We were tucked into a small corner, next to a bar with 200 people milling about. The Art Directors Club of Philadelphia had asked us to create portraits of all the attendees of this year’s Louix’s Awards. This was not a step and repeat or goofy photo booth. Our mission, in the middle of this chaos, was to build a portrait studio and create images that were both visually compelling and revealed something about our subjects. We would have a minute or two per person.
This was fifth time I had set up a full studio in the middle of a chaotic event. On the previous occasions I shot in B&W on white seamless paper, a set up that allows for easy control of exposure and shadows. I did not want to repeat myself. Inspired by the Vanity Fair Oscar Party Portraits, I wanted to move away from a high key look to do something more glamorous.
My business and design partner, Michael McDonald and I wanted to create a set that felt regal and afforded opportunity for visual variety. We also wanted a set that inspired our sitters to let their guard down. We knew that we would have to fit this set into an area not my bigger than a walk in closet. We found a nice divan sofa on Overstock.com, we then headed down to fabric row and bought 40 yards of a rich purple fabric for the background.
Hanging the fabric and arranging the lighting was challenging in a space that measured twelve foot wide and maybe fifteen foot long. We needed enough space between the divan sofa and the background that shadows would not be a problem. We needed enough width to cover group shots and not have our light stands poking into the frame. We wanted enough length that we could shoot with a longer portrait lens. None of this happened.
I like a bit of chaos on my shoots. It helps focus the mind and induces creativity. Here I had all the chaos I needed. My subjects often could not hear my directions above the noise of the band and the chatter. If I tried to use a lens longer than a 50mm, I ended up in the middle of the bar’s drink line. When suddenly I had a group instead of a single subject and wanted to move the key light to cover them I would have to ask people waiting in line for a drink to move. I had no time to check my histograms so I spent the evening guessing my exposures when I had to adjust the lights.
Ninety minutes and 84 unique portraits later the awards show began. It was time to pack it up. Within a week we posted the portraits on our Xhilarate website. Over a hundred unique viewers stopped to look during the first 3 days with 63% of them being first time visitors to our website. About half the those viewers spent time looking at the rest of work. This year Louix’s Awards Show had about 200 guests. I am sure that at more than half of them will remember us by name as crazy guys in the corner who create interesting portraits.