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Friday, March 6, 2009

••◊ Working with Norah

In a previous post I mentioned working with a young female musician. I now have the pleasure of introducing Norah Cunningham to you. She is a 13 year old musical development client of my friends Ken and Becky at Active Audio & Entertainment. This photo shoot was primarily focused towards her online promotion, with myspace being the default vehicle.

So let's talk photography - Norah is a fairly laid back person and not a bubbly high-fashion glamour queen, so I knew that we would have to be a bit more serious with the compositions. In my planning I thought subdued lighting and getting "the look" using her eyes would probably be the best way to capture her personality. In that sense, these photos were somewhere between photo journalism and studio portraiture.

Norah plays the piano, sings, and takes her musicianship much more serious than I ever did at 13. Who am I kidding, that would actually be more seriously than I ever did. In order to capture that thoughful nature I found inspiration from a studio portrait of Tony Bennett taken by Joe McNally. Norah actually also picked it out of a line up of example photos I brought to her during the the pre-production meeting. What can I say...she has good taste - because I was going to have her do that photo anyway! The photo was taken in a doorway where she could be sufficiently out of ambient daylight. I then used a softbox to one side of her to overpower the remaining ambient and viola! This picture was actually setup 180 degrees from the previous photo.

Just for good measure I knew I had to throw in a piano somewhere in the series of photos. It was also an excuse to use my pride and joy in the shot again (yes, that's MY custom made Pearlman mic, even though Ken likes to think differently on occasion). This shot was loosely inspired by a slightly different composition from Martin Prihoda. I changed the framing, lighting, and angle but the basic composition was balanced the same way by using the artist on the left and the microphone on the right. The background is just ambient daylight fill and there is a softbox at camera right shining directly at Norah.

We also did a series of night shots. The lighting setup here was a bit deceptive. I know it looks simple in the final product, but not so quick... What I did here was to use a open framed softbox at camera right to control spill and shoot it toward a gold bounce card at camera left to get the key light. The spill gives just a slight hair light to frame her face. Lucky for us, Norah's parents had tungsten Christmas lights which I was able to hang on a bare tree in the background for some bokeh.

So what did I learn?

  1. Watch out for the talent's hair/makeup or hire someone who does. I spent a lot of time cleaning up her initially frizzy hair in post because I was too busy framing shots to notice.
  2. Be prepared for blank stares if is you ask new talent to improvise looks. All that does is make them nervous.
  3. Never trust a "poverty wizard" flash trigger. Mine broke at the end of the night and ended up sending my 580exII flash to the Canon hospital in Irvine.
  4. Find a stylist. I don't currently know any and we could have used one.
  5. Always keep an eye out for inspiration and improvise to make it your own composition.

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