotel's press room complete with no natural light and taken up almost entirely by a huge table.
My first thought was "Wow, I cant even put up a backdrop in here!". I'd brought one of my home made canvas backdrops but there wasn't even room to spread the legs of the stands out with that huge table in the way. So my next thought was to use the wallpaper as a backdrop. The room has matte textured wall paper which I knew would work for what I needed. At one end of the huge table was just enough room to position my subject in front of the wall and shoot from about 6 feet away.
The journalist and I had ten minutes in total with Lord Foster. 8 minutes for the interview and 2 for shooting the portrait. I set up my 39" Elinchrom Rotalux Deep Octa with a Profoto B1 and took a couple of test shots using Lord Foster's press officer. Once the interview was over Lord Foster stepped in and I managed to shoot roughly 30 frames with the journalist holding a reflector for me to highlight Lord Foster's eyes. Here's the results.
This is Laretta. She came to my studio last week to have her portrait taken. I don't always feel a need to publish this sort of work but once in a while I get something really quite unique.
This month I spent a week shooting for Chivas Regal. Each year Chivas hold a global entrepreneurial competition called The Venture. The final commences in LA this summer and the winner will receive $1million to help fund their potentially world changing business. Part of this commission was to shoot a series of stylish portraits of the 30 finalists. Here's a selection of them. It became clear to me that all the intelligence and technology needed to solve the worlds problems is available. While the world's governing bodies are doing very little, people like this are pushing forward with making our world better. Read more about these excellent humans here https://www.chivas.com/en/the-venture/finalists/
I tried today to pay my taxes online but ended up accidentally buying one of these instead.
Some sort of glitch with the internet.
A few months ago I shot portraits of British actor Arinze Kene at Claridges Hotel in Mayfair. We were allowed roughly two hours to shoot various set ups in a hotel suite that I will probably never afford to stay in! I love shooting portraits on location and after weeks of shooting studio work I was so happy to do a shoot in a location such as this.
Here's the shot I'm going to be talking about..
Welcome to my brand new website as of Jan 2017. Not all that different to the old one but this one is on a platform that I can mess with myself rather than having to call my friend Luke and offer him beer in exchange for his coding skills.
Plenty of updates to come ranging from behind-the-scenes content to step by step posts about how I created some of my work.
Have a great day.
I photographed Sherin Amonissehe on the roof of the London treasury and cabinet offices. We were originally given a office room on the top floor but we forced open and old window that was meant to be glued shut and spent 5 minutes shooting portraits on the roof. Talk about speedy and stealthy!
This is Ivan Massow. Ivan is a gay rights campaigner and London mayoral candidate. Photographed for Estates Gazette magazine just off Russell Square.
I’m really proud of the results that came out of shooting the Isle of Wight Festival and wanted to show you all the effort that went into it and how my team and I worked together during the festival.
This was one of the most enjoyable weekends of my year so far and I can’t wait to do similar shoots at festivals next year.
About 3 months ago a solo artist friend of mine, Ben Montague, mentioned that he was playing at the Isle of Wight festival this summer. He also mentioned that he was on good terms with the owners of the festival and that he could introduce me if I wanted. I jumped at the opportunity to speak to them as I already knew exactly what I wanted to talk to them about….
Every year I’ve always loved seeing the photographs from Mark Seliger’s Vanity Fair booth at the Oscars and Cannes Film Festival. The same goes for Brantley Gutierez’s recent work at Coachella festival and pretty much anything that Austin Hargrave produces when he shoots portraits at music and film festivals for The Hollywood Reporter. I noticed last year that this sort of thing is barely ever done at similar events in the UK where all the artists are photographed in a timeless and non-commercial way to produce a really great series of portraits. I’ve been wanting to do something along these lines for a while and being introduced to the people behind IoW festival seemed like the perfect time to get it done.
I sent the organisers a simple and short pitch of what I wanted to do, how much space it would take and what the results would look like. They were instantly up for the idea and things started to take shape. I was really excited but incredibly skeptical about whether it would go ahead and also whether the right preparations would be made by IoW to make it worthwhile. One thing I’ve learned is that if you get booked for a cool shoot and then tell your friends or your girlfriend, that shoot will almost definitely get cancelled. It’s just life being cruel and on this occasion I wasn’t telling anyone until I was sat in front of a musician with a camera in my hands. Fortunately it didn’t get cancelled and here’s how it went…..
BUILDING THE SET
The people at the IoW office told me they’d got me a 6m x 6m tent to shoot in right next to the press tent. The idea would be that the artists would do press related things first and then be taken over to my tent for a portrait shoot. This was fantastic news and it was all playing out even better than I expected. The next thing I had to do in the lead up to the festival was design and build a set that I could take with me in my VW Golf all the way to the island with an assistant and a videographer.
The sample images that I showed IoW were a combination of mark Seliger’s shots from the oscars and some of Brantley Gutierez’s shots from Coachella. I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing as them but it made sense for me to build something similar given that these photos are what helped convince the client in the first place. When I shoot more of these in future I’ll branch out and design something different for each one.
The backdrops are hand painted in my studio by me. I chose to use grey as its a neutral tone that works with anybody’s skin tone or choice of clothing. I also wanted to work on something quite light given that it was a summer festival. The natural coloured sheets that you can see hanging on the left and right of the backdrops are painters dust sheets from my local hardware store (£20 for 3!). All this barely cost me much and the biggest expense I had to make was buying more backdrop supports and more stands. I could have rented these but having all this extra gear is pretty useful in the long term given that I might be doing similar shoots to this in future. Other than that we just needed a sh*t load of A-clamps, duck tape and cable ties to hold it all together.
Lastly, there was the issue of the floor. I thought our studio-tent would just have grass to stand on and I originally planned to use the 3rd dust sheet as a floor for the set. Luckily when we arrived we found the tent had a perfect battered wooden floor which worked perfectly with our backdrops and the general colour scheme of what I wanted.
EXPOSURE AND LIGHTING
The technical set-up for this shoot was incredibly simple. I brought several lights with me along with a load of different light modifiers and quickly realised that I barely needed any kit to get the results that I wanted. The entire series is lit with a 600w Paul C. Buff Einstein strobe and a 46″ Photek Softlighter. Even the group shots are lit this way. I positioned my light to camera right and feathered the light onto my subjects. This means aiming the face of the umbrella across the front of my subject rather than directly at them. You get an incredibly flattering lighting effect when using this side-spill from the Photeks.
My camera settings were as follows….. (Sample image straight out of camera)
Camera: Canon 5dmkIII ISO: 100 Aperture: f/9 Shutterspeed: 1/160
These shoots were incredibly quick. I knew that the artists had more important people to speak to and plenty of free beer to drink just outside my tent so I worked as if I was being timed for a game show. Working at this pace is definitely something I’m used to and the benefits can be huge. It raises your ability to get the best out of your subject very quickly and being able to deliver a great result in under a minute leaves a good impression on the artists, their PR agents and whoever your client is. The aim is to deliver the best result with the least inconvenience to the people around you. The quickest shoots during the festival were Jessie Ware (30 seconds) and James Bay (45 seconds).
Minimal retouching in these shots. In fact we were putting the images out on Instagram (@willbremridge) within ten minutes of shooting. There was a tiny bit of warmth added to the images by putting a little more yellow into the highlights. I also added a very very small amount of blue to the shadows. Both of these were done using Curves adjustment layers. A little extra punch given to the blacks and lastly my ‘Smart-Vignetting’ technique which I’ve covered in several previous Start-To-Finish posts.
Thanks for reading!
Here’s some portraits of Pippa Malmgen, chief financial advisor to the Ronald Reagan and George Bush presidential campaigns.
Photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mayfair, London, for Estates Gazette Magazine.
A few summers ago I was called by FHM magazine to shoot Iron Maiden frontman and commercial pilot - Bruce Dickinson.
I definitely did a little dance around the room when I got this phone call. Firstly because its Bruce bloody Dickinson!! Secondly because this job came along during a very quiet and frustrating period. It was during the London 2012 Olympics which seemed to put me and all my photographer friends in two different camps. All of London’s attention was on the games and nothing else so photographers were either really busy shooting Olympic related stuff or, like me, they were bored to tears. I shot quite a lot of Olympic athletes on the lead up to 2012 but when the Olympics kicked in things got very quiet.
I headed off to Cardiff, Wales, with a journalist from FHM to check out Bruce’s company - Cardiff Aviation.
This still remains one of my favourite portrait commissions to date.
Once we arrived and dumped the gear we were given a tour of the entire premises by Bruce himself. Cardiff Aviation are based just outside the Welsh Capital on a site made up of several aircraft hangars and two runways. We were shown all the different aviation equipment that Bruce’s company builds along with various different planes parked on the premises. Bruce mentioned that he wanted to see Britain become a nation that builds things again and his knowledge about all things aviation was incredible.
CHOOSING THE SETTING
Sometimes I’m presented with a location thats overwhelmingly photogenic causing a hundred ideas to float around in my head when I’ve only got a short time to make some decisions. I’ve learned that in these situations you cant possibly shoot everything you want and you have to be disciplined in what you want to achieve. It’s much better to shoot a handful of set ups really well than shoot a huge variety of rushed, mediocre work.
I was given an hour to wander around the site alone and scout for locations with only one bit of advice - “Don’t go near that end of the airfield or you might get shot”…… Bruce’s airfield bordered a high security military site and I was warned that if I go too close to the perimeter and they see an anonymous man loitering with a camera things could get pretty ugly.
I didn’t need to worry though. I had plenty of inspiration without having to go near the danger zone. I knew before leaving London that I wanted to get a hero shot of Bruce with an aircraft in the background, preferably sitting on the wing or in one of the engines. Fortunately there was a disused commercial jet parked right in the middle of the airstrip for me to use. The sun was hitting the metal aircraft and the tarmac in a harsh but stunning way and I began to figure out my lighting after a few test shots.
EXPOSURE AND LIGHTING
I used a fair bit of fire power for this shot. Although the sunlight was coming from roughly the right direction, it was the middle of the day in peak summer which meant that the sun was really high in the sky and I needed some strobes to help me out. I wanted to light Bruce from a realistic/natural angle and used my strobes create a slightly cleaner and evenly balanced version of what the sun was already doing. I wanted to underexpose the plane to give the shot a feel that resembled evening light conditions and fill in my subject with just enough pop. I got called up for the job the day before so I didn’t manage to find an assistant but luckily there was no wind at all to smash my gear to pieces!
This was lit with two 600w Einsteins with 5ft octobanks to camera right, 12 feet high and aimed straight at Bruce. Here’s a lighting diagram showing the set up along with a Straight-Out-Of-Camera shot. I really need to remember to take a few steps back and shoot a BTS photo more often.
Camera: Canon 5dmkII Lens: 50mm Aperture: F/14 Shutterspeed: 1/200
I was warned by Bruce’s PR guy that he wasn’t a fan of having his photo taken and that the best way to keep him relaxed was to allow him to keep being interviewed while on set. That was fine by me and I could call his attention for short bursts rather than force him to pose for minutes on end. I didn’t need any theatrics from him and I just wanted him to sit in the engine while I clicked away for a while. I shot 21 frames on this set and then moved onto the next idea.
Not a huge amount going on here. Just a bit of colouring and contrast work. I pulled down the exposure using a curves adjustment layer and then painted some of the original brightness back into Bruce and parts of the plane. This gave the image deeper shadows and made the highlights pop a bit more.
Next I worked on colouring the image so that the light looked less ‘midday’ and a bit more ‘early evening’. I did this using a Colour Balance adjustment layer to put more warmth into the highlights and another one to put cooler tones into the shadows.
A little bit of selective sharpening on Bruce and I was done.
We shot 4 or 5 different set ups, had a beer with Bruce to finish and headed back to London.
Thanks for reading!
This is a shoot that I’m particularly proud of as it’s found its way into numerous national magazines and even been featured on the Jonathan Ross show. Katherine’s comedy work has exploded in the last 18 months and I’m so pleased to have shot what might be her most recogniseable portrait to date. I had such a good time on this shoot and hopefully there’ll be more opportunities to shoot Katherine during our careers.
I met Katherine completely by chance at a friend’s wedding and decided to pitch the idea of shooting her portrait. I’d been a big fan of her having seen her as a panelist on 8 Out of Ten Cats and couldn’t resist introducing myself. I’ve been in similar situations before and found that it’s so important not to pester someone too much when in a hectic social environment. I usually find the best method is to politely introduce yourself, suggest the idea of a shoot, exchange contact details and then let them carry on with whatever they’re doing rather than stick around and risk making things awkward for them. You can always pitch the finer details of a shoot via email/phonecall and keep the initial introduction short and sweet. However, if you approach someone you want to photograph and they invite you to sit down and start drinking shots with them then your best option is to do exactly that. Not the case in this situation but something I’ll save for another blog post!
We chatted via email a few days after meeting and sorted out a day to do a shoot. I wanted to shoot something that both Katherine and I could be really happy with and I started running some ideas by her. My first idea was to shoot Katherine stuffing her face with a mountain of donuts on a silver cake dish. She very quickly said no to this idea and I’m really glad we didn’t go ahead with it. In hindsight it would have been extremely cliche to photograph a female comedian with the main joke being her eating a load of fattening food. It’s says “Look how naughty I’m being” but in the blandest possible way. She suggested bringing her dog along to the shoot which instantly fired me up with ideas and the shoot started to take shape.
When shooting comedians I get most of my inspiration from US based photographers such as Emily Shur, Danielle Levitt, Martin Schoeller and various others. Their portraits deliver the perfect amount of subtle humour twinned with incredible photographic talent. I find that the current state of comedian photography in the UK is severely behind that of the US and that most tour posters and promo portraits look no better than something you’d see for a cruise ship entertainer. There’s no reason why it should be this way as we have plenty of great photographers in the UK but sadly the majority of comedian portraits here seem to look cheesy and feature bad lighting and retouching. One thing I’ve learned when looking at really great examples of this kind of work is that if you’re going to shoot something funny you have to match it with the quality of photography. A comedy portrait easily looks cheap and tacky if the level of production doesn’t match the level of humour.
Some examples of my favourite comedy portraits….
Martin Schoeller - zach Galifianakis http://tinyurl.com/oxtejgg
Emily Shur - Kaitlin Olson http://tinyurl.com/psaglvj
Danielle Levitt - Michael Cera http://tinyurl.com/q9njf8z
Right lets get into it….
CHOOSING THE SETTING
We shot this in the Hollywood Arms in London’s Chelsea area. I found the location after seeing it in the background of a friend’s Facebook photo and went for a visit to check it out. We rented the top floor of the Pub which had the right kind of furniture and a perfect amount of space for a crew of 5 people - Me, Katherine, MUA, Assistant, Videographer,………Dog.
EXPOSURE & LIGHTING
This was definitely a shot that I didn’t want to be overly ‘strobed’. Over the last few years I’ve concentrated on enhancing the light thats already there rather than lighting my subjects from an unnatural direction. This shot was lit with two lights. A fill light provided by a 150cm octobank approximately 10 feet away from Katherine and slightly to her left. The key light was a 46″ Photek Softlighter boomed by my assistant Danny, 6 ft from Katherine and directly in front of her.
Here’s the image straight out of camera together with the exposure settings. I tend to expose/light my work overly bright so that when I tone it down in post production I’ve still got plenty of digital information in the shadow areas.
This was one of 4 different set ups I shot with Katherine. I’m not normally into ‘machine gunning’ my subject with the camera however, due to the dog being a major asset to the shot, the best method was to shoot a large quantity of frames so that at least one of them featured the dog looking directly ahead. We shot roughly 50 photos of this set up and this ended up being my favourite.
Check out the behind-the-scenes video here https://vimeo.com/78833821
The majority of this retouch was contrast and colour related. I didn’t need to do much close up retouching on Katherine as she has great skin and we had a good MUA working with us. Working with a decent make up artist can make a huge difference to the retouching process and generally provides a major asset to this kind of shoot. Here are the main steps taken in finishing off this image….
Reduced exposure by pulling down the RGB line in Curves.
Sharpening of important features in the image (High Pass filter - Radius: 1.8) such as Katherine’s eyes, the tea cup and the dog’s face.
Colour toning the shadows and highlights. Cold tones into the shadows and warm tones into the highlights. Open a new layer set to ‘Softlight’ and have a play with various colour gradients. This part is relevant to my style rather than something that needed to be done. I like my images to be quite colourful and this is a great way to add a more vibrant colour spectrum to a scene.
Thanks for reading!
Back in 2013 I photographed rapper Kendrick Lamar for Q Magazine and Universal music. Sadly the portrait never ended up being used by the magazine however it’s still one of my favourite portraits to date and one that I get a lot of questions about from people who stumble upon my work.
With quick magazine portraits my main aim is to shoot a handful of different set ups as efficiently and swiftly as I can. It’s always good to hand over a variety of different shots to a client and show that you can produce what looks like an hour long shoot even if you’re only given 10 minutes of camera time. In fact one of the most common questions I get asked when meeting with magazines and creative agencies is whether I can work quickly. Once I’ve got the shot I want from a set-up I move straight to the next one. Another thing that helps is I shoot most portraits with one light. I don’t even bother putting my light on a stand and instead work with an assistant holding the light on a boom. That way we can move from set to set really quickly and I can have the light’s position or power output changed in….err…….a flash.
CHOOSING THE SETTING
We shot in the 5 star Landmark Hotel on London’s Marylebone Road. Before heading out on the job I remember Googling the hotel and getting a good idea of what the rooms looked like. Although it’s great to allow yourself the chance to shoot something unexpected, I think it’s even more important to have at least one idea already planned out in your head. You never know how much time you’re truly going to get regardless of what the magazine have told you. It’s all down to busy schedules and how diva-like the subject and their entourage are being that day.
I remember being heavily inspired by Austin Hargrave’s fantastic portrait of Elvis Costello (below) and wanted to make similar use of both natural window light, and glowing table lamps.
I find smart hotel rooms are great for using lighting gear while balancing with ambient light. The abundance of soft furnishings and thick textured wall paper means that, unlike a white room, your strobes aren’t going to bounce, reflect and cause harsh shadows on walls. The light from a strobe tends to hit the subject but get swallowed up elsewhere meaning you don’t ruin the lovely glow from table lamps etc. This is a slightly vague statement but Austin’s portrait is a great case study. The spill from a softbox wouldn’t bounce/reflect much off anything in Elvis’s hotel room due to all the matte fabric covering everything.
Back to Kendrick….
As soon as I walked into the hotel suite I spotted what I wanted. A large-ish window surrounded by interesting textures which would create a nice light fade. There was room to stand back and shoot, room for my assistant and whats more I already had my glowing table lamp in position!
I had 20 minutes to wait while Kendrick finished up an interview and therefore tons of time to get my head in the game and my lighting just right.
EXPOSURE & LIGHTING
This had to be a very precise set up in order to get a decent amount of light in the hotel room but not over expose the curtains either. I took various test shots until I had the right amount of glow from the lamp and the window and then concentrated on lighting my subject nicely. I took test shots of Kendrick’s tour manager with my assistant, Adam, booming the light from various places until I had what I wanted. On this occasion it was a 600w Einstein with a 46″ Photek Softlighter umbrella.
I couldn’t have the strobe light aiming from my direction as it would have killed the natural glow from the window. Therefore I decided to boom the light almost completely over the top of Kendrick just out of the top right corner of the shot. I kept the light aimed slightly away from the wall and towards me so that it mainly fell on Kendrick and not the curtains.
Here’s my in-camera settings and how the shot looked straight out of camera…
Once Kendrick was in position we worked pretty fast. Kendrick was glad I just needed him to sit down. He was so jet-lagged or partied out that he fell asleep a few times while shooting. Besides that he was a good sport and didn’t mind using the tea cup as a prop. It’s something I had in mind before I showed up but it’s the kind of thing I knew I’d have to test the water for.
We shot for about 3 minutes in this spot and a similar time for 4 other set ups.
Much simpler post production compared to my previous BTS post about my Cody Wise shoot. As you can see the SOOC shot looks pretty similar to the end result. This retouch was mainly about careful vignetting and colour tone.
I started by brightening up Kendrick’s face a little and removing any unwanted things like fluff on his hoody and his jeans.
Next I did a bit of smart-vignetting which helped keep kendrick bright but dull down some of the flash spill on the back wall. I did this by pulling down the exposure in a Curves adjustment layer. I then drew a big loose selection around the centre of the shot and inverted the layer mask to bring my selection back to it’s original exposure followed by heavy gaussian blur to the selection. This creates a natural looking vignette in any shape you like.
Once this was done I wanted to enhance the warm sunny glow from top of the window. There was already a bit of a golden glow but I enhanced it by adding a burst of yellow from the top. (New layer set to ‘Softlight’ - Coloured radial gradient - adjust opacity to suit).
This is one of 5 different set ups with Kendrick but by far my favourite.
I photographed Cody Wise at the end of 2014 for Serge DeNimes clothing. You may recognise Cody as the guy who sang ‘Its My Birthday’ with Will I Am. Click here to read some general details about the shoot in an earlier blog post. This time I’m going to talk about the technical stuff!
I’m choosing to do a breakdown of this shot as it required the most retouching out of the whole set. The other shots are a little more simple and self explanatory.
CHOOSING THE SETTING
I’d been shooting fashion shots of Cody all morning against backdrops and wanted to shoot some more portrait style photos of him in the last hour. After all, I’d found a pretty great location to shoot in so it would have been a shame to only shoot what looked like studio shots. I liked the colour tone of the room and light spilling in from the big sash windows. Unlike some places I shoot, I wasn’t surrounded by different furniture or props to use so my decision in how to shoot him was pretty quick and simple. I wanted a shot of Cody sitting by the window with a loft-apartment feel to it. I didn’t want him to perform at all and I didn’t want him to pose too much in ways that I’d needed for previous shots. Just a simple no-frills portrait.
EXPOSURE & LIGHTING
Having worked towards a certain style of photography for years I’ve grown increasingly aware of what I want to get out of my camera and what I’m likely to do in the retouching process. I knew due to certain factors that the shot I was about to get from my camera was going to look pretty different to the end result. For a start I wasn’t going to get the contrasty feel I wanted straight out of camera. The weather in London that day was grey and wet which meant there wasn’t a huge difference between the light outside and that of the room we were in. Secondly the general colour of the room was a muted version of what I wanted from my finished image and there was a LOT of mess to clean up from the back wall. With this in mind I was simply out to get a well lit and nicely composed shot and the rest would follow in post production.
I aimed to use an aperture that would blur out the details in the background but not give what I’d call a ‘shallow depth of field’. I shot the image at F/4 but the wide focal length used ( Canon 24-70 @ 32mm) meant that the background blur was only subtle. My ISO was 500. No major intent behind this. I could have gone lower but the location was pretty dark and I wanted a shutterspeed that allowed me to shoot hand-held.
I decided to give the light from the window an extra kick by adding a bit of lighting. I had a 600w Einstein into a 46” Photek Softlighter boomed by an assistant above me to camera right. This gave a slightly smoother light spill onto Cody and a little more fill-light onto the front of his face. it was important to make sure this light was still very much in keeping with the ambient feel of the shot so just the tiniest pop was needed.
Unlike my previous BTS post about Scroobius Pip this one didn’t require an adrenaline inducing time limit of 3 minutes. I spent about 10 minutes shooting Cody in a few variations of this set up and wanted him to spend most of the time chatting with the guys behind me with only brief glances at the camera when he felt like it. We had his father, his manager and the guys from Serge De Nimes on set so there was plenty to distract him.
As you can see, the end result if a far cry from the original shot. So lets get down to the nitty gritty……
I began by using the Clone Stamp/Healing Brush to clean up all the marks on the back wall. I then used the same tools to clean up the minor blemishes on Cody’s face. (Lets blame adolescence and London’s pollution). Now I was ready to work on tweaking the shadows, highlights and colour tone.
Using Curves adjustments I warmed up the highlights with a bit of yellow. This enhanced the yellow of the back wall and made the light from the window less white. Next I pushed up the Orange saturation and painted this effect only into Cody’s hat using an inverted layer mask. This gave the hat a little extra pop. I then used Colour Balance to push a bit of blue/cyan into the shadows which effected the floor and darker parts of the room.
After all that I worked on the shadows and highlights by opening a new Soft-light layer and gently painting white to increase highlights and black to darken shadow areas. This allowed me to tweak shadows/highlights in just the areas I wanted such as clothes and skin.
In the last few stages I did my ‘Smart Vignette’ technique to darken the surroundings and make Cody stand out a bit more (Pull down exposure using RGB curves - Make loose selection around subject - Invert layer mask - heavy Gaussian blur to selection) and then a little sharpening trickery to various parts of the shot such as Cody’s eyes, the hat and the coat stand. Lastly I added a little bit of lens flare from the window and a layer of grain to reduce that intensely 'digital’ feel from my Canon 5dmkIII.
Thanks for reading!
This portrait shoot was all about seizing an opportunity. It wasn’t a paid gig, just something that presented itself and I did all I could to make sure I came away with something I liked.
Here’s how it played out…..
I was on a train home from a shoot outside London when a friend messaged me with an invite to a small, informal, podcast recording involving several brilliantly geeky movie fanatics and their special guest - English rapper and poet Scroobius Pip. It took place in the upstairs room of a pub in Farringdon and consisted of 25 members of the public having a few beers and listening to Pip and his hosts talk about their favourite films.
Although I knew nothing about the event I had a strong feeling that it would be roughly what I’ve just described and decided to have a punt at contacting Scroobius Pip along with the host of the podcast and see if they were ok with me doing a quick portrait. I emailed the host with the idea and tweeted Scroobius Pip about it. No response from Pip but a friendly reply from the host telling me it shouldn’t be a problem but it was entirely down to Pip being OK with it. That to me was good enough. I have faith in my ability to politely approach people and pitch a portrait to them and it usually works once I’ve stressed how little time it’ll take and that they can OK the photos afterwards. Also, if you’re doing this sort of thing the chances are you are a big fan of the person so why not tell them? People like to be flattered and it shows you’re not a rude, inconsiderate paparazzi type photographer.
I showed up about half an hour before any of the other customers/spectators and noticed Pip had already arrived and was enjoying a quiet drink with one of his hosts. I waited outside the room for a bit longer and then headed in once it looked less like I’d be disturbing anything. I said hello to Pip and the other podcast guys and explained who I was and that I’d really like to get a quick portrait of Pip if he didn’t mind. Everyone’s response was friendly enthusiastic and Pip said he was totally fine with it provided I could get it done between the end of the event and him running for his train home. (Yep this internationally known rapper still gets the train home!).
CHOOSING THE SETTING
I had a few choices including a wooden bar area with shabby bar stools and really cool hanging light bulbs all the way along it. I was so tempted to try and get Pip behind the bar with a dish cloth over his shoulder, looking like a seasoned bar tender perhaps wiping down the bar top or cleaning the glasses. This would have been awesome however the potential difficulties started popping up in my head. As soon as the podcast finished the bar was likely to be surrounded by people wanting drinks, there was a mirror on the back wall which would have been a nightmare if it reflected something annoying and finally I’m not totally fluent in using lighting gear while still getting natural glow from tungsten lights like those hanging over the bar. This often takes multiple exposures and there just wasn’t the time for that sort of thing. I sat down with my friend to watch the podcast and soon realised I really liked the view from where I was sitting. I took some Iphone shots from my seat and thought about where I could position Pip within the shot. It’s one of my favourite ways to plan a portrait. i find the framing first and then decide where to put the subject.
EXPOSURE & LIGHTING
I tend to like having a fairly deep depth of field for most of my portraits. So much of my work is on location and I like to make sure the setting is a key asset to the shot. Having said that, it was so dark in the room that I had no choice but to drop my aperture to F5.6. Luckily, my wide focal length still provided the deep focus I wanted. I was using a Canon 24-70L at 32mm. Had I shot this on a 50mm at F/5.6 the focus depth would have been way shallower.
My shutter speed was 1/30. Not an ideal shutter speed when shooting hand-held but with Pip sitting still and me breathing out before each shot like a sniper I managed to avoid any motion blur or camera shake.
My key-light was a 600w Einstein with a 46” Photek Softlighter boomed from camera right by my friend just out of shot. (see the Pocket wizard cable. dangling top right). I use Photeks for so much of my work. They are affordable, incredibly portable and I love the quality of light that they produce. Plus if they’re good enough for Annie Leibovitz, Norman Jean Roy and Mark Seliger then they’re good enough for me!
This is when I feel thankful for every magazine portrait job I’ve had where a PR agent has said “We’ve had to cut things a bit short. Can you do it in less then 5 minutes?”.
I let Pip have a breather while I set up the camera and lighting and then told him the plan. We had 5 minutes before his train was due…..
The 1st minute was a waste. Once Pip was in place I had the ultimate crisis. I was using a 3rd party battery grip on my Canon 5dmkIII and it decided that this was the time to start messing with my camera’s functions. DON’T USE EBAY BATTERY GRIPS KIDS! I got this off my camera as fast as I could, threw it into a nearby volcano and went back to shooting.
Pip was easy to photograph. He barely needed any directing from me and I was done after 10 shots. Unlike my school maths exams, I actually like the pressure of these situations and it tends to make me focus and get the job done.
The retouching on this shot is pretty simple. I knew I wanted to take away that very orangey tone and give it an over all cooler colour. I did this by desaturating some of the orange and red channels but masking out Pip’s skin. This made sure he still had some colour in his face and arms but the orange tone in his surroundings was muted. I then used curves adjustments to continue cooling down the colour tone of the shot by adding more blue to the shadows.
Next I wanted to darken the over all shot but keep Pip fairly bright. This is done by pulling down the exposure in RGB curves. I then created a very loose selection around Pip, inverted the layer mask so that he went back to the original exposure and then gaussian blurred the selection. I call this ‘Smart-Vignetting’. It helps make your subject pop without having a generic vignette which screems 'Lightroom’.
To finish up I cloned out the cable that was hanging in the top right from my pocket wizard receiver and added a little cinematic haziness from the direction of the light source.
Done. Thanks for reading!