I’ve mentioned in the past how when creating a portrait, my first instinct is always to try learning as much as I can from the subject in order to build a suitable image around him or her. This is alas not always possible, as often photographer and sitter only meet for the briefest period of time. The results will always be, to the best of my abilities, a visually compelling image, but I do often crave for the chance to go deeper and get a picture that not only show beauty, but hopefully also speaks about the person.
Molly recently gave me that chance, when she got in touch using the Casting Call form. From our initial conversations I learned about her love for theatre, and how she works hard to make that dream come true in the city of promises that is London. As well as how that can often feel lonely even though being surrounded by a constant sea of people in such place which can sometimes feel like a train station, with people that come and go and very seldom remain, and are hard to get attached to.
It was this last part that really struck a chord in me, as I’m no stranger to that feeling myself and really wanted to capture it. So I set to create an image which would hopefully go beyond physical beauty –which Molly undoubtedly possesses–, to convey that sense of motion and loneliness.
I started by drafting ideas involving movement, drawing from the good results achieved by combining continuous light and flash in the Iaido shoot with Olga, as well as the cold tones that could be obtained by using ambient light modified by the camera’s white balance as in Sophie’s portrait. I then asked Molly to dress in a red tone, which would make her stand out against the mostly monochromatic blue background. The day of the shoot, we met at nearly twilight in one of the most touristy places I could find: Millennium Bridge, where we’d have plenty of people in a confined space to use as a backdrop. By using a long lens I was able to compress the perspective so that the edges of the bridge are just barely visible, and the mass of people became a more overbearing swirl of movement when combined with a long exposure.
In terms of lighting, Molly is lit with a warm flash light bounced off in an umbrella held by Raquel standing next to her. This allowed me to freeze her movement in a series of long exposures, where the rest of the people passing by would quickly be blurred out. We did several tests till the light was precisely right, and I ended up combining a few of these in a multiple exposure which conveys movement on the hands and the skirt. This also helps blending her figure with the background a bit better.
It wasn’t an easy setup, at some point we were completely surrounded by people and we were all freezing shooting in November. I kept doing short bursts so that Molly could get her coat on as often as possible, but she was amazing at it I have to say.
The result looks unconventional, painterly, and I do love it for that reason. It’s a very rewarding experience going from the concept to the final realisation, and it feels great to push the boundaries of headshots from time to time.
Just to wrap up, I normally have a backup plan in case things didn’t go as expected (at the end of the day we depended on the abundance of people, and the even more unpredictable British weather). There are some nice white trees just behind the first location, where we shot some images with similar lighting but without the people. I think these turned out beautiful as well! here’s a sample: