Location editorial assignments are to photographers what scales are to piano students — a chance to hone essential skills.
This month I had the pleasure of teaming up with Brian Johnson, back from a stint as AD for the awesome Texas Monthly, on Mpls St. Paul’s annual “Top Docs” cover story. Great assignment, but challenging, too. I’d be photographing six busy doctors, one in studio and five on location. Somehow, I’d need to fulfill Brian’s faith in me and weave a single story with diverse individuals at unique and unscouted locations, all while the practices were in operation. (Whew!)
Here’s my game plan:
1. Keep the lighting consistent. I knew the available light would be all over the place, so I relied on strobe for the dominant source, exposing for the finishing technique I had in mind. Space was tight in some places, too, so the footprint had to be small.
2. Use background elements or angles to unify the compositions. This isn’t easy, because some locations offer limited inspiration. I prefer leading lines when I can find them, as in the narrow clinic hallway or the children’s hospital skyway. In short-depth situations, I’ll look for elements to frame my subject, as in the painting, operating room lights or ceiling light.
3. Stick to the story. This was about doctors and their specialties. One doctor is an ob-gyn, so I went with the feminine touches in her waiting room. The orthopedic doc is a surgeon, so we dressed her (and ourselves) in bunny suits and shot in the OR. Sometimes, but not too often, we used a lab coat to say “medicine” (hence the lab coat on the cover doctor, though we teased him that his suit-only shots were James Bond-esque!).
4. Finish in consistent technique and color. The backgrounds in the RAW images varied widely in hue. I meticulously shifted background colors for unity in blues and greens, as you’ll see below.
Remember, I saw each doctor and location upon arrival, one portrait and one day at a time. This was rapid fire practice, keeping the reflexes sharp. Here’s the entire study: