Drew Gurian is a young, up-and-coming portrait photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. Each month, 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 is the fifth part of his story.
Back in November, I was hanging out with some friends on a Friday night and got an email at 8:30PM with the subject: “Any chance you’re available tomorrow AM for a Hunger Games portrait?” That’s a pretty typical subject line from The Associated Press (AP), though admittedly, cooler than most, and a fairly typical timeline for an email before a shoot the next day. I immediately sent a text to my editor with a “YES!! I’M IN!”, knowing that if I didn’t respond quickly, the shoot would go elsewhere.
These aren’t anything like lots of editorial shoots where there’s creative calls, art direction, locations picked out, propping, styling, etc. On the contrary, these are very much a fly by the seat of your pants, improvise all the way sort of shoot – which I’ve come to absolutely love. When shooting an A-list celebrity for a client like AP (one of the largest news agencies in the world), there’s a huge amount of pressure to produce a high quality, highly reproducible set of photos, and there’s absolutely no room for error. To that end, there’s also no retouching allowed on any photos I submit to AP, aside from basic brightness/contrast, etc. In other words, my lighting needs to be spot on. Oh, and I usually have five minutes (if I’m really lucky) or less with whoever I’m shooting to do all of this.
In this case, I was able to get in to the location about 90 minutes before the shoot for setup and light tests. I knew I was shooting in a hotel suite (which usually sound much cooler than they are in reality), so I brought seamless with me, and had planned the basic poses/lighting setup the night before.
I knew Jennifer would be in the middle with Liam and Josh on either side of her, and based on the movie, I wanted the portrait to have a sense of drama, while still being usable just about anywhere (something I need to keep in mind for AP). To build that drama, I lit them with a Profoto B1 equipped with a large Softbox RFi 1×6′ oriented horizontally, to give the photo some vertical falloff from highlight to shadow, while still lighting their faces beautifully.
My Softbox RFi 3′ Octa probably wouldn’t give me the quality of light I was looking for to cover three people, and I knew that using a larger octa bank was probably out of the question due to the constraints of working in a hotel room with limited space. On top of that, using a 5′ or 7′ octa would have most likely lit them too evenly and would not have given me the falloff I was looking for, and got with the 1×6 strip.
To build a bit more drama into the frame, I decided to use two small flashes for a subtle rim light on either side of the set. This also helped to build some dimension into the photos, and lift Josh and Liam off the dark background just enough (though I actually had no idea what they’d be wearing until they arrived). The last piece in the set was another Profoto B1 with a Softbox RFi 1×3′ strip, angled upwards on the background, again, to help build some dimension.
I triggered the B1 units with my Air Remote TTL-N, and started the shoot with only the Softbox RFi 1×6 overhead, and the small flash rim lights, which you can see in the first photo at the top of this post. The small flashes were triggered via their internal slave eyes – or “SU-4” mode, as Nikon calls it. After a handful of frames were shot with this setup, I then turned on the background light via the Air Remote, and shot a bunch of frames in that iteration (seen below).
All in all, it was an incredibly quick shoot, and here’s a behind the scenes time lapse of the entire process…