I’ve always been a fast shooter. I don’t know what it is about me, or my way of thinking, that makes me work so fast (and efficiently, I hope?) but I often get “the shot” I envision much faster than expected sometimes. I think it comes from experience mostly, and knowing how to handle situations. Case in point, (and little known fact) some of the more popular shots in my music portfolio such as There For Tomorrow, Mayday Parade, We The Kings, Breathe Carolina and Steve Aoki were all one minute shoots done backstage at concerts. There was zero time to setup. I literally took around 3-5 photos before these artists were dragged away from me by managers and/or media.
Being prepared for anything and, more importantly, being able to adapt to anything have probably become the two most important things in my life let alone my photography.
So back to the title of this post – the one minute photoshoot. I’d like to share a very recent experience with you and a few things I learned along the way as I made the best of a situation as fast as I could.
On day 4 in the recording studio with Lights I arrived ahead of everyone else, and as I walked through the halls of the building I noticed a heap of furniture against the white brick wall. (*my creative mind screams* Awesome!) I must have walked by this at least half a dozen times before on previous days, but never really thought much of it. But this time was different for whatever reason, maybe because I was feeling more comfortable and had the freedom to explore before the day got started. So amongst the chairs, electronic pianos, guitar cases and road bikes (common recording studio stuff, right?) was this humble little black leather couch. I’m thinking… white brick wall + hard wood floor + couch = cute/simple portrait of Lights on couch. Perfect, right!? I cleared the stuff away from around the couch, snapped a quick test shot and went inside.
Lights arrived shortly thereafter and we hung out for a bit, played some iPad video games and I realised this day was already going to be pretty relaxed - no one was really feeling the need to get down to business right away. Turns out we were waiting for a few special guests to arrive and there was some time to kill. This gave me the opportunity to ask if I could take a couple portraits outside in the hallway. “Of course!” she says after I showed her the test shot on my camera and what I had in mind. That was key - and in a more difficult situation would have meant half the battle won because if I was working with someone who was more uptight than Lights (i.e. 80% of most people), showing a rough idea of what I want to achieve helps them visualise the end result. It also proves you know what you’re doing, and by already having an idea in mind this reinforces the fact that everything will be quick and painless.
Regardless of how much fun we were having in the studio that day, I knew she was there to get work done – not necessarily be harassed by me for photos unrelated to the project at hand. So being conscious and respectful of that, I wanted to make it quick. I grabbed my 7D outfitted with a 10-20mm Sigma and off we went to the hallway. I was in such a rush that I didn’t even think to grab one of the two flashes I had with me as well.
I had a rough idea of the exposure I needed thanks to the test shot I took earlier. But when Lights sat down, I took one shot and examined it and a couple things were going wrong: a) I didn’t like the look of her on the couch and I thought maybe this was a terrible idea and b) the shadows on her face were really dark because I had no flash/reflector/nothing. Now, the funny part about this whole situation is that Lights is a really cool person and if I asked her to wait a minute while I ran and grabbed a flash it would be no big deal at all. But I’m so used to shooting under pressure with people on tight deadlines that the thought never even entered my head. Also, as a photographer you always want to appear like you know what your doing - if you’re running around switching lenses and making weird faces or sighs your subject is going to lose interest in you. So I did what I do best I guess – I adapted. I needed to capture as much light as possible. I ramped up my ISO to 1600, decreased my shutter speed to 1/40 and brought my aperture down to 4.0. I knew this was the slowest shutter speed I could get away with - because the most important thing at this point was to ensure the photo was crisp and clear regardless of how dark it was. I knew I could bring the RAW files to life again later in Photoshop.
I snapped a few more shots and something still wasn’t quite right – it didn’t feel like Lights. It didn’t feel like me either, if that makes any sense – the composition was uncomfortable and wasn’t fun or engaging at all.
Something had to change, so I asked her to lean forward or rest her arms on her knees and I took one last shot. I glanced down at my camera and I knew that was it. That was the shot - the best I could do with the equipment I had and the crazy deadline ticking in my head. I showed her, she was happy, and we both went back inside and got to work! It was a nice reminder that you don’t always have to have a million flashes and hours of shooting time to get a great shot:
So to summarize the point of this post:
1) Always be prepared - have a vision in mind, play it out in your head
2) Know your equipment like the back of your hand - what are the limitations
3) Make the best of situations - stay calm, find solutions
4) Be professional - be courteous of your subject
and most importantly 5) Have fun - be approachable and sociable
…because it will show in the photos.
All images, videos, text copyright © Matt Vardy, all rights reserved.