Ben received a call from a client in Chile asking if he would like to photograph Alexis Sanchez for the cover of COSAS magazine. Alexis is Chile’s most capped footballer and is also one of the country’s biggest celebrities. COSAS is Chile’s biggest selling lifestyle and celebrity magazine.
Obviously Ben said yes.
The catch? The entire shoot had to be shot with a smartphone. Why? Because Alexis is a brand ambassador for Huawei, the Chinese telecoms firm.
At this point it needs to be stressed that Ben has not been paid by Huawei and has not been asked to endorse their products in any way. The phone, a P10 Plus, has an excellent camera but Ben would have approached the shoot in exactly the same way had he been using any other smartphone and in many cases he would have expected similar results.
So Ben accepted the challenge, and he knew the issue wasn’t going to be about image quality – he didn’t doubt the phone would be capable of producing images that could be of high enough quality for a magazine cover. Instead it was about planning and executing a photoshoot beyond his comfort zone. And lighting. This would be key to the success of the shoot. Ben liked and feared in equal measure the idea of not being able to rely on his familiar cameras and instead having to push a smartphone way beyond what it was designed for.
Just like any other shoot it was going to be about lighting, but in this case especially so. The P10 Plus is capable of shooting raw images and Ben knew that would be a big help but also knew he’d have to get the lighting just right and there would be very little room for error.
In addition this was an editorial shoot with a very limited budget, rather than a well-resourced advertising campaign. So no big lighting budget, (or even enough for an assistant). So Ben had to think carefully about what lighting he could use and how to use it most effectively.
There were other challenges too. Like previous shoots with high-profile sportsmen and women Ben wasn’t going to get much time with Alexis. In fact only 10 minutes, and from that the magazine wanted pictures from at least three different set-ups. Ben also knew that Alexis doesn’t speak English, which not only meant that it would take longer than normal to establish a rapport with him but also that our conversation would need to go through an interpreter and this would also take time. So Ben had to be efficient with the time available.
Then there was the space, or rather lack of it. The shoot wasn’t going to be in a large, bright studio but in a residential house in south-west London where Alexis was shooting a (much bigger budget) television commercial during the rest of the day. They got all the good spaces – Ben was allocated a bathroom and two bedrooms for his shoot. The shoot was scheduled for late afternoon, in London, in winter… so no natural light.
Ben was given the phone two days before the shoot so that he could practice with it and learn its settings inside out. He also did loads of tests with the lighting that was going to be used – a Rotolight Anova Pro and a series of Limelite Pixel 300W heads.
On the day of the shoot Ben arrived to set up, test, check and double-check everything. He ended up creating three mini-studios, one in each of the rooms available for the shoot.
The shoot itself went really well and despite the language barrier Alexis was a true professional and appeared to take it all in his stride. (From personal experience the same cannot be said of all Premiership footballers). Ben was definitely nervous, which often helps sharpen the mind, but in any case the shoot itself was all over in the blink of an eye.
All that was left was to pack up, go home and start editing the results. And breathe a sigh of relief.
Definitely an interesting experience. Doing something that scares you once in a while certainly has its rewards.
The client was really happy with the pictures and ended up running an 8 page spread in the magazine.