Drew Gurian is a young, up-and-coming portrait photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Every now and then, he’ll be bringing you a behind-the-scene perspective, navigating the freelance marketplace of one of the busiest photo markets in the world – New York City. This month we get to join him behind the scenes of a recent shoot with renowned director Stephen Daldry.
Back in February, I was assigned to photograph Stephen Daldry, the Tony Award winning and Academy Award nominated British producer and director of Billy Elliot and The Hours, amongst others.
Whenever I have a shoot like this, I’m well aware that it will most likely be five minutes or less with whoever i’m shooting, and that I very well may have a publicist or three breathing down my neck while shooting.
Aside from time constraints, dealing with potentially big personalities, and multiple publicists, I generally have no idea what the location will look like until I get there. We should all know by now that it’s our job as photographers to do as much research as possible before the shoot, so we’re very well-informed walking into any situation. On these shoots- which are often assigned to me the night before, I’m told to meet at a theatre, or in a hotel room, but that’s about all I have to go on. Of course I make calls to the location to try and get some idea of the size, overall feel and light at the location, but there’s quite a bit of unknown. In other words, it’s a crapshoot until I get there. Good times, right??
In all seriousness though, I really love all the stress and craziness of these shoots. I suppose I pride myself on the fact that these types of shoots are pretty damn stressful in many ways, and I haven’t fallen flat on my face yet (knock on wood). The syndication power of The Associated Press (the client on this particular shoot) is absolutely massive, and I know going into these shoots that the photos will very likely be all over before I know it – which on top of the time constraint is obviously a huge stress factor.
In any case, I get to this theatre with my assistant, and though the room is large, it’s quite far from anything resembling any sort of inspiration. It’s essentially a rehearsal/storage space for the theatre company, and the only interesting element whatsoever is a blue curtain, covering a wall of mirrors.
I knew that Mr. Daldry wanted his portrait shot with the two trained corgis, which run on-stage in his new Broadway debut of The Audience. I was also well aware that animals, trained or not, can be a nightmare to work with. In light of that, I planned out three portrait setups before Mr. Daldry arrived.
The first was to be of him sitting alone on a chair – which I knew wasn’t terribly interesting, but was definitely publishable. If the dogs didn’t work out, I at least knew I’d have that, and survive another day. This was lit with a B1 Off-Camera Flash with a Softbox RFi 3’ Octa as the main light off to camera left, and another B1 Off-Camera Flash with a Softbox RFi 1×3’ Strip overhead, and at very low power to rim him out from the background. (You can see each of these setups in the behind the scenes video.)
The second setup was to somehow figure out how to position him with these little corgis- who weren’t so into the idea of posing for the camera. We did pretty well with this setup- all things considered, and Stephen was really loosened up after playing with these little guys for a few minutes.
For this setup, I knew I wanted fairly open, clean light, so I lit it with the 3’ Octa just in front and overhead of him. I also used this light shaper keeping in mind the fact that I wanted some falloff of the light towards the bottom of the frame. We placed the dogs on two tables and covered them in black fabric- which weren’t exactly great looking. In other words, I used the light in a way that would direct the viewers eyes toward one part of the frame, and not another.
The third setup wasn’t something I told him about until we were done with the dogs. Once I gauged time, and his overall spirits, I told him that we has just one more quick setup, and that I needed him to stand behind and peek through the blue curtains. He looked at me kind of oddly, but agreed, and proceeded to pull the curtains in front of him and pop out from them several times. As soon as I showed him a frame, he absolutely loved it, and was totally into the idea.
Before he got there, I covered a piece of the mirror behind the curtain with black fabric. I also knew that I wanted the feel of the light to be moody and resemble something like a spotlight. For this effect, I ended up using a gridded Soft Light Reflector and nothing more.
Some of you may have seen my post back in February on a shoot I did with the Hunger Games cast. This shoot was infinitely more successful than that shoot, in that I shot something truly different of Mr. Daldry – not just another press photo. If you search for images of him online, I’m fairly certain that nobody else has done anything like this with him. That’s what we should aspire to do on every single shoot, and because I achieved that here, it’s a huge success in my book.
Thanks so much once again for reading, and happy to answer any questions you may have!