Guest Post: Brad Trent's Ocean Master Session

I'm back in Maryland, decompressing from a 12,531-mile road trip and getting my next few shoots lined up. Fortunately (and to give me a few days to get back into the swing of things) we have one more guest blogger: Brad Trent, who is pictured at left.

Not only was Brad the subject of the most widely read post on Strobist in 2010, but he has uncorked what can only be characterized as a Magnum Opus of a guest post today. Even broken into two parts, it is ... significant.

Part one, chock full of no fewer than 22 process images, inside.

DH Note: Pics open to a larger version. Links to Brad's site and a comprehensive Flickr set (including more BTS pics from this shoot) at the end of the post.

Ocean Master, Behind The Scenes

An interesting by-product of me doing my Song of the Day is how I began meeting and shooting more and more indie music artists. But if you know anything about the music biz these days, you gotta know that's not exactly the smartest way to fill your bank account. And while it's awfully easy to find a photographer who will self-righteously exclaim, "I didn't get into photography for the money!", God knows how true that is if you're one of those guys who makes the decision to focus on the music business as your object of creative desire.

I'm old enough to remember the day when shooting an album cover was a plum assignment, both creatively and financially. But in these days of iTunes and file-sharing and there being more indie bands per square foot than bedbugs in New York City, photographing musicians is now considered a labour of love and not necessarily a profitable business decision.

Case in point, the shoot I recently did for Australian singer/songwriter Nadia Ackerman's new album package. Nadia was in the process of finishing her second album, The Ocean Master, and came to me with an idea for the album cover.....a rather BIG idea!

She needed portraits for promotional use, but to illustrate the 'ocean' theme, for the cover she wanted to be photographed floating in water. Keep in mind that it's the middle of winter in New York and we have no budget. But since I'm always up for a challenge, if I figured a way to make it work, it could be something pretty cool for the portfolio.

I originally thought to shoot at an indoor pool, but after a few phone calls I got sick of hearing about liability issues and extremely high location fees. So I would need a studio...preferably with ground floor access because of the whole water thing...and it would hafta be cheap because of the whole no budget thing! I called in a few favors and managed to get a prime space at Industria, but still had to figure out how to cheaply build a tank big enough to float somebody in.

I quickly figured the least expensive and simplest answer would be to buy a kiddie pool...a really BIG kiddie pool! A little googling later and I came up with 15-foot version of one of these for about $125.00. Next came trying to negotiate with my assistants for a flat fee for what was certainly gonna be a really long day.

Finally, because I knew she had been to many of Nadia's shows and might wanna help out, I enlisted my friend and Photo Director Ronnie Weil to act as a (free!) producer/stylist/caterer/art director/all-round-wrangler. Thank God she said yes, 'cuz I was already up to my ears just trying to figure out the photo end of things!

We arrived at Industria at 7:30am and immediately set up the pool at the far end of the studio, put the hose in...

...and using the flow-rate charts on the City of New York's Public Works website, we estimated that it should have taken about 3-3.5 hours to fill around 1500-1800 gallons which would give us time to concentrate on the portraits. More on that pool-filling estimate later.

My original inspiration for the first portrait came from seeing Nadia in concert, where she stood in a simple, off the shoulder black dress lit by a lone spotlight...

With Nadia in the makeup chair we set up the lighting on the white cyc.

Nothing too outrageous -- a 20" Profoto Beauty Dish w/grid for the main light and a small Chimera Super-Pro strip light to throw a slash of light onto the white background. I wanted to cut the background lighting right down the middle -- light on one side/dark on the other. So we used a 4'x8' gator foam 'book' to cast a shadow from the strip light. To create a sharp-edged shadow across her shoulder, we put a black card between her and the Beauty Dish.

After dialing in the grey-balance and checking our sharpness, we were ready to shoot...

The final image:


One shot down. Let's go check on that pool!

For a very quick set change, I wanted to do a few ring light portraits. Not only would it keep things simple, but there is probably nothing more flattering than a ring light! We hoisted a 15' x 20' piece of black velvet and went to work...

(Note: the strip light is only there so I had some light to focus's not firing)

Liking what we see...

...and the final image:

We were going to move onto the next setup, but I thought that if the ring light was looking this good on black, why not try it on white as well?!! So we dropped the velvet, fooled around with the grey balance to 'blue' things up a bit and went back to frying Nadia's eyeballs with that ring light.

And we had a lighter, more open and fun version of the shot...

How's that bloody pool doing?!!

Now here's your Low-Budget Tip-Of-The-Day: IKEA is your friend!

I regularly hit IKEA for all sorts of props, and for this shoot I fond a bunch of really great fabrics that I planned to use for backgrounds, including these rolls of sheer orange curtain material that I knew would look great with a color-blocked dress we had chosen.

Overlapping the panels gave me layers that I could position Nadia between and was also very graphic. We backlit the white cyc with four Elinchrom 500 units, a couple of small strips to rim-light her and the main light was a 6' open-faced Octalight.

The finals:

And by turning off one side of the back lights, it got even more interesting:


Remember that estimate about how long it should take to fill that pool? Well, it was now almost 3:30PM and the pool was still filling. So we decided to do one last portrait using more fabric I found at IKEA -- this time with Nadia in a killer Gaultier dress slapped up against some deep purple silk drapery panels.

Lighting was pretty simple: a ring light with the diffuser, that open-faced Octa over my shoulder to add even more shine to the fabric and the Beauty Dish kinda ominously lighting her from down low.

Which gave us these:


NEXT WEEK ... in Part Two...The Pool Awaits!!!


How to Stalk Brad

If you are into lighting, you should definitely tune into Brad's channels. First, his portfolio includes lots of portraits that include the lighting setups (see "artificial portraits"). Second, his blog is a pretty steady stream of on-assignment-style posts. And third, his Twitter stream will keep you automatically tuned in for fresh content on the other two channels.

Lastly, here's that 70-photo BTS set from the shoot on Flickr.

Next: Brad Trent: Ocean Master Pt. 2


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