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!