Sunday, 14 November 2010

Breaking Mr Bailey's rules

David Bailey has probably forgotten more about Portrait photography than I will ever know and for that reason his cardinal rule that your subject should never have their hands on their face unless it is for very dramatic effect has been a guiding principle for me in all instances.

But on a gorgeous sunny autumn morning a few weeks ago in Primrose hill I broke his rule (and mine) and lived to tell the tale - just about.

With the sun streaming in through the windows of the Albert Pub and a coffee on the go I started the preparations to photograph Hayley Atwell, star of the new adaptation of "Any Human Heart" (starting on November 21st - Channel 4). I cleared the decks of all extraneous furniture and set up the lights, placing one small bare table and chair in the empty space I had made. In the background the sun lit up an etched window and the dark wooden floorboards soaked up the spare ambient to give it a nice contrasty feel.

Flare looks great on the Canon 5D and the strong sun just cresting over the rooftops of the houses opposite, gave me inspiration. Now it's not very clever to get too wedded to an idea but somehow I wanted to bring that beautiful day inside and no matter what I tried to set up as a second shot, I kept stooping to get the rings of red and green flare bursting through the frame, completely seduced by the atmosphere.

Hayley exuded a kind of warmth and dare I say it, a certain dreaminess too. Chatting away, she sank into an elegant outline with her face resting naturally on her hand. My immediate reaction was to stop shooting but she looked so relaxed and fixed me with an enigmatic smile that I just couldn't read. So I carried on taking pictures.

I spent ages looking at this frame during my edit and I've since gone back to it, trying to decide what that expression is. Sometimes I think it's cool and detached sometimes it looks as if she is recalling a memory or caught in a pleasant daydream.

Truthfully it's unlikely I'll ever to know for sure what was going through her mind but an occasional mystery can't hurt. In the meantime, the "hands away from face" rule is back in full force!


James Wm. Dawson said...

hmm that is a dreamy stare fixed on you ... need I say more :-)

Justin Sutcliffe said...

James, great to hear from you and sorry for the delayed response.
Miss Atwell certainly has a great stare. Hard to think properly if you get caught in those high-beams!