Behind the Scenes of an Album Cover Shoot [with Phrase]

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I recently had the opportunity to interview Australian photographer Nicole Reed from A Shot Away about a shoot she did with and Aussie musician by the name of Phrase.

The shots were for the cover and album art for his next album ‘Clockwork’. Nicole (and Phrase) have given me permission to share some the shots from the shoot.

Phrase_mg_9408.jpg

The images in this set are certainly unique – what was the brief that you were given on what the client wanted from this shoot? How did it evolve to what we see in the final results?

I wasn’t actually given a brief, well I guess the brief was the album and the songs it contains. Phrase by chance had seen an exhibition I had shot, (done with director/stylist Sarah Hanisch) and then contacted me about doing the photography for the cover of his upcoming album.

His only directions where more about what he didn’t want, nothing typically hip hop, and it didn’t necessarily have to relate to the name of the album. (which in hindsight was smart as he has recently had to change the name from “Burn It Down” for obvious reasons.)

He gave me some selected songs from the album to see what I could come up with, (a photographers, or any creatives dream client really!!) and that was it!

After listening to the songs Phrase gave me, (over and over so many times I was able to recite the lyrics by heart after 3 days!) I picked up a recurring theme of the struggle of everyday life and the fight against a mundane existence. Nearly everything that is prominent in each photo is a reference to something literally, or metaphorically from Phrases lyrics.

Story_1.jpg

In the end I choose to represent this by actually presenting the idea to Phrase to shoot a “story”, rather then just one cover shot. It’s like a “day in the life”.

I was lucky that Phrase was really into the idea, as the shoot was a hell of a lot of work on his part and it was a huge day of shooting. (I chose to shoot the morning shot’s in the morning, and the night shots at night for realism.) I was also lucky that he was able to pull the “acting” part of the shoot off as well, he’s a natural in front of the camera and is very insightful creatively and has great vision for not only his music, but for photography as well. Without this I don’t think the photos would have worked quite so well, I guess without this the photos wouldn’t have existed in the first place as he is definitely not one to settle for mediocrity!

Story_3.jpg

Once I had presented my idea to Phrase and he had approved it the next step was to source locations/props/talent. I recruited Sarah Hanisch, (who art directed and styled the exhibition mentioned above) on the job who did the styling in all of the shots and helped with the location choice (a friends house in the burbs) and props.

Story_4.jpg

I used my assistant, Milly as the “wife” in the bedroom shots.

What’s with the bandaged bloody hands?

The bloody hands were Sarah’s idea. They represent the metaphorically the “daily fight” of life. If you look you see he starts off with clean bandages, and they get bloodier and dirtier for no physical reason throughout the story. It also adds some mystery to the photos, and get’s people asking questions!

  Story_5.jpg

What gear did you use in the shoot?

I used a canon 5D for this shoot, as some of the framing is quite tight and I needed full frame. I also used a 24mm tilt/shift lens, and shot for the main tethered to my MacBook, using Capture One.

Lighting wise I used natural lighting mostly for the outside of the house, and elinchrome monos for the inside, and I did shoot through the windows (except the kitchen one as there wasn’t a window into this room). I wanted to give the lighting a harsh fake feel for the inside.

I used various light shapers like umbrellas, and a grid with a blue gel for the “TV” scene.

Story_6.jpg

What was the biggest challenge/s in this project?

In the end, the biggest challenge was choosing the actual cover shot. In the end we didn’t think any of the shots were appropriate, as out of context they didn’t make much sence, and they didn’t leave a lot of room for a title etc. We did a new shoot in my studio of Phrase in character against a clean background.

Story_7.jpg

What would you do differently if you were to do it again?

I would have liked to have split the day/night shots into two different days. Shooting 9 shots, with set changes, costume changes in one day is really hard work, and by the time we got to the last couple of shots everyone was quit drained and very tired. But in the end everything comes down to budget.

Story_8.jpg

What has the feedback been like from the client?

The feedback from the client was very positive, like I said above, Phrase is a dream client, and as above the only issue was the cover, and that was easily resolved. I have also had great feedback from the record company as well. They said, and I quote “these are some of the best promo photos we’ve ever seen from an Australian artist on Universal”!!

Story_9.jpg

—-

Thanks to Nicole and Phrase for sharing their images and answering our questions.

If you’re interested in learning more about Phrase the artist you can listen to some of his music from his upcoming album “CLOCKWORK” by visiting his pages at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Phrase/37692453639 and http://www.myspace.com/bigphrase.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • These are some great images.

  • I agree with the poster above – excellent images. Must’ve been a hell lot of work setting everything up.

    One typo in the article though:

    The bloody hands WHERE** Sarah’s idea.

    **should be WERE

  • Great walkthrough! Thanks for sharing. LLove the post processing work. 🙂

  • Great photos.

  • David

    Danferno, this is not the only typo in the post. I don’t want to sound like a jerk, but the article would have been even more pleasing if some editor had looked over it.

    Anyway, great photos and concept.

  • Wow – that sounds like a lot of work. I remember the first time I took some work assisting a pro was the day I decided I never wanted to do my hobbie as a profession.

  • I like the idea of the bloodied bandages on the hands. Tells a story. Great photos!

  • I would argue that the fact that everyone was tired at the end of the day worked for the shot. You can see that Phrase looks physically exhausted. I think it lends to the idea of fighting through every day life. And you can’t fake fatigue the way it’s displayed in that picture. He looks weary to the bone and it works fantastically.

  • bee

    Just wow! These photos are really great, I love this series! Thanks for this interview, too – really nice to read the making of.

  • Thanks for getting the photographer to agree to let you show the images. The shoot was pretty darned creative. Since I’ve wanted to do a story-based shoot for a while now, this has helped give me some ideas.

  • Mei-Ling

    He should have ironed his pants…

  • synthesist

    In the first pic the edge of the seamless is visible by his foot.

  • regarding the first photo (of Phrase in his tie) – this was clipped out and cropped at the waist before use, so seeing the “edge of the seamless” wasn’t a concern. Funny you mention it though, it’s not the edge either, over the heat wave during January the foundations of the building my studio is in moved, and it’s the floor of my cyc being pulled apart! Not so seamless at the moment…

  • This is one of the best series of photos I’ve seen in a while. Excellent job with everything. Also, good article to go along with the pictures, explaining the concepts and all.

  • Very nice series, thank you! Really liked this interview – and though I hadn’t thought of it until I read the reply above – his actual exhaustion towards the end might have really made a difference in those last shots so it definitely worked out. Thanks for sharing.

  • danny harris

    KEEP PUMPIN IT OUT MAN!!!! LUV YO WORK.
    NICE PHOTO SHOOT. PURE TALENT…. BOTH YOU AND NICOLE,
    THANK YOU NICOLE FOR GIVING ME THE CHANCE TO MEET N HANG OUT WITH PHRASE. YOUS BOTH ROCK! HOPE TO SEE YOUZ SOON.

Some Older Comments

  • danny harris March 10, 2010 01:41 am

    KEEP PUMPIN IT OUT MAN!!!! LUV YO WORK.
    NICE PHOTO SHOOT. PURE TALENT.... BOTH YOU AND NICOLE,
    THANK YOU NICOLE FOR GIVING ME THE CHANCE TO MEET N HANG OUT WITH PHRASE. YOUS BOTH ROCK! HOPE TO SEE YOUZ SOON.

  • Sarah April 11, 2009 12:31 pm

    Very nice series, thank you! Really liked this interview - and though I hadn't thought of it until I read the reply above - his actual exhaustion towards the end might have really made a difference in those last shots so it definitely worked out. Thanks for sharing.

  • Scott April 7, 2009 01:09 pm

    This is one of the best series of photos I've seen in a while. Excellent job with everything. Also, good article to go along with the pictures, explaining the concepts and all.

  • Nicole April 2, 2009 04:46 pm

    regarding the first photo (of Phrase in his tie) - this was clipped out and cropped at the waist before use, so seeing the "edge of the seamless" wasn't a concern. Funny you mention it though, it's not the edge either, over the heat wave during January the foundations of the building my studio is in moved, and it's the floor of my cyc being pulled apart! Not so seamless at the moment...

  • synthesist April 1, 2009 12:54 am

    In the first pic the edge of the seamless is visible by his foot.

  • Mei-Ling April 1, 2009 12:23 am

    He should have ironed his pants...

  • Eric Mesa March 31, 2009 09:54 pm

    Thanks for getting the photographer to agree to let you show the images. The shoot was pretty darned creative. Since I've wanted to do a story-based shoot for a while now, this has helped give me some ideas.

  • bee March 31, 2009 05:33 pm

    Just wow! These photos are really great, I love this series! Thanks for this interview, too - really nice to read the making of.

  • Winter March 31, 2009 01:17 pm

    I would argue that the fact that everyone was tired at the end of the day worked for the shot. You can see that Phrase looks physically exhausted. I think it lends to the idea of fighting through every day life. And you can't fake fatigue the way it's displayed in that picture. He looks weary to the bone and it works fantastically.

  • MeiTeng March 31, 2009 12:42 pm

    I like the idea of the bloodied bandages on the hands. Tells a story. Great photos!

  • Light Stalking March 31, 2009 07:22 am

    Wow - that sounds like a lot of work. I remember the first time I took some work assisting a pro was the day I decided I never wanted to do my hobbie as a profession.

  • David March 31, 2009 07:03 am

    Danferno, this is not the only typo in the post. I don't want to sound like a jerk, but the article would have been even more pleasing if some editor had looked over it.

    Anyway, great photos and concept.

  • Rick March 31, 2009 06:28 am

    Great photos.

  • Yanik's Photo School March 31, 2009 06:13 am

    Great walkthrough! Thanks for sharing. LLove the post processing work. :)

  • Danferno March 31, 2009 05:58 am

    I agree with the poster above - excellent images. Must've been a hell lot of work setting everything up.

    One typo in the article though:

    The bloody hands WHERE** Sarah’s idea.

    **should be WERE

  • Jeffrey Byrnes March 31, 2009 05:45 am

    These are some great images.

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