2022: Sometimes shoots happen quickly and unexpectedly. I was already booked to cover the New Order and Pet Shops live show and then the day before, I was asked if I was available for a portrait of the DJ legend Paul Oakenfold, whom is also on this tour but has not been heavily promoted. I’ve photographed Paul over the years but never a portrait.
My writer Jim Ryan and I showed up at 3pm and met up with Paul’s tour manger Jay. We met Paul, who eagerly gave us a tour of the bus, that included a sweet walk-in shower and then I set out to find a location. I had no idea where I was going to do the portrait but just knew I didn’t want to do it on the tour bus. Jay explained the stage was on lock down and that I couldn’t even shoot in it’s direction.
The Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island is right on the water front of Lake Michigan. But in order to get to the beach you have to leave the backstage and head outside the venue. We took a stroll to the back of the lawn area that revealed a clearing of the beach that would work great. Jay liked the idea and we went back to the bus.
Paul agreed and we headed to the beach, I quickly set up the light and we began shooting.
It’s funny we could be at a tropical location on a hot sunny day but as you can see, I am clearly wearing a hoodie, it’s almost October in Chicago.
I showed Paul the first shot, which can help sometimes and instantly put the artist at ease. Just one soft box was all I needed and I could let Mother Nature fill in the rest. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky it was beautiful. However, for some reason my light wasn’t playing nice and it did throw me off a bit when you have to have one eye on the soft box to see if it’s popping. There must have been interference with my remote.
Looking at it now, they both work for different reasons. Just letting Mother Nature do the job clearly makes it more dramatic. I think I like both of them but it works the best when Paul is looking towards the sun.
Paul is clearly having fun which is all that matters. Above is when the light popped and below is when I really needed the light to play nice…
Hmm, actually it still works doesn’t it but just wasn’t what I was going for at the moment. It’s always different looking at the images after the fact and realize all that anxiety was for naught.
I only had so many options on the water line so I asked Paul if he was still game for another spot. I think he was both happy at how quickly I was shooting and was having a pleasant time. With that in mind, right behind me to the north, I saw a very different vibe of a tree lined path.
On location can be challenging to find a clean background, whether it’s free of people, or free of unnecessary objects such as cars, garbage cans, etc. This location had a bit of that but was mainly in the background out of focus. You have to pick and choose knowing they can always be removed in post. The key is to control the eye of the viewers and not have them wander into distractions that take away from your composition.
I can still see the cars in the parking lot in the background, probably should be removed but I might be nitpicking a bit.
There weren’t any props for this shoot, or at least I didn’t think we brought any but I was wrong. Paul brought at least three pairs of sunglasses that he switched out through the course of the session. Definitely added to the photos.
Towards the end of the shoot, a Chicago Segway tour came by and the tour guide, knowing there was a concert that evening, guessed wrong on who was the star of the photo shoot. Again to be fair, for some reason Paul is not being heavily promoted as part of the tour. So the guide said something like hey everybody it’s the Pet Shop Boys. Paul just smiled and didn’t correct him.
As we were heading back to the venue and backstage, a group walked up wearing Pet Shop Boys t-shirts whom were very excited and clearly had been informed of meeting one of their favorite bands. I think we are here to see you tonight, they blurted out. Again, Paul never corrected anyone and just had fun with it. Paul engaged with them, took a photo and even at one point said it’s going to be a great show, not sure about that DJ though. Really shows you the lack of ego but doesn’t say a lot for the guys that are the REAL Pet Shop Boys.
Back at the bus Paul grabbed a few beers and had a nice chat like old friends catching up, all on a beautiful fall day.