Moving Back Inside

About a month ago, I was shooting headshots for an actor in fort greene park. We were doing my usual schtick, which is to walk around outside and find cool textures and colors to shoot against. Natural light has been my preference for headshots since I started shooting them professionally. It’s easy to work with natural light, but due to the inherent changing nature of it, it’s sometimes hard to get the same results over and over again. Plus its cold outside in the winter months, and nobody wants to be photographed outside when its 15 degrees and windy.

So I started thinking about what I could do to maybe avoid both of those issues altogether and came back around to indoor studio lighting. Don’t get me wrong, I love flashes and light modifiers. It’s what got me into photography in the first place. The ability to sculpt light is akin to a painter getting to pick his color palette. But for the longest time I didn’t think artificial lighting could work for headshots because either it wasn’t soft enough, or the flashes going off would be distracting, or the size of the light source just wouldn’t be big enough for the look I wanted. I’m happy to say that after about 4 days straight of tinkering and futzing with lights I’ve found a solution that I love and is compact enough to fit in my closet.

This new look for headshots is great for actors, because it sticks out (in a good way). There are so many natural light photographers whose work looks the same, and therefore makes an actors headshot look the same as the 20 others in the pile in front of the casting director. I’m very confident that this new look will get actors called in simply by being different. If we spend 2 hours nailing a certain expression on top of that, it’s going be an amazing image every time.

The new setup really allows me to spend more time lighting the face and telling a story, instead of worrying about weather, location and a myriad of other things. Anything I can do to streamline the work to let me focus on the subject is a huge win in my book. I’ve updated the actor headshot page with these new photos. Enjoy and never stop trying improve your own processes.

Boxing Yourself in to Free Yourself

Boston feels at times like a second home. It's a quick ride of tracks running out from Penn Station and up against the coast of New England. The city is a welcome change of pace from the 24/7 manic pace of NYC. The advantage of the train comes into full force when you are trying to think or be creative. You've locked yourself into a carriage for 4 hours with no wi-fi and nothing to do but whatever you brought with you. Sure you could talk to people, but this is 2014. We aren't friendly to strangers anymore. I find that I do some of my best thinking on trains and airplanes. If I had better discipline I'm sure I could have the same output anywhere, but it makes such a good excuse to travel.

I went to Boston to help my long-time friend Dane record some contemporary marimba pieces. He is all about making music accessible and pushing the envelope of what you can do with "classical” instruments. From his site:

"My goal is to create an open environment where musicians of all communities can enjoy the existence of a moment. Enjoy art for what it is: a trigger for an experience, be it emotional, physical, or intellectual. Try not to get bogged down with the analysis of a piece of music while you're first hearing it. Try to let the whole piece exist on its own before you tear it apart."

He also asked me to shoot a few images for his website. Hours and hours of discussion about aesthetics and branding followed. We had to sort out his artistic visions and how that would translate to photos. At least that's how I thought we should go about it. So I asked him for examples of photos he liked, his artistic mission statement, how he envisioned using the photos, and lots of other things. We talked at length and the conversation varied wildly, covering the state of classic music, how polaroids work, what other musicians do, how great Ke$ha is, and the current state of stand-up comedy. Dane and I can talk for hours about anything, but eventually we settled on shooting polaroids. What Dane liked was the idea that you are just freezing a moment. You don't get to go into photoshop later and fix things. it's just a snapshot and sometimes even the colors are unpredictable. That's how Dane thinks people should approach music. In the moment, with full attention.

Although I do own a few polaroid cameras of varying age, film is expensive, and from my past experiences photographing Dane he is not the most willing subject. Due mostly to the latter reason I decided to simulate shooting polaroids (and save money on film) by locking down the settings on my camera. I chose settings that closely mimic the SX-70: ISO 160, 50MM lens, F8 aperture, shutter speed no faster than 1/175, fixed on-camera flash at full power for F8. In post I used the VSCO cam polaroid set to get as close to polaroid colors as possible. I did not allow myself to adjust exposure or anything else you might adjust in camera raw. I had to get it right in camera and then change the color later.

For the most part, this really helped create an aesthetic throughout all the photos. They feel like I picked up a disposable camera and just started shooting. It's no coincidence that I flipped through a Terry Richardson book the week before the shoot. Terry is a master at capturing moments and showing them raw. I did find myself relenting for one portrait where I really wanted a dramatic shallow depth of field, but hey sometimes you have to break the rules, even self-imposed ones. Because I had locked all the technical bits and pieces down I was more focused on talking to Dane and getting him comfortable than what my camera was doing. The subject is what’s most important in a photo and making my camera into a point-and-shoot helped me drill down to the essence of what we were trying to do. I would recommend that any photographer try this. Either with a real polaroid camera or with any old camera really. Go box yourself in to free your mind. 

Photographic Atrophy

I find myself having long periods between picking up the camera. Sometimes it's because I don't have anything to say. Sometimes it's because I've only associated the camera with work or making money, and that mental block is hard to get over. When I do pick up the camera it feels cumbersome. It's like when an athlete has become bedridden with illness and finally steps out from under the sheets to find his muscles aren't as strong as they used to be. There's a vague memory in his head of how the motions are supposed to go, he remembers doing them, but it feels like his arms and legs have weights on them. That doesn't make the motions unfamiliar. In fact the more he does them, the more he remembers them and the faster he is able to do them. Atrophy of the mind is just as common as atrophy of the body. 

Every day you don't create is a day you lose the battle against Resistance. Stephen Pressfield writes in The War of Art that every artist fights every day against Resistance, the thing that is stopping he or she from creating. Sitting around and waiting for inspiration isn't how a professional creates. I often forget this fact in the hustle and bustle of New York City. However, sometimes you've been beaten too far down by resistance. Enter a third party to help you cross the threshold. In this case, an old client of mine needed to update his publicity photos. I was only too glad to oblige. Don't wait like I did for these things to happen. Go create. Keep fighting. 

Having Something to Say

Andrea in Fort Greene Park

Andrea in Fort Greene Park

The photos below are from Breakneck Ridge. Taken on an old Ricohflex TLR in the morning fog after scrambling 800 feet in a cold sweat up boulders split by time and erosion. Trying not to drip sweat over the old leather case and hoping the damn thing was in focus because I couldn’t see anything. There’s something so satisfying about abandoning NYC for a day to be in nature. Even more satisfying to scale a mountain or ridge line. I find it’s a great way to practice mindfulness. One foot in front of the other: no thinking just doing and being. But I lugged that heavy TLR in because I knew I would have something to say about my hike with a photograph. Isn’t that why we are drawn to photography? To visually communicate something we have to say? 

Storm King Mountain from afar

Storm King Mountain from afar

I tend to not write a blog post until I have something to say. In the age of social media, sharing the minutia of every day life is an easy trap to fall into. It’s too easy to post about nothing because you can voice your opinion to the masses with no effort. Or maybe even no thought. But I don’t think it’s enough to just take pictures and talk about the technical issues behind them. A post about what gear you used is informative but boring. I was just looking at the 2014 ESPN Body issue and the images blew me away. They tell stories. They evoke feelings. They show off the heights of physical prowess. Shouldn’t every image we take strive to tell a story, to evoke an emotion, to captivate and inspire? Otherwise aren’t we just instagramming our best meals and humblebrags? 

The same is true for portraiture. why take a picture of a person without having something to say? The image should evoke something. For the ESPN body series, the beauty and raw power of the athletes photographed held me breathless. And sometimes that’s enough for a photo, just to marvel at someone’s beauty and grace. It’s the reason I like the photo of Andrea at the beginning of the post. It’s just a striking image that holds your attention. Sometimes all you have to say is “LOOK AT THIS THING”. It’s why Terry Richardson keeps getting hired, despite his eccentric nature. his photos are simple, but god damn if they don’t hold your interest.

What’s hard is when a photo holds a special meaning for you, but to the outside observer it’s meaningless. I’m learning more and more that the best photos are meaningful to all. Striving to making interesting photos is my main goal now. This changes my approach to event photography. This changes my approach to portraiture. This changes my approach to every single photo. 

Aesthetics

I think when artists start out, they are just imitating more famous artists. Nothing is original. After a while you start to put your own input into your work, affected by continued life experiences and newfound tastes. It’s akin to learning to cook a dish or mixing a cocktail, and slowly adding your own twists as you master the process. I think just now I’ve discovered my aesthetic. It took 6 years of learning, experimenting, hating my progress. Every click of the shutter is another opportunity to learn. And I know eventually my tastes will change again. No artist stops trying to improve. For the first time in a while, I can look at my recent work and not cringe. 

For a week or so anyway, then it’s back to loathing. 

Giving Back to Cleveland

Hey Guys

I’m giving back to the CLE community by selling a limited run of 40 prints of my photo of the Cleveland Arcade.

10% of every sale goes to the Cleveland Public Theatre. I think they are doing amazing work and would love to help them out.

Each 12”x12” print is directly printed on an aluminum sheet. The sheet floats on a mounting bracket, so no need to frame. Gorgeous color reproduction, and the print is durable, waterproof, weatherproof and ultra-scratch resistant.

Go here to buy a print before they run out, and support CPT and CLE!
http://photos.benmeadors.com/buy/38823720_4fh9w9/3208977022_8fwv2xx/
 

Medium Format or how I learned to love the square

Kodak Ektar film. Straight from the developer's scan. 

Kodak Ektar film. Straight from the developer's scan. 

A few months ago I was gifted an old richohflex medium format camera. It uses 120 film, which I had sort of known about but never really used. I knew it was a 1:1 frame, which means a square, so in my brain I thought it would be like instagram. I love the format of instagram because it's so quick and easy and the square format is fun. 

Working with film adds another layer to that feel, because it's inherently the opposite of digital. Each frame costs money, and you can't go check the back of the camera to see if you nailed the shot. I decided that maybe shooting 120 film wasn't like instagram after all. You have to think, plan, meter the scene, be patient, wait for the shot to appear. It's a good learning experience and I don't think I'll ever stop shooting film now, even though film is expensive and scanning negatives is tedious. My goal isn't to create a technically perfect photo, but to actually say something in my voice. We are all photographers, and cameras are so plentiful nowadays that anybody can take a technically good photo. Saying what you have to say is more important than getting tack sharp focus or perfectly grading the colors in photoshop after the fact.  

Showcase Season

The Baldwin Wallace class of 2014

The Baldwin Wallace class of 2014

3 years ago, I started shooting headshots for the Baldwin Wallace University sophomore music theatre class. Last week the first class I ever photographed had their senior showcase here in NYC. The showcase is a presentation to potential agents and casting directors in the city. It’s been rewarding to follow these kids through their growth and to finally be able to see them here in the city. It’s a testament to the program when you see how much they’ve grown in just 2 years.

Kyra in 2011

Kyra in 2011

Kyra in 2014

Kyra in 2014

Back then, I was naive about how to direct a headshot session. Flying by the seat of my pants would be an understatement. I asked a few of the seniors what those headshot sessions were like. One of them related that one of her favorite images was taken right after I asked her if she would be more comfortable if she sang for me. Her incredulous smile is captured permanently as a reminder for me to never ask silly questions. I’ve learned a lot since then about working with actors, but I’ve cut my teeth with these guys and it’s just so great to see them succeed here in the city.

Ryan in 2011

Ryan in 2011

Ryan in 2014

Ryan in 2014

What makes this senior class so special to me is their individuality. I’ve met plenty of actors who fit into a cookie cutter mold of performance, taste, and personality. All these guys are being and performing with their authentic self and I think that’s key to being a great person and actor. Congrats class of 2014, can’t wait for you guys to storm the city. 

Why looks in a headshot package aren't important

From a recent shoot with Nick, fresh off a tour of A Chorus Line

From a recent shoot with Nick, fresh off a tour of A Chorus Line

Often actors will ask me "what's your package?" or "how many looks do I get?". This is a reflection of how you want to market yourself, and it's the wrong approach. I believe the correct approach to marketing yourself and how many looks you need is to understand how others see you and make that align with how you see yourself. Be honest with yourself. You don't want a mismatch between what the casting director thinks you look like from your headshot and what you actually look when you come into the room. If you are a character actor you probably won't ever be playing Stanley Kowalksi and your headshot should reflect that to a degree. Each different "look" should be marketing a different side of you as a performer. So maybe you are an ingenue but you also have a hard rocker side to you. That's great if you are aware of it and can then take advantage of that. But don't go to a photographer and try and get as many looks as possible. It's a waste of your time, and personally I'm only interested in creating a single photo that markets you the best. My shoots involve a lot of talking beforehand about how you see yourself as a performer, how you think others perceive you, and your career history and goals because I want to hone in on exactly what makes you appealing to casting directors. If you don't know the answers to those questions, it's time to start thinking about them!  Ask others, use a Johari Window (http://kevan.org/johari), talk to your agents!

Not a headshot, but something great to use on a website. 

Not a headshot, but something great to use on a website. 

Winter Headshots

You wouldn't know it, but the temperature is in the low 40s in this shot. 

You wouldn't know it, but the temperature is in the low 40s in this shot. 

Shooting in winter: it happens. I shoot headshots using natural light, and truly haven’t found an indoor location that gives me the same quality of light and depth of background that I can get wandering around the streets. I’m sure there are spaces that would meet those requirements for a pretty penny, but I don’t have the dough and I’m not willing to pass that cost on to my clients. It does put a damper on shooting in the depths of winter, so sooner or later I’ll have to find a place. But for now there are the brave few that ventured outside with me to take some head shots. Spring is fast approaching, and it can’t come soon enough. 

Carrie the Musical

IMG_8926.jpg

Check out my photos from Carrie The Musical over on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's website. This ran on the front page, and I'm glad to have been a part of it. 

http://www.cleveland.com/onstage/index.ssf/2014/02/carrie_the_musical_beck_center.html

As always with theatre productions, you never know what's going to happen until you show up. This show in particular was a challenge to shoot: lots of strobes, a large stage with a minimalist set, and lots of quick movements. I've found it's best to stay in the moment and never worry about if you got the shot. Feel the emotions the show wants to evoke, react, anticipate new moments, be ready. Always look to where the actors are going to go, not where they are. Study the plot of the show beforehand if you can. Know that your goal is to create images that keep the suspension of disbelief in place, and transport viewers inside the show. That's my philosophy and frankly I can't see any other way of shooting a production. 

Ark Media

I work for a pretty amazing company called Ark Media. We make documentaries for PBS. The company has just released a revamped website and commissioned me to create headshots for the staff. It was a really nice change to work with people who live behind the lens instead of actors. Not that there aren't inherent problems with photographing people that like to stay behind the camera. But I'm happy with the results and Ark ended up with a coherent look for all their employees. Check them out below!

New Site, New Look

Welcome to the new and improved BenMeadors.com! I've moved to Squarespace from Wordpress for a whole variety of technical reasons that I won't go into here. I love the new site, and am very glad to say all my portfolios have been updated. Go check them out! Below check out some headshots of wonderful people I've worked with over the past few weeks. 

Becca

Becca

Nolan is my outstanding graphic designer who created the logo and branding you see on my site. Check him at http://cargocollective.com/nolanbeck

Nolan is my outstanding graphic designer who created the logo and branding you see on my site. Check him at http://cargocollective.com/nolanbeck

Meredith

Meredith

Fall Weather - The best time of year for photography

_MG_9321-EditIn my humble opinion, fall tends to be the best season for photographs. The sun is just a little farther away from the earth, the light gets a little more specular and the temperature is just perfect. My wonderful and talented friend Ryan and I headed out to create some new publicity photos for his website and overall online presence. Ryan is one of those immensely talented but super humble folks that I absolutely love to work with. Check out the pictures...more to come! _MG_9240-Edit_MG_9114-Edit_MG_9281-Edit

Cleveland Plain Dealer Showcase Slideshow

finaleAt long last I'm glad to share this project I worked on back in April. I followed around the senior music theatre class of Baldwin Wallace during their showcase week in New York City. It's a hectic whirlwind for the students as they perform for agents and casting directors, try to get signed and usually try to find an apartment. All in the same week. Yikes. I spent some long hours following these guys around and just being a fly on the wall. See the full slideshow here: http://photos.cleveland.com/4501/gallery/baldwin_wallace_students_show_case_talents_in_music_theatre_senior_showcase/index.html james

nick yogo backstage

For Your Health

Doc Roy at work The practice of chiropractic treatment and care has always been controversial. My good friend (and chiropractor) Roy would say it's not controversial at all. His approach to chiropractic care is more than just making the pain disappear. It is about learning, understanding, and taking care of your body to improve your quality of life. As a tall guy who schlepps gear around constantly, I find Roy's services invaluable. I was in the office a few weeks ago to create some new marketing material for him.

Doc Roy

Doc Roy's better half, Shari

I also recorded Roy playing some of his music recently. You may know him from his Allstate video (Where are those good hands?) and I absolutely love his song "Ride the Waves". Check it below: [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCYkME2d5fM]

The Story of Jo-Beth

The man himself playing guitar at the reading Daniel Maté is probably one of the most talented young lyricist/composers in the contemporary music theatre realm. In the past, he's written a musical based on Kafka's The Metamorphoses (The Trouble with Doug) and the Book of Job (The Story of Jo-Beth). I got to take some photos of a reading of Jo-Beth. It's a great score and the Book of Job is my favorite biblical story. Daniel recently won the 2013 Kleban Prize for Most Promising Musical Theatre Lyricist!

George Salazar and Farah Alvin

Derek Klena and Shannon O'Boyle