John Tsiavis has made a name for himself by his effortless yet evocative portraits of celebrities. But as we all you know, you need to step out of your comfort zone from time to time. When John was asked to shoot a series of images that were “unique in an interesting way” he saw an opportunity to do just that.
Surprisingly many successful photographers did not want to become photographers at first. John Tsiavis is one of them. John wanted to work with advertising. The only reason why he started to take photography seriously was that he needed a portfolio to apply for an advertising course at the university. When he was not accepted at the course, he took the interviewer’s recommendation to show his photographs to the photography faculty down the hall. And from there on one thing led to another.
Today, John is above all known as a commercial portrait photographer, creating effortless yet evocative portraits of celebrities and people of interest, such as Bono, Al Gore, Geoffrey Rush and Rachel Griffiths.
“I enjoy it because it’s a challenge,” says John. “Often with celebrities, it’s a ‘high stakes’ kind of photography. The pressure is really on. You’ve often got a very small amount of time with some huge personalities and you have to come out the end with something unique. When you get the shot you want there’s a great deal of satisfaction amongst everyone involved.”
But John also enjoys the variety that comes with a broader repertoire. For instance, he was recently asked by a client to shoot a series of images that would illustrate the various professions within the media and arts industry. The only requirement was that the images had to be vibrant and interesting in a unique way. So, John left the well-treaded path and set out to create the so-called Movement shots – a series of images that forced him to approach his art from a whole new angle.
“First of all, I created a massive black set, much like a stage, for the performers to move through,” says John. “The performers and I worked together to choreograph their movements so that they would move across the shot and tell a story with their expression. I used flash to freeze the performer at the right moment, and continuous light sources to light their movements through the exposure, which varied between 1/2 and 1 second. We played around with front and rear curtain flash synchronisations and even used the Profoto Air Remotes to manually fire mid exposure for some interesting results.
“A Softlight Reflector was used as key flash light. Various other lights with Zoom Reflectors were placed around the scene. Pro-7a packs with ProHeads were used for optimal flash duration and everything was gridded to prevent the light from spilling onto the set. Last but not least, ProTungsten heads with BarnDoors were used as our continuous light sources and placed in various frontal positions.”
The results speak for themselves, but getting there was not as easy as John first would have thought.
“We had limited time to shoot the job, and I think we underestimated all the contributing factors,” says John. “Light spillage was the biggest issue we had to overcome, starting with daylight. At exposures of around a second, any kind of light creeping in had the potential to ruin the shot. We had enormous black stage curtains hung everywhere and the windows masked off. We also had several continuous light sources pointing into the set, so a lot of care had to be taken to flag everything from where we didn’t want it.”
“When we eventually finished building the set, we were amazed at how large it turned out to be –the entire bottom floor of our building! But even that could have been bigger. With this kind of photography space is your friend. Next time we’ll go even bigger!”
See more of John’s work at his website.
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