Saturday, January 16, 2010
I’ve been wanting to do something different recently, so I put an ad on craigslist for musicians in need of portraiture. As is typical for craigslist, I got some serious inquiries and some ridiculous ones (you’d be surprised how many people out there are “the next big thing” up-and-coming rappers). All I required was a sample of the music before considering them for the shoot; given that I am doing this for free and all, I had to at least like the music! I wanted to shoot stuff they could use for album art and on the web for their self-promotion.
Romy was one of the first serious responses that I got. She is a singer/songwriter who has been playing the piano since early childhood, where she grew up in the Netherlands. After a ridiculous amount of world traveling (man I am jealous of the Europeans!), Romy finally settled here in NYC a few years ago, where she is working full time on her music. Her style is deep and soulful, and her music touches on themes like love, longing, and isolation. I have to say, it’s damn good stuff!
This was a new challenge for me. So far, I have mostly been shooting friends and models who are pretty comfortable in front of the camera. I am the first one to say that being a model is not easy (seriously). Keeping focus and energy for hours and knowing what your body looks like in all different poses is something that most people can’t do. In my opinion, that’s half of the equation in getting a good photo! So I deliberately wanted to put myself in a position of shooting non-models, to see how I would work with a total stranger who is not used to having a big lens aimed at their head for like two hours!
I have to say, while Romy was very comfortable in front of the camera and did great, it was definitely still a good challenge for me for a few reasons. I still think one of the hardest things about shooting with people is connecting with them and bringing out some real emotion in the pictures. I mean, we’re shooting portraits here, not mug shots or snapshots. I find that it is really hard to get someone to just be themselves in front of the camera, and not just stand there stiff or smile like they’re at Disney World! Now, don’t think I am complaining…I am the worst offender myself. When someone points a camera at me I probably have three default ways of behaving: 1)making stupid faces, possibly involving tongue; 2)stone-faced; 3)goofy smile. So I really do identify with the fact that it is very difficult to be at ease and express yourself in front of the camera!
It was another good opportunity for me to practice directing the subject too, which is something else I find difficult. How do you tell someone to do what you can only see in your head, but can barely verbalize? Something like “OK, now look at me, but look away a little too, and give me your best playful-coy-aloof-deepinthought-confident-awesome face!” Directing people is a skill, and I will continue to improve with time!
Here is another reason this was a difficult shoot:
This is the ambient light in the room we were working in! Lightwise, there's not much going on here! So I used strobes for about half of the shoot and then the sun peeked out behind some clouds so I cranked up the ISO to 800, and shot at 1/30, f/2.8 for a lot of the shoot using just natural window light. Scary to say the least, since my camera is not too good at ISO 400, let alone 800, and at that f-stop my DOF is razor thin and if I blink the shot will get blurred since I am shooting at 1/30. I was actually really impressed at how many shots came out sharp, it's almost a miracle!
Truthfully, I like the natural light ones more. They just look, well, more natural! This shot made me want to get a new camera body with better high ISO performance. Imagine being able to crank up the ISO to 1600 or 3200 and get usable shots!
After our time in the studio was up, we went for a quick walk outside to get some different shots. It was freezing out, but we managed to get some good ones!
Anyway, Romy is currently recording her first album, which I will eventually link to when it comes out! Also, I did a very different shoot with a very different musician later that same week, more to come!