Shooting Michelle

One of the tight portraits from my shoot with Michelle

One of the tight portraits from my shoot with Michelle

I was recently assigned to photograph a singer I had never heard of, with a journalist I had never worked with, at a location I had never seen.


This is fairly common practice for freelance photographers the world over.


I arrived at the location, met up with the reporter, and was ready to shoot the interview. As we entered the garden of the house where the interview was going to take place, I was taking in the scene. To my annoyance there was a TV team filming there, which meant that we would be given very little time.  The sun was out, and as it was 4:30 pm the light was not very pleasing. Thankfully it was a little muggy, and there were clouds out witch meant there would be a chance of the sunlight being diffused when we started shooting.


My client that day has a standard wish list for these type of interviews.


1.     Get shots of interviewee during interview. Get gestures and a few shots with eye contact.

2.     One or two frames with interviewer.

3.     Close portrait.

4.     Full body portrait in front of a quiet background.



For these assignments, I have a rather simple strategy, begin shooting with an SLR, in this case the Nikon D800e, then go in close with a quiet camera, such as my beloved Fuji X100s. On this day I was shooting the D800e with an Elinchrom Quadra with the indicator Beep turned on. The Idea is to shoot with a noisy system, then go in close with the quiet system, switching back and forth a few times. This makes the subject very aware of your presence at first, then forget you are there, allowing you to operate almost invisibly etc…


I was asked whether I wanted to shoot the portrait before the interview. I explained that I prefer to hear the interview first, so I can make a more informed portrait. This is the truth, but it is also a good chance to get more comfortable and “warm up” and test the lighting. It is essentially a chance to buy more time, because when you are shooting for a newspaper you are allowed a few minutes, whereas if you are working for a magazine, it is nearly expected that you take an hour to set up your lights with an assistant. If you are there for a tabloid newspaper you are rarely afforded the luxuries of time or an assistant. In fact you are often viewed with contempt and suspicion, which presents its own challenges, which can be fun to work around.


I asked that we conduct the interview in the shade so that our subject’s eyes would be open rather than squinting, and that we do the portrait later.


As the interview began I set up my light to bounce off a wall behind me. I balanced the light to be a touch under the ambient, so it would be a soft fill, but that there would be a nice contour from my rim light: the sun. My plan did not work at first because my light would not fire. Instead of panicking I went through the set up a few times, until I noticed that the cable of my Quadra kept slipping out of the battery pack. There is a screw mechanism where the cable attaches to the pack. Use it and you will not have to learn this lesson the hard way…

Once I figured out that out, I was good to go. It is important to keep breathing in those situations and remember that it is usually some very silly detail that is at the root of a problem, as in this case where I was sloppy with my set up.

During the interview I was shooting away switching between the x100s and D800e

During the interview I was shooting away switching between the x100s and D800e

As I started shooting I was very happy with the soft light bouncing back at my subject. She looked beautiful, the interview was underway; Things were looking up!

Or were they?

Words were exchanged, and it looked as though our subject was getting annoyed with the interviewer. Chemistry was not on their side that day. This happens sometimes. She wasn’t being a diva. I am not sure how I would feel after having a delayed flight, and doing a bunch of interviews in one day. Here it is very important to just be respectful and continue working. Getting together for an interview should be a win win for both parties involved.

Once I had the shots I needed I went over to her makeup artist to ask whether he thought our interviewee would be up to doing a shot I had in mind. He said yes, and I got excited to propose it to her. When we got to the location I noticed a springboard over the lake. Now that I knew she was working on her music comeback I knew the metaphor I wanted was of her springing forward in to her career.

When the interview was done, I went in for some close shots with her looking at me, and gesticulating.  She knew how to pose and captivate the camera.

Once these shots were done I suggested the spring board. She agreed and immediately got up to go down to the lake. I asked her makeup artist to come along, so she had someone she trusted on “her side”. I wanted her to feel that she was in her realm and not in mine.

I went out on the springboard first, trying not to show how terrified I am of heights. For some reason I often end up in high places as I will illustrate in a future post. Once I was reassured that it was stable I asked her to get in to position. She moved out, hesitantly at first, but sat down perfectly. I set up my light to sandwich her with the sun. I set the ISO vey low and began shooting with a wide Nikkor 24-70 2.8. After about 5 frames I changed to my 80-400 Nikkor and moved the light so it was nearly in front of her. I love this lens because you can get such extreme compression with it. I never used to shoot portraits with more than a 50 ( more on that later), but now I use the 80-400 often. I got my last frame of her sitting, asked her to stand up, got may be 4 frames standing, and knew I had what I needed. I did not want to push her more, so I thanked her, packed my things and left. The access I got was much better than what I had expected from a press junket type of situation.

My Favorite image. This is an OOC Jpeg tat has been re-sized and nothing else.

My Favorite image. This is an OOC Jpeg tat has been re-sized and nothing else.



The resulting images were made within a 90 second time window that I had one on one with her. Had I had more time I would have been able to fine tune the lighting, but I didn’t so I couldn’t.  I would have loved to shoot her using an Octa suspended above her, In order to get rid of those harsh shadows that the Quadra tends to cast. the diffuser helps a bit, but still the shadow is rather harsh.

A recurring theme of this Blog will be the idea that as a photographer I will "never get there". In fact I am always getting worse because as routine sets in I get lazy. Photography is an uphill battle for me . I have to fight constantly to get better. Everyday I shoot is a chance to learn. I continue to learn so that when an image presents itself, I have the right tools to capture it. The learning is never over.