I am often asked about how much I am involved creatively in my photo shoots. Which of the ideas come from me, and which come from art director’s or creatives working for the client? How much input does the photographer have?
When it comes to my personal work, obviously it is only me involved 100% of the way. Those are shoots that I am in full control of and “art direct”. In editorial photo shoots, the magazine might have direction, but the photographer is very much involved in developing ideas or concepts.
In advertising, the photographer is most often less involved in the idea stage. Creative teams at advertising agencies have pitched and sold their clients on something specific, then they hire the team they feel that pull it off- models, photographers, set designers, wardrobe, etc.
Typically what I do on these kinds of advertising shoots is pull off exactly what they are looking for first, then spend a lot of time playing around with things and see if I can make some variations that are more interesting than the initial brief.
Sometimes the brief can be so specific that there are diagrams or mock ups to follow. It is then up to the photographer to bring their lighting, composition and story-telling skills to the table and bring the sketch to life. I’m going to take you through a shoot I did with art director Thomas Derouault at Euro RSCG in Paris for a matchmaking website.
Thomas and his friend copywriter Peter Moyse came up with the idea together. Thomas scribbled some sketches in his notebook. These were then sent to me when they agreed my photographic style matched what they were trying to pull off. The whole idea of the campaign is lonely looking guys who need a date, who are forced to create their own fake girlfriends.
Once I got over the initial reaction of wondering how this weird project came to be, I started to figure out how I could make it all come together. I had to think about how I was going to dissect this diagram, and make it work in a real environment. When I think about light, I piece things together one step at a time. All of the locations were simple so they were done in my own apartment. I also cast friends of mine to be the models, as it would be difficult to explain to a stranger- “you’re going to play a guy who looks like he can’t get laid.” Casting from model agencies was out of the question, this needed more of a “street-cast.” You might recognize photographer Nick Onken as the model here, who I sort of tricked into being part of this. (He didn’t know what the photo shoot was until he got to my place.)
1) Main light
Both light sources were generated with a Profoto 7B 1200 battery pack. I was using two Profoto heads total plugged into the same pack.
I wanted the main light to be soft and wrap around the subject (sort of like candlelight). To achieve this effect, the first choice would have been a Proglobe, a spherical “bulb-like” modifier which spreads the light around much like a lamp. However, you must know that I am a cheap-ass, and I don’t own one of these myself. Awhile ago, I made my own. I did some Googling, and found the website 1000bulbs.com, which sells Acrylic Globe Lamp Cover’s in a bunch of different sizes for a small fraction of the price of a Proglobe. The downside is that they don’t mount perfectly onto your light, but with some careful rigging (I used tape), they work pretty much the same.
2) Rim light
This back light is modified with a Profoto zoom reflector. It is gelled with some 1/2 CTO orange warming gel to replicate the light from the city behind him, unifying the light sources together. This also helped separate his dark hair from the already dark background. The reason why I didn’t put the color filter on the main light was simply because there would be way too much warm light going around. I wanted to be able to tell the difference between the two sources.
3) Ambient City Lights
My exposure was .8 of a second, F5 at ISO 200. The reason I dragged the shutter so long was to give some time for the city lights in the background to expose properly.
The final shot:
The second setup
In one of the other sketches for the second shot, the composition given wasn’t really working for me. I felt it could be more dynamic if I took a more “over the shoulder” kind of approach, and got right up in the subject’s face. Thomas the art director made it clear that he didn’t need that exact composition, and gave me free reign to do whatever I wanted. It was also my idea to add the lipstick on the mirror. After I made sure I had the shot in the bag without the lipstick, I drew it on myself for a few shots after. (I’m not very good at that, as you can see.) That ended up being the image we decided to go with in the end.
The lighting for this shot was much simpler. I used the same Profoto 7B pack with only one head, modified with an Elinchrom Rotolux Octa. I purposely “dirtied” up the light a bit, by having it suspended high above the subject so there were a lot of gritty shadows and atmosphere.
Even if you are given very solid direction on an image, there are always subtle things you can do as a photographer to make the image yours. Those small decisions you make can bring a clients vision to life while still remaining true to your craft.