Shooting portraits during Covid-19 restrictions has brought extra challenges. We are trying to shoot almost all of them outdoors. So on Tuesday last week I met Nathan Evans, the former postman turned TikTok star, at Newhaven Harbour in Edinburgh. We needed to get a ‘sea’ element into the picture as a nod to his viral success singing sea shanties.
Usually you get about an hour for these types of things. It was raining and cold, so having an assistant to carry my lights really helped. We would normally try to be on location half an hour or so before to recce some backgrounds and then be efficient moving from one to the other so that the picture editors get a variety of shots to choose from. There is not always a budget for an assistant but this time it was essential, otherwise me or my kit, or both, would have ended up in the sea.
One portrait subject once said to me: ‘Photographers see things other people don’t see.’ This is, I guess, kind of true. When we do a recce, we’re looking for things like colours, textures, shapes, frames, where the light is, potential for juxtapositions, reflections, things to lean or stand on, how busy the place is, and so on. At the harbour there were the red shutters of the old fish market, a (slightly precarious and icy) pier with lobster creels, a lighthouse and a slipway, which gave us plenty to play with.
The brief was to get Evans looking as rugged as possible, so when he arrived wearing a pink hoody we had to adapt. The last thing I was going to do was question the style choices of a man who has become a social media sensation overnight. Instead, I used the light (one Profoto B10, protected by a plastic bag from the rain, in an Elinchrom softbox) and different compositions to create drama.
I was expecting a disorientated young man, confused by all of the attention he was getting. But what we found was a confident musician with a good sense of humour, taking his good fortune in his stride.