Working with musicians is not only about portraiture, it's also about vibe and feel. The imagery needs to work in tandem with their identity as an artist, and the direction of their music. Sometimes, it's equally important to step out in a totally fresh direction, take risks, and create something new. Working with stunningly talented singer-songwriter, Lyla Foy, was a super enjoyable and creative process. This week, I talk about how best to approach a more editorial shoot, like this.
This was our first time working together, via (as always) recommendation. We were super laid back about the whole thing, deciding just to shoot in her London apartment. That said, I also knew I needed to capture a sizeable catalogue of PR images, which could be used across the seasons, and matched the vibe of her current material. The only thing Lyla briefed me on was this: She wanted a departure from her existing images (beautifully dreamy, innocent feeling photographs; braids and headbands; embroidery and soft focus) to something more contemporary, with a little more edge.
As soon as people say 'edge', I know it will require confidence, or as I put it.. Balls. Edge is often communicated through confidence; an unapologetic 'this is me' attitude in the frame. It's not just about having edgy styling, in the clothes or the setting, it's about the feeling the model puts across. Also, for a contemporary feel, you cannot lean on 50mm lenses or filters, and you cannot rely upon depth of field or too much action to create vibe and story. So how do you turn up, to a place you don't know, with a model you've never worked with, and achieve all this?
First off, you have to think on your feet. Take note of the light, the space and any moments you can take advantage of. And remember, that light will change quickly over the course of the shoot. My eyes were drawn to the cleaner, brighter parts of the room, with interesting but subtle architectural touches. I cleared spaces, and gave Lyla specific spots to stand/ sit in; and guidance on how to move in the natural light, to help me. Once I had set the space, and the moment, I just had to let our creative dialogue fall into a natural rhythm. I think some photographers try too hard, or go too quiet.. It needs to feel relaxed, natural and unforced. How else can you create photographs with that vibe?
The other thing which helps, is that cup of tea and chat before you start. I like to be in a space a bit, before I work in it. My eyes search frantically and quickly, but I also like to soak up the atmosphere of the space, whilst chatting to my subject. It allows things to settle a little, it helps you to see the person you are shooting, as themselves, without the lens in their face. I pick out their angles, their expressions and their conversational comfort zones before I even open my camera bag.
When I do finally pull out my camera, I've already built up much of the picture in my mind. I am in sync with the space, the conversation, the person and the atmosphere. Knowing what you want before you start shooting with your model is also essential. I take a little time to explore through my lenses, so that when my model does step in, they have absolute confidence in my vision. If you don't already know what you want, they will pick up on it, and doubt will set into the both of you. Don't let that happen, and you'd be surprised at how it transforms the process. If you want edge, you also have to help your model to express confidence. And you have to be able to show them how to pose that way. I've had my nose buried in glossy fashion-photography magazines since I can remember, and I think this might have given me an unconscious reference library to pull from.
That said, Lyla gave confidence in bucketloads. Even stepping out in a freezing December sunset, to grab these last images. It felt like a brilliant chemistry, and over the course of the day, the shots came more and more easily. These sorts of collaborations (which I truly believe them to be) are so rewarding, not least because working with fellow creatives keeps you on your toes.
Creating something editorial (rather than entirely natural, like a Portrait Adventure) doesn't need to mean 'forced'. Remember, that you are still capturing a portrait; it may not be a natural warts-and-all portrait, but it must still (though selectively) capture the person you are photographing. Allow your model to feel comfortable, be confident in your vision and be open to new and fresh ideas. Resist your 'tried and tested' safe-bets, and you might just surprise yourself.. And better still, help your musician/ subject to surprise themselves with what they can achieve.
Major thanks to Lyla for calling me up and trusting me with the job. Can't wait to collaborate again in the Spring. Please do watch some of her gorgeous videos below, and give her a follow and a like of Facebook... What a voice!