Band shoots, well me and band shoots we don't get along. It's not down to any bad experiences with diva like band members, it's down to well...I don't know what. I've just always avoided them. I have seen very little band photography that I personally like other than Leibovitz's work with the Stones. So like I say I don't photograph bands....well until recently.
Around a month back I received an email from a band called White asking me if I photographed bands and If I would photograph them. The email was nice and courteous so I responded asking if I could hear some of their music. I was quickly sent a link to a private Soundcloud. The music was cool so I agreed to sit down in person and discuss some concepts to see if we were the right fit for each other.
I went to their studio/house to meet them. They were cool and had some good ideas for imagery, in their words they wanted images that were, "cinematic with grit and dark glamour." They referenced David Lynch and spoke about Brutalist Architecture. We chatted for around an hour and I said I was into the project and would get back to them with 3 individual concepts over the coming weeks.
As I was coming up with concepts the phrase "cinematic with grit," kept coming back to me. Whenever I think of cinematic and gritty photography I think of Magnum photographer Alex Webb. He has a way of composing incredibely busy and complex scenes within a frame to make them look like movie stills, the images are also undeniably gritty as they are street photographs. You can see some of his images below. It made sense to me shoot the band in a street scene, you have 5 individual subjects which have to work independently of themselves but also work in unison with each other within the frame.
Near where I live there is a wonderful space beneath an overpass. I don't know what it is or was, it just seems to be a grey mess of harsh oppressive concrete. I immediately went there to reccie the location and mockup potential shots.
A quick note on reccies: If you don't know what a reccie is; its where you go and view the location you will be shooting at/in/around prior to shooting there. If the job allows and there are no time constraints I will always try and do a reccie and I'd urge you too. It enables you to take reference images which you can feed back to the client. Doing a reccie also takes a huge amount of stress off on the actual shoot day and saves a huge amount of time as you already know where you will be shooting, your composition and how you will light it.
Below are 3 of Alex Webb's images that I cited for reference for the shoot as well as reccie shots with mockups of potential arrangements for the band members. (excuse the crudely drawn stick figures) As you can see I have drawn a triangle in the final image, this was to show the relationship between the subjects within the frame and strengthen the over all composition.
For the second concept I looked at the reference images the band gave me as well as another Alex Webb image. Which you can see below. All the images that were provided by the band are marked with 'Band Reference' the final image is by Alex Webb. Unfortunately I do not know the source of these images other than Webb's. If you do know, please leave a comment and I will credit them accordingly.
Here is how I used each image to help me create a clear and concise concept for the band.
- Was used primarily as a colour reference. Clear blocks of colour working together in unison to create a beautiful complementary palette.
- Used for colour reference and mood.
- Primarily used as a lighting reference. Harsh deep shadows and almost clipped highlights.
- Is for composition and expression it helped to place the band in the final image.
- Was used for colour palette, composition and light.
The concept was to have the band arranged neatly in a line photographed in portrait orientation, all looking at different points in the frame, the clothing was to be large blocks of colour which worked harmounously and the light was to be harsh deep rich shadows with nice pushed highlights.
The final concept was easiest of all. I decided I would make a safe shot. By safe shot I mean a clean and clear photograph which would show who they were stylistically and please the bands label. In my studio we have a double wall infinity cove. Pictured below. Having a double wall is really useful when photographing large groups and objects. It means that I can be positioned off the cove and still use a flattering focal length whilst getting the entire band into the picture.
Concept One - A street seen with the band arranged as seemingly non related figures within the frame but working harmoniously to create a strong striking image.
Concept Two - Dark and moody with the band seated on the ground; the light harsh and the shadows rich with large blocks of colour to separate them from a black background.
Concept Three - The band arranged in a large open, infinite white space, clean and clear lighting.
On the day of the shoot I chose to shoot the second concept first. This was because this concept required the most amount of setup due to the complexity of the lighting and the arrangement of the band. See below for a detailed lighting plan and arrangement.
As you can see there are multiple heads all with the same 10° Honeycomb grid attached to them. This is to give each subject their own spotlight and create a dark and gritty mood. The centre subject and vocalist Leo I lit with a beauty dish and grid, this was to set him apart from the rest the rest of the group and to show that he is the frontman. By shooting the light across the frame it allows me to position each light perfectly to give a flattering light but also to set in shadows. As you can see the clothing was selected carefully to create strong blocks of colour to complement each other. A Tiffin 0.6 ND filter and the low ISO setting, (ISO 50) was used to kill all ambient light within the scene as any would have ruined the over all mood. This was shot tethered to lightroom to allow the band to signoff as we shot. You can see the final image below. You can also download the Lightroom preset for this shot here.
The second Shot/Concept Three
Once we had wrapped and the band had signed off on concept one I opted to shoot concept three next; as it was studio based it made no sense to leave to the studio and then to have to return. Out of all the shots this was by far the easiest to shoot. As it only required two lights and a very simple arrangement of the band members. See below for a detailed lighting plan and camera settings.
As you can see the band were arranged in a Hexagon with tallest band members placed at the rear of the shot to allow a nice triangle to be made from their heads that leads you around the image. To get the maximum depth of field it was shot at f/18 t to allow overall sharpness across all subjects. As this is a small f-stop I had to drag the shutter to a 50th and set the ISO to 400 to allow ambient light to enter the scene. A large 7 foot Parabolic Umbrella with Diffusion sock was used to fill on the right hand side of the frame and a large beauty dish with Grid was used for a fill on the left. The image can be seen below.
The final shot. Concept One.
After we broke for lunch we went to final location under the bridge where I used my reference images for placement of my subjects. This image was shot on my Fuji Xpro - 1 with the 18mm Lens using only natural light. I chose the wide angle lens as I find this gives images a more cinematic feel. Again I chose to have the subjects arranged in a way that creates a hexagon within the scene and creates a relationship between them all. I used the Fuji for this as it's small portable, has fantastic dynamic range and handles noise better than any other system I have used. You can see the final image below.