I was sipping a glass of Prosecco and chatting with co-workers at the PDN Photo Annual Party this past May when Keith Barraclough first came up to me and introduced himself, handing me a slick little business card. Written on it: The Redhead Project.
Smiling, he pointed out one of my co-workers he's friends with and who pointed him my way a little while earlier, and then he talked about the concept behind his ongoing project that's led him to photographing hundreds of redheads of all ages in his SoHo studio. Promptly introducing me to his wife and business partner, Kate Lorenz, who was standing next to him, he said that if I was interested in getting my portrait taken, I could email the address that's on the card, but no pressure.
Holding the card in my hand, my first thought was, I don't know about this, quickly followed by, But for inviting a stranger to a photo shoot, that was pretty solid. Keith was quick and conscientious, very aware that even the proposition could make someone uncomfortable. It's something I don't think of, really, as someone who just writes about photography, how tricky it must be to approach strangers and ask if they might make themselves vulnerable and allow for their portrait to be taken (Humans of New York's Brandon Stanton had some good insight on this not too long ago).
Then I figured that at the very least I could check out his website, get a sense of his shooting style and take it from there—I could use some professionally shot headshots anyway, and as someone who's a part of the photo industry in a certain sense, it would be nice to support it by taking part in a project.
Long story short, I checked out his site, thought it looked legit, and I met up with Keith at a little coffee shop in SoHo where we talked logistics. I was to bring a white shirt or outfit (and he would photograph me simply looking at the camera, looking left, looking right, thinking about this and that) and then any other outfit I'd like that makes me feel fun, bold, animated (and here we'd get to do quirkier portraits). He also asked me to bring any props I'd like.
I showed up at his studio with my outfits and, among other things, a big bag of baby carrots—anyone who knows me well is all too aware of my ability to eat a giant pack of these like popcorn in a couple of minutes.
Keith takes me on a quick tour through his gear (which I liked—not only am I interested from a blog-writing perspective, but it's nice to know as a subject what he's going to use to take the photos): his Canon 5D Mark III camera with his 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses, two Einstein E640 strobes with attached softboxes and a simple white backdrop.
He tethered his shooting to his Mac using Capture One software from Phase One, allowing us to duck over and check out the images after some snaps, which I also appreciated—it was nice to check in, see how things were looking and maybe make some mental adjustments with the understanding of how my expressions were photographing.
Perhaps sensing my inexperience in front of the camera (I'm as amateur as they come), Keith did a great job at giving me direction, saying something funny that would get a genuine smile out of me, telling me what to look at, think about, without overwhelming me with things to do.
He also stepped back and let the shutter do its job once I (kind of) got the hang of things and thought of what might look cool on camera—he asked me to put my hair up, so I stretched it out into a gnarly twist before wrapping it around into a bun.
The real fun came when we ripped open the bag of carrots, and, after we munched on a few (how could you not?) we got to work with some off-the-wall portraits—and I say "we" because it was truly a collaborative experience, which is probably what I enjoyed most about this shoot.
Though I may have gone in already apologizing for my lack of experience and likely awkward demeanor, it was Keith's fun-loving energy and genuine interest in just making a cool project that got my ideas flowing, which, after Keith's brilliant one of me balancing a carrot on my lip like a redheaded mustache, eventually materialized into throwing carrots into the air.
It was genuinely a fun experience, and I think that's my biggest take-home as I walked out, gathering my thoughts for this post: Always make it fun. It sounds so simple, but if you and you're subject aren't having it, neither you nor your subject will walk away happy (and you might not get the best pictures).
Thanks for everything, Keith!
Capturing Genuine Expression from Children (and Pets) with Tamara Lackey
Jasmine Star's Tips for Posing and Shooting Clients Who Feel Uncomfortable
The Line Guaranteed to Make Portrait Subjects Laugh (And Other Tips from On the Road, Atlantic City)