Friday, 15 October 2010

Sophie Fiennes and Benedict Cumberbatch

When I set out last Thursday my schedule looked pretty leisurely. One profile portrait in the late morning and one in the late afternoon and clear space in between to ingest, do an initial edit and acquire from raw. But Schedules have a habit of sliding. Job one gets put back an hour Job two becomes job three and then hey presto! at the last minute a fourth portrait has to be filleted into the ever contracting time-scale.

Of course, by the standards of any Fleet Street news photography this would still be a pretty cushy line-up but I wanted to light all of these and really take time to get it right.

My first assignment was the film-maker Sophie Fiennes to be photographed in a soho club. She was delayed and given her family name it would be easy to assume that she was running late from a clutch breakfast TV appearances. But in truth, it was simply that she had a bit of a nightmare with getting her baby buggy onto the bus from South London where she lives. Ah how refreshing!

It turns out that my vague expectation of theatrical intensity couldn't have been wider of the mark. The night before I had tried to do a little research including watching a clip from her 2003 documentary "The Perverts Guide to Cinema." This is a serious and thought-provoking philosophical examination of cinema. So I'm still not quite sure why I imagined that she would be late due to extended carousing with the green-room glitterati of the morning TV circuit. It is a patently ridiculous image but there you are - the mind is a funny thing.

Anyway, it gave me time to prepare and pre-light. When I first invested in portable studio lighting I decided to go the Profoto route. This was mainly because of their abundance in the rental market. I had used all sorts of kit for various shoots but Profoto seemed to be the industry standard for rental in the US and not only was it therefore the most familiar but also it meant that any additional kit I might need from time to time would use the same reflectors and light-shaping tools that I was already buying.

For these short shoots I tend to use the old-style 600ws mono-block because it is so quick to deploy and the fine-tuning is child's play - one twisty dial with clearly marked stop-fractions on it. So up it went, with a medium Chimera soft-box and an egg-crate to limit the spill and reflect black into the skin for punchy details.

Having finished the interview Sophie arrives in the room set aside for photos. Completely friendly and down to earth, she breezes through the shoot and even jokes about trying not to look too stern. Her only concern is to get back to her new (and first) baby so with that in mind, I aim not to take any more time than is needed.

At the other end of the day; a late arriving assignment to photograph the actor Benedict Cumberbatch whose recent portrayal of a modern-day Sherlock Holmes won praise from critics and (more significantly) from my teenage son!

At the BBC building where the interview is scheduled they do not allow photography so we agree to take the movable feast across the road to the lobby of a rather smart hotel (who asked not to be identified in any pictures) and I go with his publicist to speak with the manager for permission to take photos there.

Manager arrives and the Publicist sweetly explains that we are doing a little interview and would it be possible to take a couple of pictures. She promises that there will be no disruption and wont take long. Manager agrees as long as we make no mention of the hotel in the pictures or captions.

All good! We return to the lobby and I get to work.

Ezra Stoller claimed that location work is 5% inspiration and 95% moving furniture! This however is nearer 99% and soon the pristine lobby looks like an unprovoked act of aggression by the Furniture Liberation Front.

For some insane reason I decide to use a grid spot for this picture and end up with a beam of light that is a bit too narrow and without adequate space to move the light back to soften the fall-off. Switching beween grids and then repositioning the light is easy with a bit of help but on your own it's slow and each adjustment feels like it takes forever.

Luckily for me, Benedict is completely chilled and HIS only concerns are a change of shirt and not appearing to be Sherlock in private life as well as professional.

It's at this point that I really wish there was enough in the day rate for an assistant. Every tweak of the lights eats a little more time and a little more patience. I get tantalisingly close to the picture I want but in the end we just run out of minutes and space.

Chalk it up as a draw rather than a victory.


Greg Funnell said...

Nice post Justin. Had a similar experience today with regards to wishing you had an assistant on the shoot but not having the budget to do so. Plenty of running to and fro and then praying they don't get blown over in the wind. Maybe someday, someone will invent DIY robotic radio-controlled roving lights...probably in America.

Justin Sutcliffe said...

Thanks Greg, I try to accentuate the humour of these situations. I miss the days when I had a full-time assistant. It's not just the extra pair of hands but also that second opinion that helps so much...
My assistant in Nw York (Devra) used to ask, "are you going to do it like that?....... "Realy?......hmmmmm."
This was always a good clue that I should re-think and find a better solution.
Would love to hear more posts about your 600se I covet that camera greatly! Justin.

James Wm. Dawson said...

Any assistant would be nice. Someone to make sure the strobes don't get blown over by an errant gust of wind whilst holding a reflector .... perhaps like Greg says someone will invent a robot assistant thingy.

More than likely it will be a DIY tool belt that lets you attach a monopod strobe light and a mouth-stem controlled widget to adjust the reflector ... all while allowing you to keep at least one hand free to hold the camera .... :-)

Justin Sutcliffe said...

Hi James,

I had one the other day where I had one arm inside a triflector above my head and the other holding the camera. Windy day, wide open on the 35mm f1.4!

I got about one shot in every ten where the focus and light actually worked. Maybe less!