One of the things I love about working with Dana is just how easy it seems to be. We touch base when we’re in the same town, decide the plan is coming together, and pull off a fun shoot that always seems to pay off with some badass photos. This was absolutely the definition of an off-the-cuff photoshoot, and it was a testament to what to creative people can do when they really want to do it.
I found myself back in Brooklyn for a photoshoot with one of Bollywood’s most successful actors and a recognizable face and name in Hollywood (more on that later), and I couldn’t help but reach out to Dana knowing that he and Jordin were in town for her to star in the Broadway play Waitress. He and I had stayed in touch since our first shoot out in LA, and had just been waiting for another opportunity to get together. My timeline was tight because I had to fly directly from NYC to LA the next day for another set of photoshoots (You can check out one of those here). So, we planned to piggyback on the space I had rented for my other photoshoot in Brooklyn and make something happen.
The first step was putting together a quick storyboard so Dana could try and pull a couple of outfits for the shoot and we could come into it with a little bit of a plan in terms of mood and style. I was already going to have shot in the space some so I would know what could be achieved from a lighting perspective in the space and come up with 2-3 quick lighting scenarios to go to over the course of the shoot. The shoot came together quick and free flowing, but we had about an hour or so of studio time and a plan of execute 3-4 different looks during that timeframe.
When Dana arrived at the studio I was ready to go and had already switched over from my previous shoot to the first lighting setup I wanted to use. It’s a simple setup that has become a go-to for me over the past year or two as a great first set for photographing men. It consists of two black v-flats setup close together and using only one light. I use the Profoto B10+ head with a Profoto 4×1’ Strip Softbox set up horizontally and angled down slightly at just about head height. The goal is to know how tall your subject is and try to get that light just low enough that it catches in the eye. If it’s too low the image will look flat and washed out, and if it’s too high it won’t catch in the iris and the image will have some odd shadows and give the actor/model/subject a dead-eyed look. The black flat’s really shape the face and the single, soft yet contrasty light source gives a really flattering look in my opinion. Dana got ready and popped on a horizontally striped shirt and we went to work.
The second look was similar to the first and the lighting setup was almost identical. I just added a second light with a 3’ Octabox to camera left to give a small pop into the iris and a little more directional light on the face. Dana through a cool coat over the top of the shirt and we had some fun playing with the collar and doing some shots with him facing away from me more rather than towards me. After capturing some great looks I noticed that Dana’s eyes were similar to the grey color of the coat and knew I was going to end up selecting more of the close up shots rather than the pulled back ones I’d captured to highlight that cool little feature.
After feeling like we had exhausted that setup, Dana went to change into a new outfit and I did a quick rearrange of the space. I added in this cool old chair that was in the studio and flipped my lighting around. I pulled one of the v-flats out completely and backed the one on camera left away a little bit to give some space while still adding some darkness and contrast to one side of the image. Next, I pulled the 3’ Octabox off of the light and added my 69” Elinchrom Octabox as the main light source. I had that to camera right at about 6.5” up so that the bottom of the octabox would be right around eye level when Dana was sitting. I feathered that across the scene to give a nice, soft, cinematic quality and knew that most of my light was going to be coming from that light source. Finally, I took the light with the 4×1’ strip softbox and rearranged it back to a vertical orientation. That light was set back to camera left just to create a dynamic catch light in the eye and give the slightest amount of fill from camera left, rounding out the image.
Dana jumped into the frame and we went to work shooting. Dana is a professional and doesn’t need a ton of feedback so we cranked some music and allowed that to drive a lot of the mood and feel for the images. I like to give some feedback and keep the subject moving in the frame if I can, and if I see something that I really like I’ll tell them to hold it for a second or go back to what they were just doing and massage that look with some coaching until I really get something I like. We shot on the chair, off the chair, backwards, forwards, and got some cool stuff with this look before removing the chair completely and bringing in a stool. Dana had seen an image he liked and a pose he wanted to try. One of the things I love the most about portrait shoots and any shoot really is the collaborative nature on set between different creatives, so I was all about shooting the image. We brought the coat back in and fired off a couple of quick frames before moving on to the last set of images.
For these I wanted to add some movement. Dana threw the coat back on and I set the lights to a higher position since he was going to be walking back and forth. The key here was to try and catch a frame that had Dana posed well and the coat with enough movement in it to look “in action” rather than just awkward. It took a couple of tries with the timing of pressing the shutter, but in the end we caught some cool frames and liked the end result.
The entire shoot felt like it went by in a blur from the planning and communication stages through the execution, but we came away with some cool images and had some fun just getting together again and talking about being dads raising young boys. It always comes back to creating relationships with the people you work with and Dana’s friendship will always be the best takeaway I can have coming out of one of our photoshoots no matter what we captured.