The Thin Air asked me to do a photo-shoot with the band Girlfriend for issue 15 of the magazine. They are mainly based in Bettystown which is just under an hour's drive from Dublin. Ahead of time they filled me in on potential locations about the town that we could use for the shoot, and given I was going to be travelling a small distance I figured we could take our time and do a few more set ups than a shoot like this usually needed. This was their first band photo-shoot so it was a good way for them to get used to the process. The only downside was that all four members wouldn't be present as their drummer, Lahela, was in the USA on a J-1. I asked them to think about a way we could possibly represent her in a few photos.
The Saturday that I drove to meet them was one of the hotter and sunnier days we'd had all Summer. I drove past nearby beaches to find my way to the seaside town and met Hana, Lisa & Sophie outside the local arcade. I was excited at the prospect of shooting inside it but I couldn't let the good weather go to waste first so we set up near one of the abandoned buildings nearby as they had suggested to start with. They chose to represent Lahela with a balloon and taped a picture of her to it. The breeze tended to get the better of the balloon so we would abandon the idea after we tried a few shots with it.
We moved from one unused building to another across the road which had graffiti on the door that said "death is around every corner". This was a nice touch and something they felt would be apt, however the sun was directly in the girl's faces causing them to squint in many of the shots. I didn't like how the shots were framed based on my limited vantage points in trying to fit the girls & graffiti in frame so I abandoned this set up to go around the back of the building and try something there.
At the back there was more graffiti on doors, and the walls were covered in leaves. I opted for the latter, mainly due to the fact that parked cars blocked half the building. With the girls now in a little bit of shadow I used a fill flash, hand held off the camera and covered with a lumiquest softbox ltp. I had brought a tripod and large softbox but kept them in the car until I felt I would need them, they never made an appearance. By this stage I was ready to go try out the amusement arcade.
We browsed the arcade to see what was cool and what they'd be comfortable with posing in front of while the general public passed by. The first stop was at the slot machines. I held the flash off camera again, this time with no softbox. Behind me were more machines so this was the widest I could go for this shot. Sophie, on the right, was the hardest to keep lit as I held the flash aloft with my left hand but struggled to get an even spread of light. I fixed this is post processing (frustratingly since shooting at Hell & Back not long before this shoot I forgot to revert my files to shoot in RAW, so my editing was quite restricted). I have mixed feelings with the result as I wanted to get more ambient light from the machines mixed with the fill flash but I would have needed to give myself more time, and with paying punters walking by I didn't want to linger on too long in one place.
The next shot was simpler and more effective. Using the lights of the pool hall and nearby machines I shot the girls in this neon light without any flash. The main issue was the people playing pool in the background, but ultimately I found they proved no distraction in the end result.
Possibly my favourite shot of the day came from using the neon lights in the seated area of the bowling alley. The effect comes across a little like that the girls are in a diner, and I love how they each look in the above shot. I tried this from a few angles but having caught this shot in the first few frames, I knew I wouldn't beat it.
We'd got to the point where we wanted to use parts of the arcade that we'd better get approval on. Having scoped out the place on arrival two areas had stood out, the bumper cars and this shooting game, complete with cartoonish background & characters. Management gave me the go ahead so I gave the girls the nod to hop the barrier and enter the scene. What we hadn't accounted for was the amount of dust on the floorboards and the height restriction. I stood outside and again used the natural light of the game for the above shot. I couldn't quite get the full skull in the picture while keeping in the sign above the game. If I went any wider the gun station at the front would be in the way and be an unnecessary distraction. The girls kneeled and sat down on the floorboards for the most part for these shots, getting covered in years old dust in the process. My apologies ladies.
For the finale we made our way to the bumper cars and made sure they were not in use and that there was no queue. We ended up asking a young girl at the entrance if we could use it for a few minutes, not realising she was just a passing kid and not an underage, underpaid staff member. Again we got official approval to gain access and use the area. What drew me to it were the mirrored walls of light that would flicker on/off and in different patterns. We tried once more to use the balloon but it was not staying afloat and would turn the wrong way. It was kicked to the side for a final time. I had some cool wide shots of the girls in the whole bumper car space but I wasn't a fan of how the balloon looked in those pictures that I never gave it a full edit. In my rush to get good use of the space I forgot to take a version of the shot without it.
I alternated between using the fill flash, and using just the lights from the wall to get a natural result I was pleased with. The above image is what appeared in the magazine in the end. Afterwards we sat with a drink in the diner, looking back over the results to make sure we all liked what we had taken. Overall this turned out to be one of the best & most fun shoots I've run so far. The band were great company and fun to work with. I'm sure I'll run into them again some time in the future and catch them live.