Portrait Shoot: Patty Griffin

September 5th, 2013  |  Published in Behind the Scenes, Front Page, Noteworthy, Portraits

 (Darren Carroll)

Living in Austin for the past 20 years or so has really opened my eyes to various types of music that I never in a million years thought I’d ever take a liking to; the city’s vibrant music scene has exposed me in particular to singer-songwriters who, while hard to pigeonhole, can best be described as belonging to a sort of Americana-folk movement that’s become prevalent in the last decade. It’s also given me a chance to branch out a little bit with my photography work, allowing me to move away from sports and into portrait work with Austin musicians and the occasional bit of reportage as well. Combine those things with my not-quite-yet-abundantly-successful pursuit of teaching myself how to play the guitar, and you might understand why, when Acoustic Guitar magazine called and asked if I’d be interested in photographing one of my favorite artists, Patty Griffin, for the cover of the October issue, I was pretty excited.

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 26: Patty Griffin, photographed at the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas, on April 26, 2013. Photograph © 2013 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 26: Patty Griffin, photographed at the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas, on April 26, 2013. Photograph © 2013 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 26: Patty Griffin, photographed at the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas, on April 26, 2013. Photograph © 2013 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 26: Patty Griffin, photographed at the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas, on April 26, 2013. Photograph © 2013 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)

AUSTIN, TX - APRIL 26: Patty Griffin, photographed at the Hotel Saint Cecilia in Austin, Texas, on April 26, 2013. Photograph © 2013 Darren Carroll (Darren Carroll)

We photographed entirely on location at the Hotel Saint Cecilia, a cool little boutique hotel in Austin’s Travis Heights neighborhood. Patty’s people suggested the spot, which was fine with me because first and foremost I wanted her to be comfortable with the surroundings. We used two locations, the first being an upstairs balcony under a translucent awning, its beige stucco wall subbing in nicely for the seamless the magazine had requested for the cover. The second was the hotel’s bar/cafe area, a beautiful combination of dark woods, electric blue faux-finished walls, and red velvet. The hotel’s manager, Lisa McGivney, was more than accommodating, giving us the run of the place for a couple of hours in-between lunch and dinner service. Patty’s producer/road manager, Roy Taylor, was a huge help wrangling guitars and explaining the intricacies of each to me (since I kind of had a need to concern myself with them, given the client).

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole shoot, however, was the three-word guitar lesson I got from Patty, who for most of the cover session upstairs was improvising tunes as I directed her to strum the guitar to get a little bit of motion blur on her right hand. Now, I know that this is Patty Griffin, and I know that this is what she does–and has done for over twenty years–for a living, but there was not an odd note or chord struck during what seemed to me to be just an absent-minded session of messing around with the instrument while I took some pictures. The improvisations were beautiful, and I told her as much, and at one point I said that I wished I could play music like that for ten seconds, let alone the ten minutes that she’d been going on. (And I meant it.) And at that point came the lesson, which you guitar folks out there will get, and the rest of you can just ignore. The trick, she said, was simple: “Tune it open.”

I have a feeling there’s a bit more to it than that. But it’s probably a good start.

Anyway, on to the technical stuff if you’re so inclined to read and have made it this far… Equipment-wise, everything was shot on a Canon EOS 1D-X; the cover with an 85mm f1.2L, the interior/environmental portraits with the new 24-70 f2.8L, a lens so damned sharp that it’s almost not fair. Everything was lit with Profoto Acute packs and heads; the cover with one head in a 74″ Elinchrom Octabank.

For the interior shots we employed two lighting setups, the first–for the shots with Patty seated with her guitar–with an Acute head and an Elinchrom Rotalux strip bank aimed through a window at camera left, and a 27″ Rotalux Octa positioned camera right for fill. The second setup–with Patty on the sofa, as seen in the opening spread–employed an Acute head in a 39-inch “deep” Rotalux Octa, with a soft egg-crate grid from LightTools attached to keep the light concentrated on her and prevent it from spilling throughout the rest of the room. I then knocked my exposure about 2/3 of a stop below ambient light to pick up the details throughout the rest of the room. This necessitated mounting the camera on a tripod as the resultant exposure was 1/8 of a second at f8.

 (Darren Carroll)

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