This portrait session came about because our entertainment reporter, Christine Kearney, noticed that one of the several PR pitches that came across her desk was a small event where Justin Bieber was going to give the winner of a contest a bouquet of flowers. Normally this isn’t a story that we would be interested in because it doesn’t have anything to do with any “larger picture” type of story. However, because it was Bieber, Christine decided she would ask for a few minutes to interview him. One of the hardest things for us to do is gain access because a lot of musicians, actors, or television personalities have very specific images that they want to project so access can be incredibly tight. This restriction to access can make my job difficult because as a photographer I would love the opportunity to document what these public figures lives are like on a day to day basis. The next best thing for me to get is a little one on one time with whoever allows it. Luckily, the PR officer said yes to both the request for a private interview and a quick portrait session, as long as I was low key and quick.
It was a hot day and hauling a large rolling suitcase around with a single set of strobes, along with my backpack full of camera equipment, was enough to make sure that I was panting by the time Christine and I arrived at a small non-descript flower shop in Lower Manhattan. As we walked in I was surprised to see only about a dozen people inside, a couple of television cameras, and one other still photographer. At most events where a celebrity as popular as Justin Bieber is attending there are dozens of photographers and television cameras. I was heartened to see that it would be a much smaller crowd for this. The woman organizing the event told me I could set up my lights in the back while a television station interviewed Justin. Once that was finished Christine could interview him while I moved my lights to the front of the shop where Bieber had to remain seated. I have to admit, I wish all of my portrait shoots could take place in flower shops because it was a welcome break from the usual portrait venue of a hotel room. Not only was the air conditioning on high but it smelled nice and flowery. I think this put everyone at ease as I didn’t have any issues whatsoever setting up my lights, moving them to the front room through a small crowd, or shooting a quick portrait.
As Christine was finishing her interview the organizer of the event came up to me and the other photographer to ask if we could both get our shots in the 3 minutes they had allotted for photos. I asked if we could get more time but Bieber was scheduled to be somewhere immediately following this event and the timing couldn’t be changed. I struck a deal with the other photographer that I could have the first minute and he could have the second and third as he was hired by the organizers of the event and needed multiple people, angles, promoters, etc in his photos. I knew that if other people crowded around Bieber it would be difficult to separate them in time and I just needed single photographs. Christine introduced me to Bieber and after mentioning that I had seen him perform a few months ago with a cast, I went to work.
I had been enjoying using two strip softboxes on my lights and I took several photos both of Bieber as a full-length, him leaning forward, and him standing and close to the lights – with the lights in a number of different configurations. I also took a handful with an 85mm f1.2 camera at ISO400 and 1/250th of a second. The rest were taken at ISO100, 1/200th of a second at either f11 or f9, depending on where he was standing. All in all I had a total of maybe 10 minutes to set up and plan what I was going to do and about 1 minute with the talent. It’s fairly par for the course in this line of work and while it is exhausting and stressful to only have that very limited amount of time, it is also fun when you make some strong photos. There is one horizontal frame in particular where he is leaning forward on his knees that I think turned out well.
In any case, it was fun and I am sure that thousands of teenage girls would have loved to have been there. He was a nice fellow and getting the access was great. Those two things are all I need to get a photo – I just wish those two stars could align more often!