Photographing Tilda Swinton was one of the most exhilarating portrait sessions I’ve had. You may know her from movies such as Grand Budapest Hotel, The Chronicles of Narnia or, Burn After Reading, or have seen her recently as the face of Chanel photographed by Karl Lagerfeld himself. I was quite nervous, so much so that I couldn’t speak loudly enough to give her instructions. From first to last shot, the shoot lasted 180 seconds, during which all kinds of communication were zipping around amongst the many people in the room.
There were few technical challenges I had to overcome for this shoot. First, this was a location shoot. I had to bring my equipment to location in order to setup a studio portrait with a backdrop. I opted for my portable kit which consists mainly of speed lights, LED panels and foldable modifiers. For the background, I brought a 4.5ft roll of seamless paper, mounted on the arm of one C Stand. For this single light portrait setup, I used the following equipment:
The lights were mounted on a Manfrotto 5001B Nano Stand. As you can see from the catchlight in the photo, the flash gun was used as the main light in the soft lighter, with the 2 LED panels mounted to the left and right of the flash gun to act as modeling light. In a dark room, the flash gun provided enough illumination to light the subject and the background without being too bright for the subject. (I was told later that Tilda walked out of another shoot because they were blasting her with 4 Profoto packs).
Having the LED panels mounted inside was very important, because through them I was able to see exactly how the output of the softlighter would be. In a pinch, the 2 LED lights can also double as available light for shooting low depth of field or even video interviews. The light was set at an angle coming from camera left, with part of the soft lighter feathering light off of her face and the rest of the soft lighter illuminating the background. With this, I was able to light the foreground and the background with one light without casting a shadow onto the backdrop.
Directing Tilda was nerve wrecking in it’s own right. At the time, I was too nervous to talk, let alone dictate her posing and movement. Since she is an excellent actress, I asked her to run through few emotions, while going through the poses briefed by the clients. She was excellent at conveying emotions and everything went smoothly.
Having a small location kit is very important. Keeping the items essential and versatile and you’ll be able to handle many different obstacles thrown at you. In another post, I can go over my portable lighting kit and show you what I use to survive location lighting.