I really don't know where to begin with this one. Let's start with the call. That's always a good place. It was December, and my wife and I had just finished up three weeks of straight shooting and 15,000 miles of traveling. We were at the airport about to catch a flight back to NYC. As far as I knew I did not have anything booked the rest of the month. It was time to relax, enjoy the holidays, and start planning for 2013. As Jana and I are sitting in the airport, I get the call to photograph PSY. If you don't know who PSY is then you must not have been alive in 2012. I don't even have to link to his "Gangnam Style" video. I find out that the shoot is going to be taking place in Washinton, D.C. where PSY will have just performed at a party with President Obama. I have about a day to prepare and get down to Washington. After the initial phone call, I started writing down all my ideas for the shoot. There were some crazy ones in there...I figured why not shoot for the sky. At one point, I was thinking how cool it would be to have him on a white unicorn. Sometimes I get ahead of myself! After many conversations with the magazine, we decided that because of time constraints, I would only be able to pick up a few props in NYC before heading to the shoot. I decided that it would be cool if PSY was sitting in something reminiscent of a king's throne. So off to the prop house we go to pick one out, load it into our cargo van that's crammed with equipment, and begin our drive to D.C.
When we arrived in Washington, we settled into the hotel, had a few drinks, and got a good night's sleep. The next day we head over to the location which was a hotel meeting room somewhere outside of D.C. I had been given about three hours to setup and get prepared. PSY's people were only going to give us 5-7 minutes so when he arrived to the shoot, there would be no time for figuring out what to do - it all had to be planned down to the last detail.
This is the part of the story where the real lesson was learned. My assistants and I start pulling all the lights, setting up the backgrounds, etc. We finally get our first setup ready to go which was in my mind going to be killer - it involved the throne that I mentioned earlier (pictured below). As we begin testing, I come to the hard realization that this whole throne thing is not going to work. It feels too forced, and it's probably just not right for this particular cover. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but I could not figure out how to make it work visually without it looking like the cover of some cheesy rap album. But, I was stubborn. I kept trying to make it work, changing the lights, the positioning of the throne, adding more haze to the shot, trying to make it look even more dramatic. It just wasn't working. The next thing I know, 2.5 hours have passed and PSY will be arriving in 30 minutes. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself because I had less than 10 minutes to achieve a classic portrait for the cover. I started testing other ideas that I had for backup and they were decent, but not cover worthy. The pressure was starting to sink in and I knew if I did not come up with something soon this whole thing was going to be a failure. I look at my watch... time is up. It's go time. The door opens from outside in the lobby and in walks PSY's manager, "PSY is running about 10 minutes late...Hope that's okay."
Okay, so by the grace of God some time has been bought. I decided to leave the set and just take a quick walk with my wife outside in the lobby, just to clear my head. Sometimes as photographers, we get this visual in our head of how our shot is going to look. We think we have it all figured out, and the photograph has not even been made. That's what was wrong with me that day. I could not get the "throne" out of my head. I could not get the dramatic lighting out of my head. I could not get all the thoughts and ideas I had written down, which were not working, out of my head. My wife, who is my best source of encouragement, told me to just completely clear my head and approach this photograph differently.
I went back into the shoot and decided, I'm going to do a close up and use hard light, which I had never really experimented with. I ended up using the white side of v flat for the background and lighting PSY with the magnum grid that Profoto makes. I also stuck a beauty dish above his head, maybe 4 feet above him, that shot straight down for a little bit of kick in the hair. When PSY came in, complete with an entourage of 5 people and a bodyguard, (which we found a bit humorous) he stayed for about 5 minutes. I must say his outfit and glasses worked perfectly for this shot. I asked if he would lower his glasses so we could see his eyes, to which he agreed. I knew after the first frame that this was going to be the cover.
It was pretty crazy how it all turned out. All it took was for me to realize that my idea was not going to work. I was so stuck in my default way of doing things that I could not see beyond it. It was a huge lesson learned for me and luckily I came out on the good side.