Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Map

          A few months ago I had the pleasure of photographing Charles Branas for Penn Medicine Magazine. Dr. Branas is a professor of epidemiology and is director of Penn’s Cartographic Modeling Lab. He has been conducting research demonstrating that cleaning up and greening vacant lots reduces violent crime.

            I was asked to photograph him alone in a vacant lot, with members of his staff in the cartography lab and to shoot a basic headshot. I had about a week before I had to deliver the photos so I scheduled three separate sessions rather than try to shoot everything at once. I decided to do the headshot first as it would require the least amount of co-ordination and it would allow Dr. Branas and I to get to know each other. In addition I could learn more about his work, discuss the vacant lot shoot, and scout the lab.

            I met Dr. Branas at his office and after moving some furniture I set up a backdrop, two lights and a reflector. We talked about his research as I shot a series of fairly straightforward headshots that could work for the feature but were generic enough to be used for other purposes as well.

            While I was setting up I couldn’t help but notice a large laminated map of Philadelphia hanging on the wall. I knew it would make a good backdrop not only visually but content wise so when I felt I had a good selection of headshots I asked Dr. Branas to sit in front of it.  As the map was laminated placing lights in front of it was out of the question so I used a strip light off to one side and had Dr. Branas turn toward it.  A white wall opposite the strip light ,provided just enough fill that I only needed one light.

            While I’m sure the other headshots will be used somewhere the above photo was used full page as the opener. For my own reference as well as your consideration, here are some takeaways from the relatively simple session.

Shoot what your client asks for first, then shoot what you want.

Study the work of other photographers. The morning before the shoot I had watched a video of Joe McNally shooting portraits with a strip light.

Leave room for type. Like an art director once told me, “Frame it the way you want then back up.”

If you have the time and the creative freedom, why try to cram everything into one session?

Feel free to leave a comment if you can think anything else.

Click to see more of my healthcare photography