Shoot-behind-the shoot: Still images from the SJP video shoot

CE Courtney recently filmed me photographing two of my clients – author Steve Almond and dancer/psychotherapist Audrey LaVallee Belanger.

Sharona Jacobs Photography: editorial portraiture from Sharona Jacobs on Vimeo.

Here you can see some of the imagery captured from my still camera while CE shot the video.

At the Robbins Library with Steve Almond:

Lighting test subject for me: CE Courtney

Lighting test subject for CE Courtney: me

At the Regent Theater with Audrey LaVallee Belanger:

Short film by CE Courtney about Sharona Jacobs Photography

Wondering what it is like to work with portrait photographer Sharona Jacobs? The video, below, gives you a behind-the-scenes peek into how the Boston-based photographer works with the authors, actors, professors, and creative professionals she photographs day-to-day, and includes interviews with several of her clients, including critically acclaimed authors Steve Almond, Jon Papernick, and Rita Zoey Chin. You’ll also see examples of her work with NYTimes best-selling novelist Jennifer Haigh, editor of TechCrunch John Biggs, and film and stage actress Tracie Thoms.

Click on the Vimeo icon in order to see it full-size. If you don’t see the video thumbnail immediately, please refresh your page.

Sharona Jacobs Photography: editorial portraiture from Sharona Jacobs on Vimeo.

Behind the photo shoot: Tracie Thoms, film and stage actress

In late April, I photographed actress and singer Tracie Thoms, who’s probably best known for her work in RentCold Case, and The Devil Wears Prada.

Tracie was preparing for a gala for her alma mater, the Baltimore School for the Arts (the performing arts high school which inspired the movie Step Up), and the school kindly allowed us our photo shoot in their auditorium prior to her rehearsal. Part of the high school was converted from a grand old hotel from the turn of the century, and the auditorium was located in a beautiful old ballroom with gorgeous architectural details.

In the below images prior to the shoot, Tracie is touching up her make-up. In college, she acquired the nickname of “Tink Tink” for her ability to quickly and flawlessly attach her false eyelashes, and she still knows her way around a make-up brush.

We began by shooting on stage, using strobes and reflectors to create the warm glow and illuminate the highlights of her dark hair from the blackness of the stage.

Above, Tracie is chatting with her former musical theater teacher, Becky Mossing, while I adjust my lighting to my satisfaction. Milk crates are a photographer’s best friend – you can use them to carry gear, to stand on if you’re short like me, and of course, as seating for your clients. I feel like I should write a post just about the distinguished behinds that have sat on my various milk crates.

 

After shooting on stage, I moved Tracie into the audience seating area, and backlit her curls. We multi-tasked by having her sing with her former teacher, to prepare for the following day’s gala.

Tracie Thoms, actress, in the Baltimore School for the Arts

Periodically, students would come by the auditorium in order to meet Tracie, and we’d take a moment from the shoot in order for her to say hello and pose for a few photographs. I couldn’t resist this girl’s hair – she and Tracie excitedly admired each other’s hairstyles while they waited for another student to line them up for a photo.

After finishing up our shoot, I shot for a few minutes while Tracie rehearsed for the following day’s gala with Becky and pianist Michael Sheppard. After enjoying the private concert, I quietly packed up, content with the day’s events.

 

The faceless portrait: author, illustrator, and sculptor Adam J. B. Lane

When I interview artists and authors before I photograph their portraits, the first question I ask is whether the person I’m photographing has any special requests, ideas, or preferences, far before I take out my camera.

Children’s book author/illustrator/sculptor (narrowing this fellow into a category is a challenging task) Adam J. B. Lane‘s request was a creative stretch for this portrait photographer: he asked if I could take his photograph without the viewer really knowing what he looked like, so that he could be passed by unrecognized by someone seeing his portrait the moment before.

Curious, I asked why. Adam said he was influenced both by the legendary radio producer Ira Glass and also the author Daniel Handler (“Lemony Snicket”) who felt that viewing the physical appearance of a formerly faceless narrator robbed a story of some abstraction and potency.  Adam had always personally found the difference between the impression created by the work and the author in reality a bit of a disappointment, and preferred to be photographed in a way that left something to the imagination.

So I took the approach of letting the images reveal the author primarily through his activities and the wonderful textured environment of his home studio, rather than the entirety of his face. I lit enough of Adam to pull him away from his background, but not enough to define his features. His illustration work is dark and contrasty, and I mirrored some of that feeling through to the photographs.

Adam recently published Stop Thief, a story of a little boy who takes off after a stuffed animal snatcher. His illustrated books are aimed at children, but have a chiaroscuro palette often associated with darker themes. The Lemony Snicket influence shines though Adam’s color choices.

The product of both a British and American upbringing, Adam was heavily influenced by comics throughout his childhood and maintains that his success communicating with children comes through a strong case of arrested development. As a child, he remembers not being able to conceive of adulthood and was terrified that life would end after his bar mitzvah, around the age of thirteen.

Later, Adam went on to write and illustrate for the Harvard Lampoon, and upon graduation, moved to Los Angeles to work on Disney feature films.

While at Disney, Adam started going to book stores to do research on what kids wanted in their favorite stories, and fell in love with picture books. He delved into creating stories because he wanted to do something for kids and parents to actively do together, and to be part of the magical relationship of a parent reading a story to a child.

Tango Noir shoot

In June, I partnered with Arlington’s Orange Hanger Boutique and The Regent Theatre to create a fashion-based editorial shoot based on the Argentine Tango, specifically the Tango Nuevo movement (new Tango) and film noir. It was inspired by music by the amazing Gotan Project. The goal: to work with other Arlington businesses to create dramatic, sexy, and beautiful editorial work, and to pull from my own dance background to create photography that represents the movement of dance and the drama of film noir. This Milonga de amor video with a Gotan Project soundtrack was distributed to everyone participating in the shoot to help them gain a feel for the mood we were going to create at the Regent Theatre.

Emerson faculty member C.E. Courtney helped hugely with the lighting design and also documented the behind-the-scenes action.

Here I am teaching Manuel, one of our models (and an MIT graduate), how to do the Argentine Tango hold, instructing as to how close the faces of partners should lean together – reeeeally close. The beginning of the shoot involved having the models gain familiarity with both the dance and the embrace required to convey the emotion of the tango. I did not expect the models, most of whom are not dancers, to get the technique exactly right, but to approximate the mood and the hold, which they did splendidly. Image by C.E. Courtney.

 

Hair and makeup was by Jayne Riot and Maura Traniello of Scarlet Artist Management. Here’s our model Elizabeth (another MIT graduate) getting pin-curled. Image by C.E. Courtney. As some of the five models waited for hair and make-up, others began getting into wardrobe and were subject to lighting tests by my assistant, Elizabeth M.

We began with portraits of the men, as the women finished with hair and make-up.

And as Elizabeth came out of make-up, the gentlemen were happy to bring her into the picture.

Introducing Elizabeth to some tango steps, image courtesy of C.E. Courtney.

And then the dance began.

 

And then they all danced together.

And then it was time, as they say, to powder the nose.

Many thanks to all the models: Elizabeth O, Greg, Jenn, Manuel, and Zach – you were all a blast to work with, beautiful inside and out. Thank you to Leland and Ryan from the Regent, and Natalie from the Orange Hanger – you made everything gorgeous! Huge thanks to C.E. and Elizabeth M for all your assistance lighting everything indoors, and schlepping everything in from the outdoors despite the pouring rain. I owe ya.

Ladies Rock Camp

I had the great pleasure of photographing the bands of Boston’s Ladies Rock Camp in Jamaica Plain on May 20th. The camp provides an opportunity for women who are 19 and older to let loose and learn to play rock together with similarly strong and awesome women. Ladies learn and/or practice bass, guitar, drums, vocals, or keyboard, form a band, and at the end of the experience, play live at TT the Bears in Central Square, Cambridge. The participants also take a variety of workshops relating to being a lady rocker – I happened to observe an inspiring workshop by Model Mugging Self-Defense right after I photographed the bands. Super cool!

It was amazing walking into the building in which the camp was housed – you could feel the vibration of the drums throbbing up through your feet, and the excited “Yows!” and cheers of the participants charged everyone with a wonderfully contagious energy! I want to join next year (and I grew up playing classical piano and viola) – what an incredible group of women, what a great experience.

Here are a few of the bands I photographed.

 

Ladies Rock Boston - the whole crew

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – Senator Scott Brown, Lansdowne Street, and hot dogs

Catching up on my blogging! On May 19, I photographed an event for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Phantom Gourmet that took over Boston’s Landsdowne Street called the Hot Dog Safari. The indoor/outdoor event benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Joey Fund and features parties inside all the restaurants/bars plus food and fun all over Lansdowne Street.

Senator Scott Brown and his wife were the VIPs of the event, and my job was to document the event, vendors, attendees, and the VIP area. Lots of candid portraits.

Joey Fund founder Joe O'Donnell

Hot Dogs at Hot Dog Safari

Joe O'Donnell, Senator Scott Brown, Gail Huff

Boston’s artists and authors, featuring Bradford Johnson

I’m embarking on a new project to create portraits of some of Boston’s most talented artists and authors. Each artist is interviewed and then documented in the space that they work in, or a space inspired by their work. The goal of the project is to reveal through the photographs a real sense of the artist, to tell their stories visually and through narrative, and to gain an understanding of where their work comes from.

The first artist I’m featuring is Somerville, MA-based artist Bradford Johnson. Brad’s wonderful warm intelligence, wry wit, and good humor was a joy to be around, and spending time with him in his studio was delightful. His work is based on painting the people and places first captured by distant photographers (hmm, wonder why I like this guy?). One of his projects that I find most intriguing is entitled, “Tangible Dreams of a Dying Explorer”, and it is based upon the real-life experiences of an Arctic explorer who perished more than one hundred years ago, but whose photographic film was discovered 30 years after the expedition’s demise.

Balloon Aloft with Bird: Acrylic paint & medium on panel, 19"x24", 2011

As Brad explains: “In 1897, on a barren Arctic island, photographer Nils Strindberg finally escapes the brutal cold when he slips into hypothermia. Shortly thereafter, he becomes the first member of S.A. Andree’s Polar Expedition to perish. As Strindberg loses consciousness, he cannot know if his human remains or exposed film will ever be returned to civilization. His compatriots bury him in a rocky grave, and their demise soon follows his. Months earlier, in a daring attempt to explore the North Pole, Strindberg, Knut Fraenkel and Andree pilot a hydrogen balloon into the polar region under the flag of Sweden. Strindberg conscientiously documents key moments even when they crash far short of the pole and are forced to trek for months across the pack ice in an attempt to return home. The remnants of their final camp are discovered over 30 years after their deaths. Among the detritus returned to civilization are detailed diaries and 5 rolls of Strindberg’s exposed film. 93 viable negatives are miraculously salvaged.”

Constellation of Tangible Dreams: acrylic paint & medium on panel. 19"x20", 2010

I photographed Brad in his studio, after chatting with him about how he was drawn to art, what he studied, how he defined himself as an artist, and how he combined his work with being a dad to two kids.

The moment he started to feel like an artist: Brad fell into art in high school – it was his sanctuary. Like many, high school was kind of a drag for him – he didn’t really have any energy for the academics, but painting was something that drew him in. During his senior year when thinking about his future, Brad felt kind of lost, but his art teacher suggested that after graduation, he apply to RISD – the Rhode Island School of Design (one of the nation’s top art schools) –  and he got in.

Three words that describe Brad’s work: “Narrative, material, hand-rendered.”

But it wasn’t easy: Sometimes its easy to doubt your own abilities. While at RISD, Brad felt like an imposter, despite his abilities, surrounded by other talented artists who were Artists with a capital A. He transferred to a small, vigorously academic liberal arts school, where he enrolled in the drama department, and found like-minded souls. But eventually, the visual arts kept calling, and he switched back to studying fine art, continuing his studies with a MFA from Hunter College in New York, where he lived for five years before moving to Boston to be with his wife.

Finally: “I’m an artist, finally, because I’m unsatisfied with any given answer.”

Artist as adult: Artists are often considered solitary creatures, huddled in a garret somewhere, but artists merge into adulthood like those of us in more traditional professions, with all the responsibilities that entails. Brad has two children and a wonderful, supportive wife, Jackie. I asked Brad how the balance works for him, and how difficult it is to pursue his vocation while wrangling pre-schoolers. His response – “it’s a whole lot harder, but doable”, thanks to great childcare, and a wife with a more traditional employment situation. He also credits a network of fellow creative friends who bounce ideas and provide support for each others’ ventures.

Steampunk: Take two

Lots of requests for more Steampunk photographs from the Watch City Festival aka Steampunk Festival in Waltham, MA! Here they are. Steampunkers, please keep in touch via my blog and via www.facebook.com/sharonajacobsphotography. I had so many amazing people who were photographed – thank you all for being so wonderfully interesting to photograph.

Documenting the shoot: The boots meant for walkin’

I’m going to start a theme that I’ll return to every now and then called Documenting The Shoot, where I’ll show you what went into a shoot, what didn’t work, and then what did with the final image. A before/after, if you will.

My model was kind enough to give me her time to work on a personal project (thank you!), my 52 week project on Flickr, where each week I explore a different topic resulting in a weekly image. This particular week’s topic was “Getting from Point A to Point B” and I decided to set up a fashion-type shoot featuring an amazing pair of boots and some fun cross-lighting techniques. We shot in my, shall we say, petite/cozy/tiny home studio which has low ceilings but works great for headshots. Full-body stuff is more challenging – I have to shoot from the very corners of the room, practically Spiderman-style, to avoid distortion. And you do not want distortion when photographing a person’s legs.

Here are a few “before” images – you can see a few test shoots against a crappy dark background that shows off lint beautifully. I was trying to get some angles that showed off  the boots awesomeness, my models great legs, and a sense of movement as well. I had Audrey walk around a bit, but what worked best was to have her stand still, point her feet exactly as directed, and hang on to my ceiling for dear life (man, in hindsight, I really wished I shot that – next time!). The angle that looked the most “natural” was highly unnatural, but man, she was a trouper. I had a softbox behind her on the ground highlighting her shape and the laces, and an LED panel in front of her – really close – less than a foot, for detail.

I knew it when I got the final image in camera the moment I hit the button. So all I had to do was go into Lightroom, get rid of lint, and burn out the light walls of my studio in the background. And here’s that final image:

Let me know what you think of this series and if you want more!