My idea of what celebrities and musicians will be like to collaborate with on a photo shoot is incredibly preconceived. I often base my expectations from their movie characters or television interviews. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, this preconceived idea is almost always wrong. I’m always surprised (except for Woody Allen, he comes as advertised). From Ben Stiller to Beck, I’ve been wrong 100% of the time.
That’s what I love about photographing celebrities. It’s high pressure, sure, but you don’t know how it will come out. The publicist may be a control freak, the make-up artist is aggressive and kills your set direction or the celebrity only wants to look a certain way in every photograph. It’s their right. They have to protect their brand in order to preserve their worth to the public. In any case, it’s always different and that’s what makes it exciting.
M. Ward was no exception. I’d heard of him before the shoot, but I didn’t really know who he was. I had a few songs in my play list but it ended there…so we did a considerable amount of research to get the best idea of his personality. Research is key in portraits.
My assistant and I pulled up to our location and started unloading gear. He was arriving at the same time and I saw him coming towards me down the sidewalk.
"Hello" he said. "I’m Matt."
He reached out a hand.
"Benjamin," I said.
"Have I met you before?" he said.
"No," I smiled. "It’s nice to meet you."
"Do you need help bringing stuff in?" he said.
"No, thank you so much, but my assistant will help me."
He was calm and had a warm personality. He had me at hello…no seriously, he was really easy to work with. I know that was lame but it was the only thing I could think to write. It’s true though.
We walked into our location with the gear. This is the most stressful part for me. It’s like watching a car accident almost happen. You don’t know if the car will swerve out of the way or if you’ll see destruction. You want the best possible environment to work with and you never know what’s on the other side of the door.
The place was great and I had a big smile on my face. I could breathe again. It was a traditional Portland set up with quirky posters and vintage character. We were going to get some good stuff.
My assistant and I were coming up with ideas on how to light it and shuffling through gear when I noticed M. Ward sitting on a couch reading a Credence Clearwater Revival book. That was my shot right there. Scrap the other ideas.
"Matt, I’m going to start shooting you just like that. I really like this scene," I said. "I’d like you to continue what you’re doing and just go with the flow."
"Ok," he said.
He kept reading his book. I had him look up at me a few times. We adjusted some lights and reflectors and kept working with it until I had something good (photo below).
"You’ve been busy with She & Him and now Hold Steady this year," I said.
There’s always and awkward silence I have to break up when I’m shooting…otherwise they just sit and watch. This is where the research helps.
He mentioned his up coming tour and other ventures around the corner.
Photographing musicians is very chill. They get it. They get the artistic vision, they want you to do well and they want to collaborate with you for the most part. It’s great for me because I get to shoot in my cinematic portrait style, which is starting to define my work more and more.
We moved to two other locations before we were finished with the session and I was comfortable with the final shots.
"Can I look?" he said.
I hate this part too. You want people to like your work and it can be difficult to take when you get the….mmmhhhmm.
"That’s good," he said. "Yeah that one’s my favorite." (photo above)
"I’m glad you like it, it was a pleasure working with you."
"We nipped it!" he said.
And that was it. 30 minutes and done.
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