Last Summer I received my first request to do a portrait/promotional photo shoot. Atown Sound (aka Alex Townsend) is a talented EDM producer and DJ based in Denver, Colorado. Alex needed promotional portraits for his business and assumed that I could do the job, since he tends to like my fine art photographs. :) The thing is; I am not and have never been a portrait photographer! I don’t really have much experience with portraits and know very little about the art. I was quite reluctant, but Alex was insistent, so I agreed to give it a try with the caveat that he set his expectations very low.
Once I had finally made the decision to work with Alex, I became very nervous. How could I do justice to Atown Sound; a performer on the edge of the latest trends in the trap and dubstep musical genres? My first problem to solve was related to my lack of studio space. Obviously, I don’t have a portrait studio. So, what location should I try to use for the shoot? The second problem was related to the first; since I don’t have a studio, I don’t have an elaborate portrait flash set up. How would I manage the lighting? Finally, although I know what lens focal lengths portrait artists tend to use, I wasn’t sure what would work best for me.
Alex and I agreed that we would scout around downtown Clarksville, TN for some places to shoot that might provide interesting backgrounds for environmental portraits. The urban context would certainly suit the persona of Atown Sound and the performer’s style of music. I chose to work with natural lighting, just as I do in most of my other photography. Actually, I didn’t have much choice, but I figured that if I paid attention to the position of the sun and time of day, I might be okay. I could at least attempt some high contrast portraits if the sun was too bright.
We went out for the shoot on a weekday morning last summer when Alex was in the area. We chose the Franklin street area of Clarksville for our locations. It was a bright, sunny day, but not too hot, and there were some nice billowy clouds in the sky. We began the shoot after most of the people who work downtown were due to be in their offices, so the streets weren’t too crowded or busy.
Initially, I used the Fujifilm XF 35 mm F2 WR lens on my X-Pro2 camera to capture a series of high contrast portraits in the sun. This lens is equivalent to about 52 mm on a full frame camera and has a reputation for being very sharp. I quickly found, however, that I wanted a wider standard lens, so I pulled the XF 27mm pancake lens out of my bag (40 mm equivalent). It provided me with the perfect field of view for the job. In my experience, the 27 mm is also quite sharp and its size makes it very unimposing and easy to handle.
A couple of things I didn’t have to worry about were Alex’s wardrobe and his physical appearance. His girlfriend Lindsey helped him decide on the clothing he would wear to achieve the look he wanted. She also came along on the shoot to help carry gear, provide encouragement and suggestions, and to occasionally help keep Alex’s hair under control. Being a handsome young man, Alex took care of the rest. In fact, he was a natural and charismatic model. He was inventive, creative, and took direction very well. His confidence and comfort in front of the camera made the photo shoot a pleasant experience and accounts for much of its eventual success.
We shot around a parking garage, on the sidewalks, against a nicely textured old brick wall, and in a cool boutique shop. After some initial work in the sun, we moved into the shade. Even in that light, I really had to pay attention to dynamic range, while trying to keep the ISO as low as possible and avoiding blowing out the highlights. I underexposed to protect the highlights and then raised the shadows as needed during post production. I shot over 300 photos that day and later picked the one’s I judged the best to process and share with Alex. That ended up being about 20 photos. I converted many of these to black and white or applied adjustments to make the best use of the background colors.
These final photographs turned out so much better than I ever expected. I consider the Atown Sound photo shoot a success for a number of reasons. I learned a lot from the experience about shooting environmental portraits and got to know Alex and Lindsey better in the process. Most importantly, Alex was quite happy with the photos. I’ve included some of my favorite pics here with a few notes. I hope you enjoy them.
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-- Angela Martin
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