Ok, so I'm grabbing some food in the Barbican's food hall and the ever-delightful Amy Coombe phones me to say that 2 true giants of piano, Stefano Bollani and Martial Solal, have just finished their soundcheck and were heading off to their hotels for some pre-performance rest. Before they leave, could I grab a quick photograph of them? Oh YES, I reply; and asked for the show's production manager Alastair to somehow delay them...
...5 minutes later I arrive backstage, already deciding to photograph them together (afterall, why waste such a lovely opportunity) but not near any clichéd piano! The question was whether they would be happy with my idea? I greet a welcoming Stefano, so I put forward my duo portrait request; he was happy but would check with Martial. Meanwhile I zoom around the new artist bar area behind the Main Concert Hall looking for an appropriate backdrop; there wasn't one, so I had to improvise.
Cue throwing a load of plush seating out of the way, moving a large metallic finished curtain into place and choosing 2 suitable chairs high enough for Martial to sit in easily. I position the chairs, set the tripod and composition, then take a couple of ambient light readings with and without flash. No decent strobes, just a single 580EX Speedlight on manual 1/4 power that I decided to bounce of the ceiling to throw in just enough contrast. Furthermore, the metallic curtain would also act as a little reflective fill-in, in order to separate the guys' outline from the background. Time is ticking away very quickly and luckily, Martial is ready to say hello.
As any portrait photographer will relate too; this kind of seat-of-your-pants/ad-hoc shoot requires an immediately successful rapport to allow one's subject to relax and feel comfortable. Luckily both Stefano and Martial were obligingly on form and took direction with ease. With my time vaporising fast, I took 3 subtlety different safety shots but wanted more engagement between them, so I suggested that Martial pop his glasses on. This sparked a discussion about Martial's failing eyesight and they started comparing each other's vision by moving their index fingers back & forth from their eyes.
Oblivious to my presence, their eyesight exchange was exactly what I wanted, so I clicked 1 frame; bingo! They carry on speaking for a few seconds, at which point Stefano asked what I wanted them to do, so I happily replied that I had what I needed and wished them a great performance.
So there you have it; 15 minutes, from first greeting to saying goodbye, with a total of 6 frames (including 2 test frames).
Sweet and Breathless.