I’m a control freak. I’ll admit it. To a large extent, it’s helped me in my career, but along the way I’ve come to realize that I can’t always do everything by myself. A recent celebrity portrait project put that to the test. Although the photographs themselves were quite simple in execution, this project would challenge me in a new strange way.
The portraits in this post were taken to to support my friend Lauren Bush Lauren’s charity, FEED Projects. Lauren and I dreamt up a concept for the shoot over coffee. We would capture portraits of FEED’s celebrity ambassadors and influencers in a studio setting that felt classic, natural, and share a moment of intimacy between friends or business partners. It would be the first major advertising campaign effort for FEED, and although grassroots, the final images would live in a lot of major places, including Vanity Fair, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, and Elle, just to name a few.
Okay… This all sounds great, but there was one big problem- as much as I’d love to volunteer my time for every single portrait, each image was shot on a different day and conflicted with the busiest few months of my year as a freelance photographer. It is an honor to give my time to a charity and create something that would contribute to raising funds for a good cause, but I had already confirmed and held days for other projects. My schedule was locked-in. Yes- I had days free, but they weaved in and out of the other projects in no logical order. (Sometimes my schedule looks like throwing a bucket of paint at a calendar.) Another major problem was that the subjects Lauren had lasso’d to be part of the project were way more important and busier than I, and could not confirm dates very far in advance. Knowing this, we had to be loosey-goosey and come up with a plan in case I couldn’t make it to one of the shoots.
So, rather than turn down such a cool opportunity in its entirety, I came up with a solution and was very honest to Lauren about my previous commitments- I would design a look and lighting style for the campaign, so there is a sense of cohesion among the images and they look part of the same series, but I couldn’t promise to be there if schedules didn’t line up. If a subject scheduled within a day I wasn’t available, the look and feel would need to be able to be replicated by another photographer I trust. Since I moved into my first-ever-very-own-studio-space at the beginning of this year, luckily I was able to leave everything more or less set up during the duration of the shoot days.
Miraculously, between being on other assignments in Morocco, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, Germany, and then Alaska yet again, I only missed one photoshoot- Anne Hathaway and her husband Adam Shulman. I know it sucks because Anne Hathaway is an incredible actress, but I still consider missing just this shoot extremely lucky. Since we had planned this might happen, we already had a game plan: Lights were built, their positions were marked and taped to the floor, and the exact ratios of key and fill light scribbled on a piece of paper. After walking my good friend photographer Oscar Zabala and my assistant Caleb Adams through the setup, I hit the road knowing they would crush it while I was gone.
Photography is a lot more than just technical aspects, but Oscar is also no noob to the other important skills a photographer must have. Lighting aside, he contributed heavily to making the subjects comfortable, making sure the clothing worked with the look and feel, and of course influencing a relaxed pose.
I was in Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle in the middle of a setup for National Geographic’s “Life Below Zero” when I heard my phone bleep… I took off my half frozen glove and took a peep at the screen- it was an iMessage from Oscar saying the shoot went well, with an attachment of one of the shots. I can’t say I really had a sigh of relief, because actually I trusted them to pull it off.
So, what is the takeaway here? Photographers can be control freaks. Sometimes we have to let go and contribute to the greater project as a whole, similar to how a film crew works together. I can share Oscar’s image here on my blog as part of this post, but obviously it can’t live in portfolio simply because it’s not my work… but in the end we got the job done. I know that a photographer can never be replaced by a robot on set with an iPad for a face- The nature of the work is too personal and intimate. However, when you put trust in the right people, you can pull off things that would otherwise never come into fruition.
Joey L. is a commercial photographer, director and published author based in Brooklyn, New York. A sensitive observer of endangered cultures and traditions, Joey travels the globe creating dramatic portraits while giving the viewer a powerful insight into his subjects’ lives. His photo series range from Brooklyn, New York to Siberut, Indonesia; proof of an artist equally comfortable with the familiar and the exotic. His work is cinematic and contemporary – a fine art portrait approach to subjects once only seen in photojournalistic styles.
J.L. about the used broncolor products
“Although they may look like tools meant to communicate with extraterrestrials, the broncolor parabolics actually make a beautiful quality of light. The Move 1200L was designed for travel and portable photography, but I also find a lot of use for it inside my studio. I was shooting with flash, but I like to leave on the LED modelling light on the MobiLED head as a constant light source, since this contributes as a focus light, but also to behind the scenes images and videos. The quality of light gave everyone in the room a sense of how the final image will look.”