If “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” – a quote that, as a sometime music critic for the past 10 years, I’ve heard (and lived) over and over again – then what is, uh, portraiture about music? I don’t mean live music here; I mean, how do you capture what a musician is all about in a portrait or promotional photograph?
For lots of rock and metal bands it seems simple enough. Stick a few dudes in front of a brick wall, in a grungy alleyway, or in the midst of a wintry forest, and you’re good to go. Doesn’t seem like the standards for this kind of promo photography are all that high – or maybe it’s just that I hang around low-budget indie bands. (Yeah, it’s probably that.) Anyway, I did a promo shoot for Sarah Fridrich, who is a pianist, guitarist, singer/songwriter whose music tends to be a little brooding, a little quirky, a little jazzy. And we had a hard time figuring out what the right kind of image for her would be.
Divorced from these concerns, my favorite image from the shoot is this one, but it’s probably more appropriate for a musician whose material is more romantic and dreamy than Sarah’s is:
Technique-wise, nothing fancy. The two above were shot with available light and a single SB-800 through a shoot-through umbrella, camera right, plus a touch of on-axis fill. I did some dodging to bring out detail in Sarah’s dark hair. The second shot went through some blur and tonal shifting as well. We did some more shots inside which required a bit more lighting: below, a shot in front of a red wall with a bare light through a houseplant to create a little interest on the background, camera left and a shoot-through umbrella’d light camera right. I’m using this shot as an example of mistakes galore – the background light is too close, creating that distracting glare; the main light should have been gobo’ed to prevent spillage on to the wall; and most of all there’s not enough separation between subject and background, which would have made the above two issues easier to fix.
OK, and one more – we did a couple on a nicely textured wood stairwell. For the full-length shots like the one below, I needed two main lights, as one wasn’t sufficient to light the entire subject. Took a bit of experimenting to minimize the specular highlights on those wooden steps (and the shot might still benefit from a few seconds of work burning out what highlights are left there). Also, it was impossible to completely eliminate shadows on the back wall, but I think I controlled them enough that they’re not too distracting.
This photo was blurred and toned in the same way the second shot above was. Kind of a lazy, global retouching method, but in limited instances I do like the look.
Obviously I have my nitpicks, and obviously I have a lot to learn here, but overall I’m pretty happy with the results. Only problem is, many of these shots aren’t quite what Sarah was looking for image-wise. The shot above with the red background, for instance, is probably way too happy and cutesy, even if it is a fun pic. So we’re still brainstorming.
A couple more of these are here in this Flickr set.