This is a behind-the-scenes tale of two assignments. Shot for different clients at different times, both were corporate portrait commissions for magazine covers. Both subjects were men at the top of their game, photographed on location, by the sea. But the conditions were rather different….
Subject number one was the smooth Swede/Monegasque Mikael Krafft, founder of Star Clippers cruise company. My client, Private Banking Magazine, wanted me to take the portrait onboard his private yacht. The second shoot, for Marketing Magazine, was for a feature on the Auzzie CMO of Mars, Bruce McColl, who’d popped over to Cannes to pick up the coveted Advertiser of the Year award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Both clients wanted to see a French Riviera sunny background.
Its the South of France: blue skies are non-negotiable
Here’s the thing about being a portrait photographer in the South of France: clients generally want their piece of blue sky. However, achieving this is not necessarily straightforward.
The Cote d’Azur is not a sunny blue paradise all year-round. In March, when I shot Krafft’s portrait, the weather is definitely hit and miss. La météo and Krafft’s PA were all pessimism leading up to this shoot, suggesting the only chance of blue skies would be late in the day. I have a bit of experience with Monaco’s weather though (yes, the principality has its own special microclimate), and wasn’t sorry that I had made the call for an early start. At 9 am, I was able to use a small window of blue among a world of black storm clouds. Plus, my frame nicely included Monaco’s Royal Palace in the distance.
One rule for you, another for Napoleon
Ropes, rails, limited headroom, movement at sea, voltage issues for flash units and glaring reflections everywhere make boats tricky places for photography. Not to mention crew members who dread a clueless photographer leaving prints and scratches on the pristine decking and brass that they spend hours polishing, daily.
Mikael’s crew didn’t disappoint. The duo of middle-aged sisters displayed serious resistance to me and my assistant setting up on deck, despite the rubber soles on my light stands. Meanwhile, Napoleon, Mikael’s favourite shaggy dachshund, swaggered about the bridge, shedding hair, clawing the decking and peeing on brass fixtures.
Squinting and sweating it out
Three months later, there was no threat of rain interfering with Bruce McColl’s portrait. But in midsummer, working with harsh, high sun requires careful thought in terms of time of day, location and lighting. Which didn’t in this case happen.
I photographed him on the roasting hot Cannes seafront, packed with sunbathers and festival-going advertising execs. La Croisette at noon offers poor colour, no shade and no mercy. Poor Bruce, who, at editor Noelle’s insistence, kept his jacket on, had to dab at the sweat dripping into his eyes, while manfully trying not to squint in the myriad glare reflecting back off white parasols, gleaming cars and the sea.
So why then? Why there?
No pressure of time…
Distinctly lacking a brief, the delivery of which had been repeatedly postponed prior to the shoot, I had prepared an indoor set-up at the hotel where Marketing Magazine was to interview Mr McColl. The first I knew about a vision for a seafront portrait was when Noelle had finished the interview and Bruce was already 5 minutes late for his next appointment.
By the time we had all rushed down to the beach (thank you Bruce for carrying my kit bag), his PR attaché was more than twitchy about time. Sub-optimal light and heat conditions aside, setting up and waiting for the flag to fly, as well as passers-by to tire of gurning at the camera, proved too much to achieve in less than 5 minutes. Noelle downed her handbag to be a slightly haphazard mobile light-stand (a few frames to remove in the edit) and I had to let go of hopes of an unfurled Cannes Lion flag.
That’s me on Page 3
The behind-the-scenes story of this cover shoot made it to page 3 of Marketing Magazine. “The brief was a tough one“. That made me smile afterwards.