I don’t often talk about gear and technique as I tend to be more interested in soul and story. But I’ve had several people ask about the logistics of our George Floyd portrait series from 38th and Chicago, so I thought I’d make a behind the scenes post to share a little bit about my process.
These images have high production value, like a studio portrait, but also a sense of immediacy and context like street photography. That means, you have to travel with an awkward amount of gear and there’s no such thing as blending in. My straight up documentary friends move fast and carry their cameras low. They size up a scene and frame up a shot with their eyes before they even raise their equipment, hoping that their presence doesn’t impact the events unfolding. Me? I stick out like a sore thumb.
I brought a portable lighting kit to produce all these portraits. I knew I would need to navigate a crowd and move from time to time as the sun traveled across the sky, so I rigged it all up on a heavy-duty two-wheeled cart. I’ll go over some of the details with photos and notes below, but basically, I made sure my light was just a little more powerful than the sun, so the background would be a little underexposed and subdued, putting the focus on the people.
I shot with a long lens because it allowed me to throw the background out of focus and it also helped us all stay at a safe social distance while we worked. In addition to the long lens, I used a web-based app for people to record their answers. So I just carried a printed QR code that folks could scan with their smart phone and be directed to the online form for their answer. In the handful of cases where people didn’t have a phone with them, they just dictated their response and I filled it in with my own phone.
I’ve posted some photos below. Read the captions for some specific info about the how and the why for each piece of gear.
I always have a bag over my shoulder with extra batteries and memory cards. Business cards and samples of the work that I do. Pens. A bottle of water. Hand sanitizer.
But the best tools I carry with me? Curiosity, eye contact, and time to listen. Those will take you far, regardless of the gear you have along.