Starting off 2008 properly, I photographed the Dresden Dolls in two very spur of the moment shoots before their performance at the Pageant. As anyone who has seen their live show can attest, this duo puts on an electric performance, and the two quick sessions we did were no less engaging as a photographer.
I met up with Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione following their mid-afternoon sound check. Originally, the shoot was supposed to be with the Dolls and their friends Gravity Plays Favorites, a St. Louis-based burlesque duo. However, due to a miscommunication with the girls from GPF, the Dolls and I decided to do a solo shoot before the concert.
We shot in two locations within walking distance that I had scouted with my assistant for the shoot, Tyler Dunn, which lent a decidedly urban flavor to the images.
While the luxury of time and travel would have been ideal, the shoot went well and I had a blast working with both Amanda and Brian. Just as with their on-stage performance, the duo is ever-ready to mug for the camera, and their flare for the dramatic made the otherwise hectic setup a great experience.
Given that I normally work with natural light in a studio setting and the available house lights during live performances, this promo shoot provided a great opportunity to test out Nikon's Creative Lighting System (CLS). In the end, the flashes worked out perfectly and certainly made the shoot possible under the failing light of the day.
Working with Brian and Amanda was an absolute breeze, as both of them are natural hams and know how to work the camera. The two were constantly changing things up and Amanda had no shortage of ideas as to what poses she wanted to introduce to the session.
In walking up to the simple second location, which basically consisted of a plain brick wall and a parking meter, Brian immediately seized on the idea to perch on the meter and assume a pose fit for a savior, which kicked up the scene to the next level. The pair's flexibility and drive to push into the theatric certainly made this an enjoyable shoot.
The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 were used for the shoot, with the latter often in its lower range. In hindsight, I would have liked to shoot some longer shots as well to contrast the wide-angle distortion, but time and the inclination to get in close for the real deal with two such great subjects were working against us.
I used three Nikon Speedlights for this shoot, which was the first time I'd employed the Nikon Creative Lighting System to any great degree. After some initial hang ups with getting everything to sync before the shoot, I found the system very easy to work, with within its own limits.
Two Nikon SB-600 speedlights were set as remote flashes controlled by an Nikon SB-800 in commander mode, which I used on-camera. I set the SB-800 to TTL metering between 0EV and -0.7EV, while the remote flashes were set manually between 1/64 and 1/16 power.
The SB-800 was used as the key, while the two SB-600s' roles changed somewhat more organically throughout the shoot, primarily acting as kickers for the environment/background and transitioning to provide fill for a few shots.
Overall, Nikon's CLS was very easy to use once everything was set up; I especially appreciated being able to control the remote units right from the SB-800. With a less sophisticated system, I'd have spent less time shooting and more time running around to change the power levels on the accent lighting.
I'd like to extend a big thanks Brian and Amanda for being such great subjects. It was a genuine pleasure shooting with the pair, and I'd highly recommend them to any photographers who have the opportunity to work with them.
In addition, I want to give a shout out to Anabel Vasquez, the Dolls' publicist, and Katie Kay, their tour manager, for coordinating the shoot and generally being fantastic human beings.
One thing I love about the Dresden Dolls is their accessibility and genuine interest in keeping things fresh with such a grass roots attitude; everyone on their team has been nothing short of excellent to work with.
Also, thanks to photographer Tyler Dunn for being able to assist with this shoot on such short notice, and for the input he had in setting up for the session.