I wouldn’t say I’m exactly well known for my portraiture, but coming from somewhat of a press background it’s been something I’ve been all too aware of as being an important asset to any photographer, especially one who wants to be commissioned.
People sell pictures, people sell papers… that was a mantra drilled into me early in my career… and faces is what people want to see.
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from Emma Bowkett at the Financial Times who was after a photograph of an ex olympian to go in a supplement on past olympians for their FT weekend edition. My assignment was Derek Redmond, a British 400m runner who in 1992 suffered an injury in the semi final, the results of which would go down in history. On tearing his hamstring, Derek fell to the floor, but putting the pain aside he attempted to finish his lap in a flash of grit and determination, he would then be accompanied on the home straight by his father who jumped the guard to help his son cross the line.
You can watch the video of the amazing moment online here.
The brief for the job was quite simple. The venue would be a hotel in harrogate where Derek was giving a talk later in the day. I was told there’d be lots of clutter so I should pack a backdrop and all that was needed was a few headsets and some portraits.
I set off doing a bit of research on Derek and the hotel and came up with a few ideas.
On the day of the shoot I called the hotel early, first to let them know I was coming and second, to cheekily ask for some assistance in scouting locations etc. They were only too happy to help me out anyway they could!
I can’t express how important it is to be well prepared and researched for jobs like this. I arrived early to scout as many locations as possible, introduce myself to hotel staff so they know who I was and to rope them into helping me out find locations and stand in for a few photographs!
I scouted for locations, I looked for colourful backdrops so I didn’t have to erect my kit, I looked for places of interest, something colourful, something relaxing and then set to make a route connecting up these areas to lead Derek down to where he would be giving a talk later in the day.
With the locations sorted it was just a matter of waiting for the arrival of Derek. He arrived a little later than expected which impacted my time with him, the research by this point was already paying off a little. But as normal with these situations Derek was told the shoot would be over pretty quickly by his PR staff. It’s never something you want to hear, what you want is for your subject to say “I’ve got all the time in the world for this, I’ve got some interesting ideas and I’m really looking forward to it”. That’s never happened for me, but you can always live and dream.
It ended up that I would have around half an hour to get the various pictures, leaving me with pretty much no room for it to run over, still half an hour is better than a lot of jobs, so I can’t complain.
Not fully knowing the direction the article on Derek would lead and not knowing what my images would sit next to I had to really work him (sorry again for this Derek). My idea was to come up with images to capture various moods as well as in a variety of different locations. Happy, sad, thoughtful, moody, powerful, soft… pretty much everything you could think of. It turned out to be a nice way to show a broader range of images with the client as I hadn’t worked with them before, and after all I think they were more used to my black and white work, particularly Olympic Dreams. So I’m really glad that I put the effort in to turn up early and scout these locations (which make the hotel appear much quieter than it really was in reality)
I’m pleased with the results I came up with in the short time, especially the variety of different backdrops!