I recently had the chance to take some promo shots of Secret Shine, a Bristol-based-band that continues to enjoy a cult following.
Secret Shine is an alternative rock band, founded by Scott Purnell and Jamie Gingell,with its roots in the early 1990s indie scene and was once signed to Bristol’s celebrated Sarah Records label, which was known for putting out jangle and ‘twee’ records among other things. The band’s new album, The Beginning and the End, came out at the end of 2010.
Secret Shine vocalist, Kathryn Smith got in touch with via via mutual friend, Pat Reid, of The Great Admirers, a band I’d shot back in 2008 – and now is a two-piece featuring Pat and, er, me. See what happens when you’re out and about taking photos of folks? Members of Secret Shine provided music for The Great Admirers’ Keynsham EP release.
A number of bands influenced by the heavily distorted yet often melodic sounds of Kevin Shields’ My Bloody Valentine gave rise to what was dubbed the ‘Slough scene’, as a handful of notable bands were based in the vicinity of the much-maligned town, and then ‘shoegaze’ by the then popular inky music weeklies.
‘Shoegaze’ was initially a term poking fun at bands that played through so many effects pedals to create their epic washy soundscapes that they spent most of the time staring at their feet. The term later lost its ‘negative’ connotations as a growing number of fans flocked to seek new bands working in the genre. Some bands were loud and heavy, others sweet and twee with elements of C86 jangle-pop. British shoegaze became inflential in alternative music scenes eslewhere – the Americans call it dreampop, which is probably about right.
Shoegaze is undergoing a bit of a revival in the UK and overseas, which is great. After a whole decade of kids ironically aping the worst of the 80s a wider early 90s revival is overdue.
For me, a jaded music enthusiast, the pre-Britpop area of the early 90s was a fertile period for UK indiepop. The laddish chugrock of Oasis and the grating mockney chirruping of Blur seemed to kill off all my favourite contemporary bands by 1995. A few survived, like Teenage Fanclub, but do you remember The Dylans, Mega City Four, BMX Bandits, Carter USM, Moose, Ride, Lush, Kingmaker, Bleach, Kitchens of Distinction, Curve, Salad, Denim, The Autuers, Midway Still, The Cranes? Good stuff… especially The Dylans – I modelled myself on the hippy-nerd look of Colin Gregory aged 14, when I still had a mop of curly hair. Did they ever reform? I never saw them live as I was still on the young-side for proper gigs.
Anyway, I’m digressing into indiepop nostalgia, back to the shoot: The plan was to take some shorts of Secret Shine band members around a dining room table, relaxing and playing board games. The band wanted to do something a bit different to the typical ‘glum band members gazing into the camera shot’ and were looking for warmer, earthy tones.
The dining room area was quite small with white walls. Small spaces and white walls can be a problem as you always get a lot of natural fill, where flash light bounces around the space and it’s therefore more difficult to get dramatic, directional lighting. Still, we did okay, and by increasing contrast in post-production it’d be possible to up the impact of the image. White walls are better than, say, bright red walls, as then there is colour cast issues to think about. Flash lighting is daylight balanced, so some warming filters applied in Photoshop post-production would also work.
Another issue when utilising a small domestic space is that you are usually highly restricted in your choice of focal lengths. I decided to make a virtue of this by going with wide angles and working with it, first using the 24mm end of my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens and then taking things into even more extreme territory with my Canon 17-40 f/4.0 lens. It was a good opportunity to try out some wide angle techniques. Without such restrictions, I tend to like the look and feel of quite standard focal lengths like 50mm or 85mm – perhaps that’s a habit born of using a Hasselblad with just a couple of prime lenses.
Of course, there will be some, or a lot, of distortion with a very wide angle but if you work with this and make it deliberate it can add an extra dimension to the image and make it less generic – as long as the people in the shot don’t look unduly freaky due to the sharp shifts in perspective all is fine and dandy.
Lighting wise, I used a Bowens Gemini 500 flash head and 100cm softbox, triggered by PocketWizards. With light bouncing off white walls, providing fill whether I liked it or not, there was no need for additional lighting. Besides, there wasn’t the space to place anything else. I’m enjoying simple one-light set-ups more and more at the moment. Why over-egg the pudding? Too many lights and you can end up with a kind of Hollywood chintz. A well-positioned softbox and a quality studio flash head will always look good.
When I felt comfortable that there were enough dining-room shots in the can, we moved to a staircase. Here I had to use the 17mm end of the 17-40 lens, shooting the members of Secret Shine perched on the steps. I was shooting with a Canon 5d MKII where17mm really is 17mm. This time I knew I’d probably have to work a little with the perspective in Photoshop and/or Lightroom to lessen the extreme distortion. Adobe Lightroom 3’s lens correction tools are fantastic for adjusting perspective or correcting issues like barrel distortion.
Scott is a designer, with a successful design business, so will likely add his own touches and post production to the images, but on this post there are a couple of images I briefly played with myself.
Independent Bristol film maker, Lucy Dawkins is currently making a documentary about Sarah Records, The Story of Sarah Records.
Secret Shine’s official website can be found here: http://www.secretshine.co.uk/
If you are a band or performer looking for quality photography, please get in touch.