I was recently given my first assignment by Sky Sports magazine NZ (sadly it was for their last issue) to produce a portrait of Mark Gilbert, the US Ambassador to New Zealand. When I first got the assignment I was a little apprehensive, knowing that it would be quite a pressured assignment. But simultaneously I was also quietly excited about the possibilities for a great portrait. The US Ambassador is an ex-White Sox baseball player and the crux of the story, at least as far as my part was concerned, was to tell the amalgamated tale of a sportsman-turned-ambassador.
I had two weeks to arrange a suitable time for the shoot and plan details for the portrait. It is very easy for your imagination to run wild with ideas for portraits (or photo ideas in general for that matter), and this assignment was no exception. The embassy’s press officer and I discussed possibilities of how to visually tell this story. Based on these conversations and further discussions I had with the journalist writing the article and the magazine’s editor and art director, I imagined myriad such scenarios including:
Mark standing, resting against a large, plush desk in his office at the embassy, while gently leaning forwards resting both hands on top of a baseball bat. A shelf lined with books in the background, and dappled, golden afternoon sunlight streaming through a window.
At his home standing sideways-on to the camera, in front of a large mosaic of President Obama, a baseball bat resting on one shoulder, a catcher’s mitt resting in the other hand; cross-lit but with light shadows to create a subtle sense of drama.
Email conversations with the writer and the magazines editor and art director yielded more useful ideas for the theme of the shoot: Rolled-up sleeves CHECK. Casually leaning against desk CHECK. Pretending to take a swing at an invisible ball NO WAY (if you Google baseball portraits, this is probably one of the most common poses). Draping the American flag over one shoulder, or have it hanging in the back ground. CLICHÉ ALERT (or so I thought!).
To prepare for the assignment, I created a shot list of 4-5 variations of the shots I would like to use; from full-length shots to tight close-ups. I even tested the simple two-light set-up. When the day of the shoot arrived, I was nervous but prepared. All equipment was packed and ready. I’d taken the day off work so no time pressure there.
It took me ten minutes to have my equipment X-rayed at the security gate, handed over my iPhone (no phones or cameras allowed – at least they didn’t take this rule too seriously!). I then met the press officer and we entered the foyer of the main embassy building.
There we were confronted with an impenetrable wall of glass, with a US marine barely visible through all of that semi-transparent protection. Here I handed over my NZ drivers license (as a form of photo ID) in return for a clip-on ID badge. The marine, in all of his well-drilled-robot-like fashion, proceeded to instruct the press officer of the rules I MUST follow, all the while referring to me in the third person. I guess I was invisible through all of that toughened glass (must have been unable to see me due to internal reflection or something).
With a roll of her eyes, the press officer escorted me into their media briefing room where I was informed that this would be the sole location for the shoot. It was a featureless room of approximately four metres by four metres, stuffed with chairs, a lectern, tables, audio-visual equipment and other non-descript items for all your media briefing needs. Initially I was a bit panicked when I was told that this was it. More so when I was told that the Ambassador had an important guest arriving imminently and I would only have 20 minutes to do the portrait.
Luckily for me the media room had several backdrops (black/blue curtains were my background of choice), four LED panel lights and a spotlight mounted on rails attached to the ceiling, and most importantly, an AV tech that knew how to use them. They also had an American flag I could use as part of the background! All of this enabled me to mimic a studio-look to the portrait, and to hide the fact that we were in a featureless media briefing room.
With a handshake firm enough to cause a temporary disability in my trigger finger, the Ambassador greeted me, and we ‘shot the shit,’ as they say, and proceeded with the shoot. Mark had fun toying with me, pointing out the irony of an Englishman using imperial measurements to give directions……..can you just step back with your left foot a couple of inches……..
Explaining to the AV tech the look I was after and the lighting style I wanted to use (contrasty, cross/back-lighting on the subject, with a spotlight on the background) I managed to come away from this shoot with some reasonable portraits under the circumstances. Not quite what I had in mind originally, but the moral of this story is to always expect (and if you can plan for it) the unexpected!
Several months ago I was commissioned to photograph Glenn Milnes of New Zealand software company Ike GPS. The company creates software that allows the accurate measurement of geographic features within a photograph taken from any smart phone. As the company had recently launched onto the New Zealand stock exchange, the angle for the story was floatation.
The magazine’s art director had arrange for the shoot to go ahead at Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre in Kilbirnie, and luckily for me, Glenn was pretty flexible time-wise meaning I could schedule this shoot in the evening after work. Below are some of the images from the shoot:
A couple of months ago I was commissioned by Unlimited Magazine to produce a portrait of Phil and Ted’s CEO, Campbell Gower. This was for the style of portrait known as The Office, and is predominantly more about environment than the person. Phil and Ted’s is an innovative designer of pushchairs and strollers. As you can see from the images below, this creative flair is fully incorporated into the fun and lively workspace. The assignment took about 1.5 hours, including the 40 minutes of manic driving to and from my work to the offices of Phil and Ted’s in the Wellington suburb of Newtown, during my lunch hour(s).
A couple of months ago I was given an assignment by Unlimited magazine to photograph David Dell. The Sheet Music Archive is located at the former site of the National Centre for Biosecurity and Disease Control (which has now move to the site next door) on Ward Street in Upper Hutt. The whole site has the appearance of an abandoned town, with numerous dirty, empty institutional-style buildings, desolate spaces with no human presence (except for myself and David Dell) and vegetation that is gradually asserting its dominance and creeping across and through unused tarmac.
The Sheet Music Archive itself is housed in a small, dark portacabin and is filled with boxes of, and random stacks of sheet music. Being run by volunteers, it might not be the most modern of archives but has its own chaotic charm, which to me suits the idea (at least visually) of an archive. Below are portraits of David Dell, who is the lead volunteer for the Sheet Music Archive.
These images were shot a few months ago for an article on Wellington’s popular ‘street characters’.
Back in November I was commissioned by Unlimited magazine to produce a portrait of Ben Fulton, owner and founder of Red Witch Guitar Pedals. The plan was to give the portrait the look and feel of a music gig. I also liked the idea of having a wall of guitars in the background. Kudos and BIG Thanks to Hayden Okey, manager of The Rockshop Wellington for allowing me to occupy his shop for an hour while shooting these pictures. The shots were reasonably straight forward to set up, due to the fact that I had previously taken an ambient light reading from the shop on a previous visit (ambient light levels not varying greatly on a day-to-day basis) and played with the lighting set-up in my living room on the evening before the shoot. I arrived 15 minutes early to ensure all my equipment was set-up and ready to roll when Ben arrived.