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 first part of his story.
When working with a notable personality in front of the camera, your time as a photographer is generally very limited. The bigger they are, the less time you get, and five minutes (or less) is what you can expect to have in this type of situation.
Of course, the idea is to hopefully get to the location or studio with more than enough time to set up, so that when the talent arrives, you can do when you need to do, and get them on their way.
My current record for a portrait sitting was with the rock band, Primus, who I shot last summer at a backstage portrait studio I had set up right outside of their RV. They walked out of the RV, onto my set, and then directly to the main stage to headline the festival. I shot them in 18 seconds.
Though this isn’t always the case, being able to work very quickly- and under pressure, is a valuable asset as a photographer, and has helped me to become a better photographer even when I have all the time in the world.
Based on these experiences, I’ve gotten to be pretty decent at improvising on the fly, and I actually prefer to work quickly with whoever I have in front of my lens.
When time allows, my flow on almost any shoot is to work with the talent in short spurts, hopefully getting the right vibe or energy out of them in few minute intervals, and allowing them to relax a bit between each setup.
This was the case with a good friend of mine, Ted Dwane, who’s the bass player for Mumford & Sons. We caught up when he was in New York earlier this summer, he told me about his really cool AirBnB space he was staying in, and I talked him into doing a quick portrait. Of course, it helped that Ted is also a great portrait photographer, and understood what I was trying to do.
In terms of setup, If i’m running the show, I usually try to photograph something that’s well produced (usually lit with flash), as well as something that’s really loose (often using ambient light, or minimal flash), like the photo above. Sometimes one works much better than the other, but when they both work out, I end up with two distinct portrait styles- which is really positive not only for myself, but for any client I’m working with as well.
When I got to Ted’s apartment, there were a few key things that immediately caught my eye: the soft daylight pouring in the window, the vintage furniture, and the guitars and banjos laying all over. I was literally in conversation with him when I shot the above photo, and I simply asked if he wouldn’t mind sitting down and playing for a few.
I knew that I also wanted to shoot something a bit more formal, so we went out to his terrace, and had him straddle the ledge. I set up a Profoto Softbox RFi 3’ Octa, with a RFi Speedight Speedring, and two speedlights, which helped to not only build some contrast in his skin tone, but also let me keep some detail in the sky.
I often work without an assistant and resort to small flash for a very simple and portable portrait setup. The RFi Speedring lets me pair these flashes with much more sophisticated light shapers than I’ve ever had access to in the past.
All said and done, we shot both setups in about half an hour. Fifteen minutes or less of that was actual shooting time, and I think we ended up with a few really strong frames.
Well, I hope this post was insightful, and if you have any questions at all, please let me know here, and I’ll try and get right back to you!