Days Like These with Jeff Daniels

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As a photographer, one can think about life as a series of different kinds of days. Some days are for marketing. Some days are for paperwork. Some days are for editing and some days are for actually shooting. However some days come along and make you understand why all the other days are so important.

 

This manifested itself in the form of a call from Steve Curran, Creative Director at Harvest Creative Services. Steve explained to me that they were finalizing the production of a new album for a client of theirs and needed some photos for the CD artwork. This particular client was none other than Jeff Daniels. To say this call was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement.

Upon discussing the concepts for the artwork, Steve said he wanted to try to put several images together to portray the multiple facets of Jeff’s personality. I came up with a few ideas and ran them by Steve and he, in turn ran them by Jeff, and we had a plan.

Speaking of plans, when we talked about the timing of the shoot we had discussed that it would be pretty relaxed. Basically we’d arrive at 3 p.m. and we just had to be done before the Tigers game started sometime later that evening – or so we thought. It turns out the game started at 3:30 and Jeff, a true Tigers fan, had planned on watching it. No pressure, right?

After meeting Jeff and doing my best not to be a little star-struck, Steve, Jeff and I decided we would do some shots (photos, not the alcoholic kind) in Jeff’s under construction newly built recording studio and a few shots outdoors in a natural setting. The studio had a room on the upper level that was a perfect blank slate to present a simple, clean backdrop so that the focus would be on Jeff and his guitar (which is a very cool custom Martin, BTW). I first found lighting inspiration from a 40 watt CFL hanging from the ceiling. Jeff just happened to stand in a spot relative to the light that presented an interesting picture. I guess being an accomplished film and theatre actor, he has a knack for finding his light.

 

After the experiment with the CFL, it was time to get down to business. To move fast, I got out my speed lights and set up a basic 2-light scenario. Since the room was a light cream color, using any type of bounce or soft modifier would have rendered a flat, soft look to the photos, which was the opposite of what we were going for. I decided to keep the strobes naked and direct to create some drama.

For the shot which was to be the CD cover, I needed to capture five shots, identically framed, with five different lighting scenarios. To do this, I simply moved the key light in an arc around Jeff. This gave me side-lighting from left and right, Rembrandt from left and right and butterfly from front and above. In order for the composite image to work, Jeff was going to have to stay perfectly still for each lighting switch. He was a rock. I did this a couple different times and we had the studio shots in the can.

 

Next we moved outside. The outside shots were pretty straightforward. Just a series of shots of Jeff playing the guitar sitting on a chair in the middle of the road. Because, why not? The more I shoot under it the more I like the challenge of available light. It forces one to look for the spots of light that work best for the subject. As luck would have it the day was slightly overcast with a high haze, which pretty much is hitting the jackpot for a photographer. The most challenging part of this part of the shoot was me doing my best not to fall into the lake on the side of the road (and look like desperate paparazzi).

After that it was time to pack up. I grabbed my gear and went to the house to say goodbye. Jeff shook my hand and thanked me for being so easy to work with, which kind of blew my mind, given how easy he was to work with. Jeff is the kind of guy who is so down to earth, that when you meet him it’s almost like he doesn’t know he’s famous. Just another working stiff who happens to be a damn good actor and damn good musician.

When all was said and done, I think I was pulling out of the driveway around 4:15-4:30. I felt pretty good about the shots we had taken and I think Jeff still got to watch the lion’s share of the Tigers game. All in all it was a damn good day.

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