Santa Fe New Mexico Family and Children Photographer – David Moore» Blog Archive » Behind the scenes at an editorial portrait shoot

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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.


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    April 14th, 2012

    Behind the scenes at an editorial portrait shoot

    Earlier this year national medical magazine PracticeLink hired me for an assignment to shoot an editorial portrait of Dr James Melisi, a surgeon who had recently moved to Santa Fe from the Washington DC area.

    My background is journalism from the writing side of things, and I’m always keen to understand the angle the article’s taking, so I can get my images to match. The piece was about his move and how he’s enjoying the history and landscape of northern New Mexico. An amateur photographer, the good doctor has already had a show of his work in a local cafe.

    The brief was to photograph him in a distinctive historical Santa Fe setting maybe including his camera to show the new enthusiasm he’s found for photography. The magazine liked my work and my approach, so I spoke to Dr Melisi and suggested we meet downtown for a bit of a two-man photowalk. The simple plan would make it easy to shoot in a few public spots without having to move light stands and the rest.

    Simple not random

    ‘Simple’ doesn’t mean unplanned however, and before the day of the shoot I walked a potential route with my camera checking the light, the backgrounds, sizing up different angles.

    Part of the challenge of portraits using only natural light (with a bit of reflector here and there) is keeping the faces well exposed without blowing out the sky. Another issue is that nobody looks good in hard sun full on their faces.

    For most portraits you look for shade or shoot people backlit with the sun, but this job called for showing the subject in front of something recognizably historic and Santa Fean. Which meant standing them outside and keeping them and the background exposed well.

    There’s not doubt that that a little judicious fill-flash could do the job here, but that’s not really my thing.

    The other challenge was the weather. We only had a few days in which the shoot could be scheduled and snow cancelled a several of them for us.

    We were shooting in February, but this was for the spring edition, so too much white stuff visible wasn’t going to work.

    In the end we chose a slot on a Sunday morning when the weather didn’t look great, but we just had to take our chances. The sky was cloudy – most unusual for Santa Fe – and here my recon trip from the day before was very helpful.

    A flat grey sky didn’t paint an accurate picture of life here, and wouldn’t look that good in print, so I’d have to shoot around the sky, placing the doctor in a historical setting that didn’t show the sky and didn’t depend on good light. No pressure, then.

    Grab the light

    We got some images of him under the portal of the Palace of the Governors, and in an old courtyard off E. Palace, where I could show some Santa Fean ageing stucco and blue paintwork.

    Dr Melisi was gracious and friendly – I kept chatting to him to keep it all relaxed and loose. And then there was a break in the clouds.

    It looked like it wouldn’t last long, but it was a chance to get him front of a big building with some blue sky behind him. Over to the Museum of Fine Art, and the luck was with us at last. There was enough cloud obscuring the sun that I could face James towards it without him being blinded, giving me a good angle on the tower of the museum and the blue sky beyond.

    Make sure his camera is visible, and make it look like I happened to bump into him while he was out taking photographs, and there you go. Get some tight shots, some wider, some landscape and some portrait to give the magazine full coverage for whatever they might like to do with the design.

    In the end, that was the shot they used full page, as you can see.

    The final magazine image looks relatively simple, but when you’re being paid to give the client a range of shots to choose from and don’t have the chance to reschedule whatever happens with the weather, you have to find a way to make things work.




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