After all these years, shooting a celebrity is still a nerve wracking experience for me. I shot Jagapati Babu, the veteran Telugu actor, a few years ago in a rather impromptu session and even though we planned for a quick head-shot before scurrying out, we ended up spending a few hours with him and managed to pull off some stunning imagery with a couple of flashes, modifiers and a little imagination. Luckily for us, his house was tastefully done and we were able to get a couple of lovely mood shots before we scurried back into our mundane non-cinema existence. I, till date, look at those pictures with pride and joy, a big thanks to the empathetic star who was very understanding of my visible nervousness and did his best to put me at ease. Down to earth and extremely humble, in spite of his multiple Nandi and Filmfare awards, he was an absolute pleasure to work with.
A month ago the director of his upcoming autobiography asked me to shoot a few pictures for the poster releases/teasers. With Jagapathi Babu’s recent Legend, Rangasthalam and Aravindha Sametha Veera Raghava fame and stunning evolution into a truly versatile actor, I was not going to pass this opportunity up. In fact, I was very excited to capture this new side of his acting personality.
As I had to fly down from Bangalore to Hyderabad with limited equipment, planning was critical to the success of this shoot. As some of you already know, a few months ago I invested in the nifty Godox AD200 flash/speed light and it has become my go-to light of choice for all of my recent shots. Coupled with the versatile Nikon SB700, I am now able to travel with a light portable battery operated mobile studio.
The shoot day started early (by my standards at least). We were at his place by 8 o’clock in the morning to set up and figure out how to shoot in the space we were assigned. The living area in the space we had to shoot was impressively clad with end-grain wood tiles, but was a nightmare to shoot because the individual panels were curved irregular and finished to a high gloss. So out comes the black background cloth to the rescue! The carpet was the setting now with the chair taking the center stage. I wanted the light-fall to be sharp and well defined, so the trusted deep octa was quickly setup with the Godox AD200 in it. A quick test shot told me that I needed to underexpose slightly to render the blacks as black and crisp. I knew I wanted him in an all black dinner jacket for this shot - but that would blend him into the dark background. So we quickly setup a SB700 behind the chair with a grid to light the background and give the subject a bit of separation. I somehow find hair lights too distracting and overly dramatic for laid back portrait work so I prefer lighting the background whenever I can to provide contrast, over a rim light.
Here is a quick and dirty lowdown of the evolution of the shot. Probably 10 minutes from start to end. And we were ready to roll.
In comes the big man and I explain what I intend to do and he listens with all seriousness and gives an approving nod and does his magic. I guess the one thing with professional actors is the speed at which they work. The versatility of poses and expressions is mind-bending. I know he is going to give me a variety in just a couple of minutes and I was hoping the flashes won’t act temperamental. And they didn’t. The Godox's insane recycle time is a life saver. We shot about 45 images in all. Straight, no readjusting, no looking at the LCD on the camera, no adjusting the lights. That's the thing with Through The Lens (TTL). Once you understand how the TTL metering works you will be free to put your mind to more important aspects of the shoot than worrying about the basics like the exposure of the light and so on. I must admit that it did take me a while to get used to TTL flashes as I have been shooting manual strobes for dinosaur’s … I mean, donkey’s years!
In the end, we decided to go with the shot which had him in a more serious and pensive mood without the background light as it would sit better with the text of the poster this was being shot for. Here is the final shot with the typography in place.