William Shatner is best known for his role as Captain James T Kirk on the Starship Enterprise. I’ve had the honour and pleasure of having him in front of my lens on two occasions. In total my time spent photographing him has equated to 15 minutes. 15 minutes with Bill.
Being an ardent Star Trek fan, as well as prolific portrait photographer with a strong reputation for icons of stage and screen, this short time with the screen legend has amounted to an extraordinary experience. Yes I’m just a little star struck.
To meet one of your childhood heroes can be both awe-inspiring and utterly terrifying at the same time. Now try operating a camera under the pressure!
Where it All Began
My first sitting with William Shatner was back on 12th February 2015. At the time I was travelling to LA and wanted to take the opportunity to include Shatner in my Expressive Portraits exhibition.
Prior to my LA trip I had written to Shatner expressing my wish to include him in the project. I have to admit it was a stab in the dark. Nonetheless, the reply came that he would do me the honour of accepting my invitation.
In preparation for the shoot, I arrived at Shatner’s office at 10am feeling a mixture of nerves, apprehension, and barely-concealed excitement. As I approached the window I could see a large looming figure behind the blinds. It was him. There, right before me stood one of my childhood ‘greats’. Gulp.
The door was opened by Kathleen, Mr Shatner’s PA, who kindly informed me I had just 10 minutes to set up and 5 minutes to shoot as he was due to take a flight. No pressure then! I couldn’t let my nerves get the better of me, but how to shoot a living legend in just 5 minutes?
Fortunately experience prevailed and I was ready and waiting as Bill entered to take his seat on the stool. In my mind’s eye he was, until this point, a flamboyant character. As I took a deep breath and introduced myself I realised I was completely wrong. Rather than brash and larger than life, Shatner is a very quietly spoken man of only a few words.
As a portraitist I have learned to separate the individual’s character as an actor from the characters they have played. In the interests of simplicity (bearing in mind the 5 minute window) I opted straight for this method. However, my initial direction didn’t receive the response I’d hoped for. My request for a plain expression was met with “I don’t do plain!” I quickly took the opportunity to explain my reasoning: that as a character actor the viewer needed a blank canvas, an expressionless person, on which to hang their own thoughts. No good, no bad, no love, no hate, no character, just an opportunity to view and assume. In my experience it is this essence which makes an image thought-provoking and memorable.
With my explanation, Bill became more amiable. Deep breath again, using the word “emotionless” in preference to “plain”, this time he agreed. Mr Shatner took his own breath, closed his eyes, and then looked up directly in to the lens, clearly having cleared his mind of thought or question.
I clicked. The result was my first thought-provoking portrait of William Shatner. In 5 minutes magic had been created.
Second Time, Double Time
The second time I photographed Shatner was when I returned to LA in April 2016. Once more I got in touch to arrange a sitting. I had so much more I wanted to explore in the subject that is William Shatner. I was truly delighted to learn of his acceptance. Even more, Shatner himself was ecstatic with my first efforts. I’d done it, in just 5 minutes!
The sitting took place on 4th April 2016. Once again I turned up at the office to be greeted by Mr Shatner’s assistant. This time I met a more relaxed Shatner with nowhere to go, and a little more time on his hands. He was more casually dressed, wearing a black shirt as I had requested, and was available for the double the previous five minutes.
Preparation for a Portrait Sitting
Before any sitting I always spend time planning. This ‘behind the scenes’ time is invaluable for the ultimate portrait. In the case of Shatner I spent hours looking at material from both films and television programmes, as well as reviewing and assessing the other available portraits of Bill to date. There was a common theme running through 99% of them: Bill as the hero.
Speaking about this type casting, Bill has quipped: “I always play the hero and always get the girl.” To make a portrait of Bill that was different and unique I wanted to draw him out of his comfort zone. I wanted to polarise him away from the ‘hero’ and instead get him in the camp of the villain.
Take Robin Williams for example: a face well-documented in comedy and farce. Yet, when he was given the creepy and darker character named Sy in the psychological thriller One Hour Photo, we saw something utterly new, unnerving and compelling.
This became my impetus for the sitting with Shatner. I wanted this to be about Shatner the ‘bad guy’. I took the time to explain my reasoning and idea to Bill and he was very happy and compliant to give it a go.
In directing the screen icon, I drew on Shakespeare. I asked Bill to think about a Shakespearian villain and to assume this as his muse. This enticed Bill to gaze leeringly in to the lens as we transformed the heroic Shatner in to the evil alter-ego.
After 10 minutes, my sitting with Shatner came to an end. In total, I had experienced 15 minutes with one of my absolute screen heroes in front of my lens.
In order to direct an actor who you have admired for many years is an incredible opportunity. Photography is about so much more than merely clicking the shutter and getting some lighting tricks right. Successful photography, and successful portraiture, is about evoking a feeling. This process is impossible without direction. Direction is key.
When I teach photography workshops, students are frequently overawed by the number of different camera and lighting techniques available. This is the stuff of textbooks. However, what transforms you from someone who can operate the equipment to a talented photographer is what happens in that moment when the lights are set up and the camera is ready, and you are alone with the subject. This transcends the techniques and instead becomes about invention. A good photographer, therefore, is a good director.
Shakespeare, in Henry V, once penned:
“Oh, for a muse of fire that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention!
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
Emotive and powerful, and rousing to boot, in portrait photography is of utmost importance to set the scene. You must find your muse and use it to direct. You must think outside of the box, and take your inspiration from cinema, art, or simply by digging deep in to the wealth of your own experiences to find something new and original.
Actor James Podmore arranged his Actors Headshots at the Liverpool studio last week. Opting for Package One, James wanted to update his Headshot portfolio with a fresh look. It is important to update your headshots at-least once every year. As an actor your image and style changes continuously, your always learning and need a good photographer to demonstrate your acting ability in still photography. This is no easy feat as Actors are so used to moving on stage and screen.
With inventive scenarios and direction, working with the worlds most recognised acting talent. Including Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen, Natalie Dormer, Sir Derek Jacobi and many more. I have developed my own unique style of working with actors ensuring their photographic headshot experience is an enjoyable; relaxed session; to create the very best in Actors Headshots.
April saw me spending three weeks back over the pond in Los Angeles, leading me to dub the city my second home. This avenue of photography has really taken off for my business. Back in 2014 it accounted for barely 2% of my work load. Now, in 2016, 15% of my assignments take place in the City of Angels.
On home turf it’s a similar story too. Whilst I will always remain true to my roots, Liverpool used to account for 75% of my work, whereas now 60% of my time is devoted to the capital. As my career has developed I’ve followed my heart, always seeking to let my passion see business sense. The combination seems to be working.
I’m an Englishman in… Los Angeles
Looking from the outside in has given me a different view of Los Angeles from the average LA dweller themselves. It took a bit of adjusting to the laid back surfer dude lifestyle. For a formal portrait photographer this poses one big shift in dynamics: out is the formal attire of military wear and the suited and booted, in comes the shorts, t-shirts and slip flop look. Quite a contrast.
This follows through to business attitudes too. I’m used to presenting my business persona, known to the Americans as the British Stiff Upper Lip. This is a strategy that works well in the corridors of Whitehall, or with eminent London actors, but does leave you feeling a little like a fish out of water in Los Angeles. I’ve had to become chameleon like and change my persona to suit a different brand of clients. In Los Angeles I’m likely to be grabbed en route to the shoot to go grab a taco, crack a few jokes. Shoots will frequently be finished up with a chance to go for dinner when I get quizzed about my works and exhibitions.
With a three week visit this time I wanted to head out and experience the real LA. With the convenience of AirBnB this wasn’t too hard as I could do it from a few different apartments and guest houses.
After 14 hours of flying I was grateful that my first stop-off was in the quiet hills of La Canada Flintridge. A perfect place to relax, unwind and find my feet. I highly recommend the Melrose Trading Post which is open every Sunday. This place is what we would call an antiques and vintage fair in the UK. It’s a delightful mish-mash of stalls with street food and live entertainment. If you want to enjoy some really good food and listen to live music, and buy something vintage make sure you pop along.
Down to Work in Los Angeles William Shatner was the subject of my first portrait sitting, once again in his offices in Studio City. The previous time I had photographed him I had needed to work fast – I had 5 minutes before he had to fly off to a film set. This time was a different affair. He was wonderfully relaxed, sporting linen trousers and sandals, the epitome of the Californian (even though he is Canadian). LA grows on everyone. I was able to direct several different looks and expressions, and was very pleased with the results as was William Shatner himself.
Heading downtown to a studio apartment, I moved in to the hustle and bustle of central LA. Welcome to the cultural melting pot. Downtown is unusually small, not at all like New York or London. Being able to walk these streets was a real pleasure knowing that just 20 years ago this was a No Go zone. Despite the compact downtown area, LA in fact spreads out as far as the eye can see into several cities and towns. Downtown has some wonderful quaint and bohemian places to visit, the Last Book Store is a must. But be careful – you will come out with a box of secondhand books as I did.
My second sitting of the trip was with legendary actor Richard Herd. Quietly renowned, he as starred in a diverse range of movies and television series, mainly in the 1980s. He starred in TJ Hooker & in the science fiction series ‘V’. You may have also seen him in the 1970’s film FIST.
It was a pleasure to be invited to Richard’s home for the sitting. I was delighted to have a look at his own art work, being a keen painter himself. He showed me one of his portraits of Rod Steiger who has starred with him in movies. It was an impressive sight. Richard is now 83 and constitutes my ideal subject for portraiture. He truly has a face that’s been lived in: his features tell the tale of his life, and his aged hands and features make for epic portraiture. His experience as an actor made him a joy to photograph. Richard was at natural ease with direction making my job easier. His poses and expressions were effortless. I donned my thick skin to have him swear at me to express anger, the results were worthwhile!
Sitting Number Three with actor Jonathan Frakes took place at his home way out in Tarzanna. Jonathan once played the role of Commander Riker in Star Trek the Next Generation. Anyone who follows my work knows that I’m a bit of a Trekkie, so this was a real treat for me.
Jonathan is now a director. He’s been responsible for directing many episodes of Marvels Agents of Shield, Falling Skies, and his latest project The Librarians. It was incredibly interesting to meet Jonathan. An exceptionally tall man, I took my wife Sasha with me to assist on the sitting. Sasha being 6’ 2” herself was still dwarfed by him. His stature combined with his natural portrait-ready face made a series of striking frames.
Los Angeles Welcomes My Fourth Sitting . This sitting almost certainly was my favourite. I had the pleasure of photographing actor Jeffry Combs, a true master of talent. Again he tickled my Trekkie fandom, but Combs is also known for his starring role in the 1980’s gore fest, The ReAnimator as well as other roles. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance in “Would You Rather” – it’s a horror movie with an interesting twist.
Meeting Jeff at the entrance of the apartment, we headed out for a taco and a chance to chat about his latest projects – and to get a sense of the man in the flesh ready for his shoot. Jeff is another epitome of Californian style and relaxed charm. His face is animated and expressive and he truly put on a performance for the shoot. I directed him to imagine being giving a parking ticket right after the shoot, the expression was worth it and broke free from the Californian laid back style. Every frame tells a different story. It was a privilege to see each element of my direction reflected in a unique expression, a moment in time caught in portrait. I just hope he didn’t in fact get a parking ticket!
Nearing the End, with My Second-to-Last LA Portrait Sitting
Actor Harry Groener was the star of my penultimate sitting. I was previously due to shoot Harry later in the second week of my visit. However, Harry texted me to say he had just been cast for a part, and the wonderful beard and slightly long hair he was sprouting would have to be cut off. With this in mind we moved the sitting forward. As a wonderful character actor, I wanted to capture Harry as the mammoth of the stage he is. One of the things you understand is that Character Actors enjoy the rugged look: The Stoop, as I like to call it.
Once again, a laid-back character greeted me at the apartment. We worked together to create several different looks and emotions to create a series of wonderful portraits that would challenge and inspire. Harry is an incredibly talented actor, absorbing my photography direction effortlessly.
My Last Photography Sitting in Los Angeles My final sitting of the trip took place at our final destination: The Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City. Without a doubt, The Sportsmen’s Lodge is by far our favourite hotel in LA. It is an icon of the 1950s. Incredibly , John Wayne once fished in the lake behind the hotel with his son. The hotel certainly hasn’t lost its charm and is well worth considering it if you’re planning a trip to LA.
Actress Kitty Swink was my final sitting of the trip. Kitty is the wife of my good friend, Armin Shimmerman. A superb actress, Kitty’s eyes are a striking combination of hazel and green. Kitty and Armin mirror my wife and I: one is tall and one is short, and we’re not looking at the usual gender stereotype! For Kitty and Armin this in fact helped the pair to gain a role as a married couple in Dudley Moore’s movie, “Like Father Like Son”. Let’s not forget that Dudley Moore himself would feel at ease with the stature of myself and Armin! Nonetheless, Kitty is generally more a native of the stage as an astounding actress. She is effortlessly expressive and a true talent indeed.
Rory Lewis, Back to Blighty All in all, the trip was a very successful. We were welcomed by this incredible city, and we spent three wonderful weeks exploring it. I completed six successful portrait sittings that have become essential parts of my portfolio and depict my love of portraiture.
I’m looking forward to returning to LA in June. This time the focus of the trip will be to teach a workshop with my new partner, Samy’s Camera. Nonetheless I already have several plans to complete more portrait sittings.
If you are looking for a photographer, notably a specialist in portraiture photography, in Los Angeles, then give me a shout. I’m in LA several times a year and always keen to schedule new assignments.
Toby Jones is one of the UK’s most prolific actors, After appearing in supporting roles in films between 1992 and 2005, Jones made his breakthrough as Truman Capote in the biopic Infamous. Since then, his films have included The Mist, W., Frost/Nixon, Captain America: The First Avenger, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Dad’s Army. I invited Toby to sit for a portrait at the London Studio and to my wonderment he graciously accepted. He arrived at the studio looking very bohemian and scruffy. Jones only, 5ft 5in with his quirky tufty bed head hair and a few day’s stubble. His distinctive looks have helped him play a range of flawed heroes.
Before we met, I spend days watching his work, Patterns emerge when you binge-watch Toby Jones. One is his formidable ability to define a character before he even opens his mouth. In Infamous, a blink-and-you-miss-it gesture tells us his Capote is going to be a terrible gossip (he scans the room slowly, mouth closed but tongue sticking into one cheek); in Berberian Sound Studio, his walk suggests a man both pedantic and socially crippled; in The Girl, the grind of little jagged teeth hints at Hitchcock’s sadism.
Jones is one of my favourite actors, seeing his bohemian image I wanted to create a series portraits with a uniquely patent and unadorned view of Toby. Unprepossessing the viewer with Toby’s distinctive and individual character. Jones was a joy to work with, and seeing his immense talent first hand through the lens is a joy to behold.
Cellist Jonathan Dormond arranged a sitting at the Liverpool Studio, being a classical performer Jonathan needed a portfolio of photography for his online professional listings. As a photographer, I offer a wide range of services for musicians, whether you are a classical musician, an opera singer or even a conductor. Covering the North West UK, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, and London.
Ex-Solider Craig has been told by many people he should be a model. Craig scoured the internet and found my website booking a model/fitness portfolio session at the Liverpool Studio this week. It was wonderful to meet and work with Craig.
Unsure of the whole process, I helped him step by step through the photoshoot, directing him in poses etc. I’m sure Craig will have a great career as a male model. If you are looking for a model portfolio or are interested in a career in modelling please get in touch, I have a number of suitable packages.
Pianist Hywel, booked a Portrait Session at the Liverpool Studio, needing a portrait for his website, and online presence. Hywel requested a natural portrait, working over a 45 minute session we captured several frames which really illustrate Hywel’s outgoing personality.
Magician Sean Heydon booked a Portrait Session at the Liverpool Studio to update his portfolio material. I seem to be photographing a great deal of Magicians only recently photographing Philip Hitchcock a few weeks ago. If you are a Magician or another artist in need of a photoshoot, please take a look at the comprehensive service I can offer right here in Liverpool, or across the UK.
Actor Luke Bailey best known for playing Sam Bateman in the long-running medical drama series Casualty, and comprehensive school pupil Marley Kelly in Waterloo Road. Arranged to have his Actors Headshots updated at the Liverpool Studio this week.
I hate having my actors headshots done, but it’s a necessary evil. However Rory made the experience enjoyable and more to the point my agent loved the photo’s. I recommend his work and would return.