Ahoy Hall, Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Time / Date:
7:43 PM / March 6, 2011
Camera Body: Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 24-70mm f/2.8G
Shutter Speed: 1/400s
Focal Length: 32mm
I first picked up my daddy’s camera at the age of 12 and I have been shooting ever since. I got a BA in Art Photography from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and got my feet wet in fashion photography to start with, working with fashion designers I had connected with during my years at the Academy.
For most of the 1990s I was an editorial news photographer for major wire agencies. In 2005 I was commissioned to shoot a live performance and that same evening I hung up my editorial hat and became a full time music and entertainment photographer.
Way back at the Art Academy I found myself in front of a jury who judged my work and I was asked what my ambition was, what did I want to achieve with my photography? My answer back then was the Dr Hook song: “I want my picture on the cover of The Rolling Stone”. I used this song I had in my head because I couldn’t come up with anything better at the time but I guess I was always meant to land in Music Photography. I think I have always known that was my destiny.
The transition from news photographer to music photographer was smooth as I already had the experience of working with the changing light conditions, the crowded scenery as well as working against deadlines. It’s just the music added to the background if you like. As a tour photographer I’m usually hired by the client for a certain period of time to capture the full show from start to finish and some fly on the wall shots from behind the scenes as well which they use for merchandise, the tour program, publicity and many other uses.
I had been on tour with Usher for about 3 months by the time this picture was taken so I had already established a good connection with the artist. Usher’s manager had asked me to do a portrait shoot with Usher if at all possible but in between rehearsals, meetings, press and promo appearances, the show and the travel there were very few opportunities left.
Every day I would ask the tour manager to find a possible slot to push my portrait shoot in but there was just never enough spare time available. We were running towards the end of the European tour by the time we came to Amsterdam.
That afternoon I was sitting in a room backstage editing pics when Ben, Usher’s bodyguard came in and threw everyone out of the room. Then Usher entered and said: “I’m here for you, you have 10 minutes before I have to get ready for the show.” The adrenaline rush that kicked in that day has never been surpassed.
I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice gear wise as all my stuff was still on the tourbus. I only had my camera with the 24-70 lens that I always carry with me, just in case.
Making the Shot:
I had to go with what was available and act quickly as the clock was ticking. It was the basic light that was available in the room and the bland white walls that had to do as a back drop. There wasn’t much space either so it was a no brainer that I would go for head shots. Usher asked me what I wanted from him so I suggested he’d go to his inner sanctuary of peace. I wanted the gentle, wise and warm Usher that I had grown to know over the past few months. I moved real close to him and it became a very intimate session. Up, close and personal in every sense of the word.
When I shoot a performance, an event, a portrait I don’t look but I feel. I get into my bubble and everything around me disappears. It’s just me and the subject and whatever the subject is experiencing, I experience it too through my camera. When shooting a performance it is important to understand and feel what the performer is trying to convey. That is my aim in every shoot I do, I listen, I feel and I aim to capture the artist’s story.
In this particular shot Usher is staring into nothingness, there is a smile in his eyes, he’s at peace with himself and his surroundings. I just disappeared with him into that place.
Editing & Processing:
Because of the constrained conditions which weren’t in my favour I opted for Black and White. I don’t do Photoshop, that is against my religion so I do my editing in Lightroom. I just took the Vibrance and Saturation button to zero, added a bit of Clarity and a touch of sharpness.
I’m old school. I was raised and nurtured in a time where you shot with basic single reflex cameras that had two settings, On and Off. I travelled with rolls of film and would spent nights surrounded by the smell of film developer. I am at my best when I can just pick up and shoot, make the best of what is available on the spot. I think this Usher portrait embodies this exactly.
Work hard and be tough on yourself judging your own work are the secrets to success. Today a good picture is no longer good enough. You have to make sure you select only those that are right up there with the very best. Always keep in mind that there are thousands of photographers out there all doing the same thing, shooting whatever makes them tick just like you. If you want to make photography your business then you have to stand out and be that outstanding that people will hire you. Only excellence will make someone want to pay for your pictures.
I have this urge to create the perfect image. Every since I started shooting I have been chasing beauty with the aim to get that perfect shot. One day…
About the Photographer
I’m a tour, music and portrait photographer for top recording artists. When not on the road in a tour bus I’m at home in London and spend my free time shooting complex and frightening murder scenes for bestseller crime novel covers.
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