Photographing The Breaking

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to work with Portland, Ore. based alternative rock band called The Breaking. This was my second shoot with them. Our first shoot was last year at the UFO on Sauvie Island. This recent shoot took place at the Pickle Factory in North Portland, a multi-disciplinary art space. There were tall ceilings, interesting doorways, and nice metal-work all over the building. This was a fun space to shoot in.

Adam and the band are willing to work for good images. To shoot at an interesting location can add some depth and interest to images. I know that a clean background looks professional. That is the way you should photograph a CEO for the Annual Report. In this post I am going to break down my last band photoshoot with The Breaking. This is not a how to, this is just how I HOW.

Outtake: It’s a good sign when everybody can relax enough to laugh.

How the photoshoot went down.

Adam Sweeney is the primary artist in The Breaking and he organized this shoot and found the location. I think the band in general have and good grasp on the visual aesthetic they want to put forward. This is not something a lot of musicians want to put work into. I think they should though.

I didn’t get a lot of specific direction on this shoot. My job is not to force my personal aesthetic on the band. My job is to reflect their style through my technique. For me, every photoshoot is a collaboration, no matter who I am photographing.

Sometimes, the artist or band I am photographing can vocalize what they are looking for. Sometimes they can’t, I have to pry it out of them, subtly of course. I am a Chatty Cathy, but I use that as a reason to always be looking at who I am photographing. As we are talking they are generally making small movements and you get a good sense of how the light falls on them. The more I know how they look at different angles the easier it will be to decide where to put my lights for the effect I want.

Wardrobe plays a big part in how and why you light the scene. However, many bands don’t put much thought into their clothing for a photoshoot. The Breaking came with their A Game. The location, the wardrobe, and make-up told me all I needed to know. I knew how I needed to photograph them. It made it a lot easier for me.

My lighting plan.

On location, I prefer the convenience of using standard flash units instead of large mono-lights. The idea of using those large units on location just makes me cringe. My style doesn’t require that much power. I enjoy using the Lumopro LP180 flashes off camera with cheap Neewer flash triggers. It just works for me. I brought a large octobox and a medium-sized rectangle bowens mount softbox. I walked around the building looking for spots I wanted to shoot at, then when I saw the wardrobe, I realized I would not need those soft boxes. I opted instead for bare flash as my main light and a small shoot-through umbrella for fill and as a kicker in a couple of instances. The hard and specular highlights gave me the look I really liked. Hard shadows with softer fill light was did the trick.

My workflow is important to me on a photoshoot.

We only had a couple of hours to work, so we had to work fast. We went from spot to spot and worked out each location. The walls and doorways offered a rugged looked that contrasted well with the mostly black wardrobe of the band. I tend to share the images with the band as we went, so they could work out their poses and positions so they could make adjustments as we needed. I am not sure how many other photographers do this, but I think it is a great work especially with non-models.

When shooting a band is different from shooting a group of corporate board members. Board members just need to look good. A band needs to look good while conveying a sense of style and character. This all goes without saying of course.

In the case of The Breaking, these guys knew what they had to do, but everyone needs to get some basic direction. I’ve been on more than a few sets with other photographers and sometimes they give direction, sometimes they don’t. When I was first starting out, I wouldn’t give direction or let the bands see the shots as I was going. I think I was just trying to keep those shoots organic or some nonsense like that. I had a band shoot with Boston based band, Endway a bunch of years ago that went like that. This is something I still feel quite stupid about. That shoot worked out, but it could’ve been better. Ugh.

I prefer to keep it real. Real-ish at least.

Another thing I tend to do on a shoot like this, I keep the lighting and posing style consistent across the whole shoot. I find that this consistency is more comfortable for the subject. At the end of the day, these musicians are playing a character. The character should be themselves, so if having to dramatically change that character is 1. disingenuous and 2. unnatural and awkward.

Some final thoughts.

My take on the profession of photography; a photographer needs a good mix technical proficiency and artistic creativity. That could be the subject for another article though.

I just try to have fun with these. I always have a plan for what I need to do. I don’t get stressed out if things are not going the way I planned though. I have to be prepared for the unexpected, being able to solve problems on the fly is the key to putting out good work.

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