A few weeks ago I had the immense pleasure of photographing Elysia Strauss, an amazing jazz saxophonist and musician. She wanted updated photos for her website and promotional pieces that were creative and reflective of her personality. I take notes while talking with clients and have these from our conversation: "a wow photo that stands out--is different and not subtle." We had discussed murals, graffiti, and/or abandoned buildings as fun, edgy, and funky backdrops for her session. A colleague suggested checking out Jack Kerouac Alley, which I did, and decided that would be our spot.
I was very glad to have a photo assistant that day. Jack Kerouac Alley is a short passageway with a mix of colorful murals and urban architecture that connects Columbus Ave, a major thoroughfare in downtown/Chinatown, and Grant Ave in San Francisco. It experiences a fairly regular wave of visitors throughout the day. The Saturday of our photo shoot, a street fair was happening on Grant Ave, which is to say, there were more people around. With a photo assistant, I was able to focus more on the job at hand--getting those "wow" shots of Elysia.
One aspect I love about photography is that it can be highly meditative. In the moment, there is nothing but me and the camera and the picture I'm about to make. But it is hardly a zen retreat void of thoughts. On the contrary, my mind is very busy making simultaneous choices and calculations for a shot:
- What depth of field do I want in the image? (Adjust lens focal length, or swap lens)
- Where is the light falling on my subject? Do I need more or less? From which direction? Do I want hard or soft light? (Add a diffuser or fill light, move light source, or move subject)
- Where is the brightest tone and the darkest tone in the image? (Meter those areas and adjust exposure)
Add to that the challenges of working out in the field with or without clients, including actively answering and responding to the following:
- How does the client look? What is his/her expression? (Give direction on posing, smooth down stray hairs, fix collars, etc.)
- Are there distractions in the frame such as other people--particularly in public spaces--or an ugly/awkward object such as a trash can? (Remove them, move, or wait till they're out of the frame)
- Is my gear safe? Is my client's stuff safe? (Keeping an eye out, growing an eye in the back of my head, or if available, asking my photo assistant to keep watch when s/he is not busy assisting!)
In this sense, photography is similar to jazz. Being aware of all the variables in the moment and improvising and solving problems on the spot to create something beautiful and unique as an artist and for the client/customer.
Working with Elysia was a lot of fun because she has a great sense of style and a unique look. She also took direction well and allowed me to play with more dramatic lighting for her photos. These were some of the finals that Elysia selected from our collaborative photo jazz session.
I don't know much about Jack Kerouac, but I think this blog post might have jived with him. (I'm going to read up on him now!)