Behind the Scenes: Katya Surinskaya Photoshoot

This past Thursday I had the opportunity to shoot my second modeling photoshoot as part of an assignment for an Essential Portraiture class that I am taking through Brooklyn Central (#shamelessplug). Our challenge this week was to capture several portraits of a "pop star" that would be featured in a fictitious publication:

"CHALLENGE #4: You’re shooting a feature story on a pop star.  The publication needs 3 images: a mid-length portrait; a headshot; and an environmental portrait; to accompany an extensive interview (written by someone else).  The thing is, the pop star has an extremely tight schedule and is only available for 15 minutes." - David Samuel Stern (BKC)

During class we discussed a few different ways we could approach this challenge and I settled on recreating a photoshoot done by another photographer. My inspiration for the shoot was one done by a photographer named Rishad Daroowala at the 9th Street PATH station in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. I stumbled on his photoset for the shoot on Tumblr a few months ago and knew it was a look that I wanted to try and pull off as well at some point. Here is one of the images from his shoot:

Katya Tolstova (Photograph by Rishad Daroowala)

The first step in the process was to find talent that matched the original model's features as closely as possible. Katya Tolstova, the original model in Rishad's shoot, has long dark hair, a slender frame, and a prominent jawline so these are the same features I looked for when sifting through the submissions for my casting call on Casting Networks. I also wanted to match the wardrobe as closely as possible, so I included a brief description of Katya's outfit and also attached a few reference photos from the original shoot.

Part of what made the original shoot striking in my mind was not only Rishad's choice of talent but her posing and gestures; he found a way to simultaneously make Katya blend in and stand apart from the subway station by carefully selecting the composition of each image. The one thing I've learned from hearing other photographers speak about their images is the level of intention involved; in my last blog post we talked about some of the variables photographers have to work with in creating an image and the decisions they are constantly making ... everything in the frame has a purpose. The best photographers make it look effortless and natural but sometimes achieving the aesthetic we've come to appreciate with portraiture requires twisting and contorting the body into awkward and completely unnatural positions. So the next step in recreating Rishad's shoot was spending time and breaking down the composition of each image and Katya's posing. The following is an example of some of the notes I took when deconstructing each image and my model (who coincidentally was also named Katya) thumbing through them during the shoot:

I brought my notes to the shoot as a reference for myself but more importantly for my model, that way she would know exactly what we were trying to replicate with each image. But enough from me, here are seven images from my shoot with Katya Surinskaya last Thursday. I've prefaced each of my images with the original image from Rishad's shoot as a reference point. We had to change locations from the 9th Street Path Station to the West 4th Street MTA Subway Station for the last images (more about that later), so I tried to match the original posing despite the change in locale. 

Things I Learned:

  • "When in doubt ... scout" ... I completely underestimated the level of commuter traffic that would be present at the PATH station at 8PM. We had to stop shooting every 30-45 seconds or wait for the occasional lull to get in 4-5 images which made the shoot much longer than it should have taken. In retrospect we should have shot around midnight when the trains run less frequently.
  • "I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it" ... I only had my 50mm lens with me during our shoot, the nifty fifty is great for portraits but didn't give me much room to breathe in the already cramped station tunnel. I would have loved to have my 18-55mm lens on me to allow for some more versatility and wider angle shots.
  • "Do your homework" ... I didn't think I would run into any issues shooting inside the 9th Street PATH station but about 75% of the way through the shoot Katya and I were escorted out of the station by two NYPD officers who informed me that you need permitting to shoot on PANYNJ property -__- Had I done my research I would have known this and applied for the required permitting.

So what do you think? Did I do Rishad's shoot justice? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section.