So the picture desk call me, “Can you be in Aberdeen on Monday? We need a portrait of Alex Salmond.” Words to send fear into any editorial or magazine photographer in Scotland. Mr. Alex Salmond, former First Minister of Scotland, and former leader of the Scottish National Party, now MSP and standing as candidate for Westminster parliament in the forthcoming elections in May, is not known as an easy subject with photographers.
So off I toodled to Aberdeen, knowing full well that whatever moments I get with Mr. Salmond would be exactly that – moments. No full, long, lengthy slow photo shoots with Mr. Salmond. It would be brief, it may well even be brusque, or belligerent.
But my desk wants as much from the situation as I can muster, squeeze all options from the opportunity. Talking shots during the interview?- Sure! Portrait – Sure, if you can get it! Candid on the stage/platform – of course! The key way to keep a picture desk happy is to provide options. Send them variety. Looking left/ looking right, verticals/horizontals, tight/loose. Options/options.
So I arrived early, a country hotel, not overly chic or endowed with background locations…except for just inside the door at the car park. A wall, with bright gold and reddish wallpaper. Some may say baronial in style, some may say Chinese restaurant. But to me it looked good. And it was beside the door. Mr. Salmond would have to come in that way, it was convenient. Rarely will a subject like himself wander far to suit the photographer’s whims. I could stop him before he’d gone far. It’d take seconds.
So I shoot a test shot, I have the journalist, the esteemed Matthew Engel of the Financial Times stand in for Mr. Salmond. It looks good. Lit by natural light, the fading daylight coming in from the dusky, damp, rainy carpark. But it could work.
Fast forward a few minutes and the car draws up. Mr. Salmond strides across the car park, I shoot a few frames, and I’m in the door before him. “Sir, hi, I’m from the Financial Times, could I just shoot one very quick portrait of you here please? It’ll take 1 minute.” Mr. Salmond looks around the vestibule, at the wall paper, and asks incredulously, “Here?”. “Yes, please, I’ll be fast”, I reply. He sighs exasperated, and passes his paperwork to his PA. It’s on. He strikes his pose, one hand in pocket, smiling straight to camera.
Bang, bang, bang, “Straight to me please Sir”, bang, bang, bang, and “Just glance out the door please.”
“Excellent, thank you Sir.” Twenty-five frames in twenty-three seconds. Look at the camera metadata and count ’em.
And he’s gone. Through the doors to my left and into his event. For me the job isn’t finished, I still have to cover inside, but the pressure is off, I’ve upright and horizontals, looking to camera, looking away, and scratching his head. I’ve options. It looks good, I’m happy, looks like a picture from a shoot of longer than 23 seconds. Result.