I had the pleasure of photographing and interviewing the Bay’s fastest rising stars, Underrated.
My job here was to photograph, interview, and then write a 1,200 word article on the band for publication in one of the Bay’s well known magazines. It would be a 6 page spread and since I’m the guy asking the questions I wanted to look at the history of the band, the motivations, the reasons, and let the guys tell their story, whatever that may be.
The thought process here was to hopefully avoid cliches about rap group photography. I didn’t want to portray them as gangsters, with suits and Cristal and Bentleys , throwing shapes and giving gang signs. These are intelligent, witty, urbane, and soulful artists who just happen to make hip-hop music. I checked out their songs before the shoot and I was struck by the unflinching emotive rawness of their lyrics. They’re delivered sharply and slickly yet the subject matter is occasionally pretty heavy, like friends in jail, or teenage pregnancy, or not fitting in, or just a general fuck you. It’s quite refreshing honestly when a new group doesn’t just replicate what came before but follows their own voice.
So… photos. Since I knew it was destined for a magazine, that probably meant a DPS opener (double page spread). With that in mind I shot something with enough space left in the frame that would both be nice to look at but leave plenty of room for copy and the opening section to the article. Here’s a selection of options depending on what the mag wanted to run: band left, band centred (for a one pager), band right. All of which have enough space for words and a headline.
When shooting for magazine spreads it’s prudent to leave cropping space around the edges and also be mindful of where the gutter will lie (that’s the fold in the middle of the publication). Camera focal screens have a central focus point so you have a headstart when it comes to framing like this. Generally speaking, if you can avoid a face being in the fold of the page then do so. It’s the first thing people look at in images, and if it’s buried in a hard fold somewhere then your photos don’t look as good.
I lit the above frames with just an octabox on the left side pointed right at the wall. It’s the shadows I wanted, not really the light itself. I wanted to get a little bit of a badass vibe to the pic. These aren’t insurance salesmen, they’re rappers and I was actually inspired by Nako’s hat (guy at the front), because I knew that if you get the light high it’d cast these sweet shadows across his eyes.
The leading line of the wall makes the eye wander through the page from front to back, and I used that diagonal line as a counterpoint to the band, who are standing pretty vertically. Rather than having the guys just stand flat against a wall, I asked Shaayd (guy in the black) to face the camera, Joe in the middle could pretty much do whatever with his positioning as long as he stayed reasonably close to the wall. The guy at the front, Nako, pretty much only had one option (that I could see) from this angle which was to crouch down. This way, everyone gets equal space, nobody really looks like “the front man” (there isn’t one) but they look like they’re part of the same thing. I wanted Shaayd to face the camera to stop the eye wandering too far, like the focal point of the image ends where he stands, the leading line of the wall might be useful but it’s not the subject here (this was further emphasized by the fall off in the lighting, which I enhanced in post by darkening the furthest points so the eye is drawn to the brightest part – our band). There’s a bunch of simple things here that combine into a rather successful image.
This was around the back of a closed cafe. We found a chair, found a little space with the sunlight filtering through a tree, I set up a light opposite and hey presto. I liked how the colours complimented the frame, like the reds and maroons are evident through the image from left to right. Again, just a big octabox to the right, shooting around f/14 to get everything in focus.
Next up it’s the good ol’ headshots. Again, trying to avoid the typical rap/hip-hop gangster vibes I wanted to do something serious, artistic, bordering on high-brow, and present these guys in an honest way with no probs, gimmicks, or bullshit. Just good light and a “stand there and look at me” direction. I like this kinda stuff, but it takes communication between the photographer and the subject. It’s unflinching, unforgiving, and there’s nowhere to hide so you’ve got to trust one another and chat enough beforehand to have a rapp
And here’s Shaayd:
I guess I was trying to keep it dignified. Shot all these with a 135mm @ f/3.5. Lit with a softbox up front and an octa round the back for the white background effect. And here’s the opening page.
Great fun with some great dudes. Here’s their Soundcloud if you want to give them a listen: https://soundcloud.com/bayunderrated