I often come away from shoots thinking; I should have… or, I wish… I rethink a conversation I’ve had or reconsider the lighting. Thats what happened to me in back in 2013; when I went to 10 Downing Street to photograph the Prime-Minister, David Cameron. It was a quick 10 seconds at the end of an interview – he’d actually left the room but I somehow managed to lure him back to do a portrait. The picture was strong but simple, a result that I was proud of given that I only had 8 (yes 8) frames.
Fast track to 2016 and I’m back; same subject, same location – a portrait of David Cameron after 3 years in the hot seat. This time I was shooting for an interview due to be published in the final edition of The Independent on Sunday… so no pressure.
I was determined to shoot something different to last time, something less safe. Generally these high profile shoots don’t really allow for a reactive approach to the environment or even any “real” interaction with your subject. I had a lighting concept that I’d tested and wanted to use, dark and moody but also rather elaborate (4 lights) and as I marched up Whitehall I dragged pretty much the entire studio worth of equipment that I needed to pull it off.
The trouble with planning a picture so exactly is that circumstances change and in this case they did. Reporter, Tom McTague and I waited to be given the all clear in a corridor; it became apparent that I wasn’t going to have time to set-up my idea, in fact, having spoken to the press officer looking after DC it seemed that I might not get a posed portrait at all. I was told to make use of the first few minutes of the interview to shoot a few candid pictures. Rubbish!
The goal posts had changed; after a few shots at the start of the interview I had about 10 minutes left to move and unpack my considerable baggage for the portrait. The office, and when I say “office” – I mean David Cameron’s office, was a good size but it was what TV interior designers would consider “busy”. It was packed full of chairs and the only clean wall was directly behind a space currently occupied by Tom and the PM. My thinking was that if I set something up he couldn’t really refuse a portrait and with that in mind I tiptoed a single light around behind him, hoisted it high in the air and without testing exposure I hoped for the best.
The interview swung around that days budget announcement and the all important BREXIT referendum; then it was my turn. I got 14 frames this time, so I have to consider myself lucky and Tom even turned his hand to the reflector. I lit him hard and went moody with a very simple setup, which I knew wouldn’t fail.
The combination of my heavy lighting and the toll of three more years as PM showing on Cameron made an interestingly different image from my first in 2013. It’s not often you get the chance to revisit a subject; especially one like this. I guess I’ll save my big idea for the next Pime-minister… If I get time!