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!