THE MAKING OF A PORTRAIT OF AN ARCHITECT
The call came in while I was enjoying a rare period of quiet, on my front porch. I was sorting through images from a recent portrait photography session in Washington, DC.
I love porches.
Looking back, it was probably the reason we built the house. Spanning nearly the entire width of the facade’ of our Arts + Crafts style home, it’s a simple porch, framed in crisp white trim boards with a flagstone floor. Defined by white pyramidal columns and a white Shaker style railing and. set against the pale yellow clapboard that wraps the house, it provides a warm and inviting main entry into our home. With wide open views of the 280 acres of protected wetlands that border our land, it offers a quiet retreat. I retreat there as often I can.
Back to the call.
It was Mark Yoo, an architect in Washington, DC. He had been referred to me by a friend, an architect. He liked my portrait work and thought I may just be the right portrait photographer for what he wanted. Mark was building a new website and creating a new brand. He wanted a new portrait, a new image, a new look. A portrait that would match his vision of his work and his new brand. He wasn’t a fan of the portrait experience, though. His last ‘professional’ portrait session had not been good.
That portrait was professionally done. Studio setting, studio lighting, black backdrop. You know the drill. The result was a typical generic headshot. It had all the charm of a marketing promo for a DJ.
For the next 20 minutes, Mark talked about architecture and his work. He spoke of his vision, of his new brand and the look he wanted me to bring to this new portrait of him.
Finally, he asked “Are you interested?.”
I didn’t hesitate before saying “Absolutely. Let’s talk about how to do this.”
Many portrait photographers are wary of working with architects. They occupy a unique place in the portrait universe. Architects are often perfectionists, highly critical, consumed with detail and self absorbed. Traits may lead them to success as architects, but qualities than can be daunting for a portrait photographer.
I wasn’t concerned.
I spent years working for and with some of the top design firms and architects in the Washington, DC area. My career as a professional photographer began with architectural photography. I enjoyed working with architects, whether it was on a construction site, behind a graphics monitor in an office cubicle or, now, from behind a camera.
We made a plan. Mark had designed a new dance studio, at an arts center, an hour south of the city. It was nearly finished. We would meet there and choose a location for the portrait session. A week later we met. I chose a spacious corner studio, with beautiful northern light falling into the room from the tall windows that lined the outside walls. The exposed brick walls, aged hardwood floors and barrs (ballet rails) added texture and an understated elegance to the setting.
We were set. This would be an environmental portrait, created at one of Mark’s projects.
We agreed on a date and time and agreed to sort out the details (like clothing), soon. Before I left, I scouted the studio, and the grounds outside the studio, for alternate locations, just in case. After years of location photography I have learned, the hard way, to have a Plan B (and a Plan C) ready to go on session day.
On the day of Mark’s portrait session, the outside temperatures were hovering in the mid 90s. Humidity was high. No problem, though, since we were working in the dance studio, in a beautiful room with soft northern light. Right?
Not so fast.
The studio was now open for business and the afternoon students were rolling in. The studio administrator had never received the message (from Mark by way of the studio owner) that we would be there, that day at that time. They were using our session room, and would be, for the rest of the day. No other spot in the studio was available, anywhere. Remember Plan B? No problem. We’ll just move outdoors. Right?
The spots I had scouted on the grounds were OK, but not great. Shade was a problem. There wasn’t any. I had found one spot that had a decent background, but the backlight in that scene would be so intense, I would have to overpower it with strong light on Mark. I wasn’t in love with that option. So I kept looking, in the studio.
And there it was.
On the way outside, where we would fight the heat, the high humidity and the sun, I spotted a small room off the hallway. Brick walls painted white, tall windows and a view of the buildings beyond. The light coming in the windows was good, but fading. And so was our time. The studio was filling up fast and we had one hour, or less, to clean the room (it was full of furniture and staff gear), set up and get our shots.
Mark was a great subject. It started slow, but he really perked up when Erin, my assistant, decided that he was a Bradley Cooper look alike. Once I was able to calm Erin down, things went well.
Less than hour later, we had wrapped up, packed up and were on way to our next adventure.
To learn more about Mark and view his work, click here.