I’ve always said musicians and actors are the most fun to photograph. Even if they’re naturally shy people, they know how to turn it on and give you what you need for a good shot. Performers will go the distance for you. Seriously, most of the time, they’ll do anything — even if it sounds crazy. And while I never abuse the trust a performer places in me, I will push for something special.
Sometimes, however, the tables are turned. Someone will come up with an idea that, for whatever reason, challenges me to think differently about how I normally photograph. Hugo Black hired me to do some publicity shots, and suggested we shoot some of them at a cemetery. As a photographer who’s generally up for anything, I suddenly found myself in the unusual situation of not being sure how I was going to go about the shots. Typically, visuals will start popping into my mind at the first mention of the type of location I’ll be shooting at. But I felt oddly blank about this. And at the same time, excited and challenged.
What was the problem? Looking back, I think it had something to do with my tendency to avoid shooting anything I’ve seen done already. I’ve seen what cemetery shots look like. I wanted to avoid doing something cheesy or played out. Everything from the cliché “tombstone” shots of countless goth bands, to beautiful images taken at New Orleans cemeteries raced through my mind. I didn’t want to do anything that looked like I was trying to hard. I didn’t want the cemetery to be the prop. That’s what so many cemetery shots have always looked like to me. So, I decided I would think of the cemetery as the “world” or environment for the shots, rather than as a concept, theme, or “location.” Just a mental shift, I know. But it made a difference to me and to how I’d approach the shoot.
So, instead of draping Hugo over a headstone, or having him lie eerily on the ground with lilies in his hands, or some other nonsense, I just had him walk, sit, stand and “live” in the environment. What we got this way was something that looked like a story instead of a bunch of dumb poses. The cemetery isn’t played down, or played up, it just is.
Stick to your natural style, but explore the possibilities, and you’ll get shots that look like yours. The best kind for you to get.