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.