I recently spent a happy hour chatting with Adam Lawrence, HerioVisual’s north London-based portrait photographer, to learn a bit more about the way he works.
Adam’s unique approach to portraits is instantly recognisable: distorted perspectives, mad angles and deep-field wide shots graded in punchy colour and crunchy blacks. His subjects have an arresting immediacy that makes them jump from the page or screen. Adam explains, ‘My grandfather, a keen amateur photographer, gave me a Kodak Instamatic camera when I was about six. I learned then about angles. I shot my first roll of film looking up nostrils! To this day I like to look for different angles, usually quite low down. It comes from being young and small and looking up. I tend to shoot wide, too. This comes from the fixed lens on the Instamatic’.
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After exploring both film-making (inspired by shooting on a cine camera, another gift from Grandpa) and stills photography on an arts foundation course at Manchester Poly in the 80’s, Adam finally settled on stills. He finished college and travelled for a year with a Nikon FM2 (‘…a great camera’) and shot what he found. The results went into his first portfolio which he touted around town. With a helpful introduction from a family friend, Adam quickly secured his first professional gig with Capital Radio, ‘A few days later I was photographing Chris Tarrant and ‘the iconic’ Kenny Everett who was then a DJ at Capital Gold.’
After stints shooting celebrities at MTV and VH1, Adam picked up some work with Channel 4, a hugely productive relationship that continues today. Adam explains ‘I’m fascinated by the mechanics of film production and I love shooting on TV sets. They force me to think creatively about the angles I shoot from’.
But there’s more to Adam than funky angles and perspective. It’s a critical skill for every portrait photographer to put their subject at ease and to tease-out an insight into their ‘true’ self.
And this is Adam’s true value add; people love to work with him - a shoot becomes a dynamic partnership rather than a 'sitting'. This is as true for corporate shoots (on which he’s achieved some very funky shots of some seriously senior execs) – as it is with the entertainment sector.
Adam’s shoots can be quite noisy. Creative energy sparks and crackles from him as he laughs and jokes, provokes and pokes through his shoots; it’s infectious. In an era where the highest quality visual media are critical and authentic personality is all, I’d like to see more senior execs work with Adam; they’ll love it. Stuffed shirts no more.
Not all projects are straightforward one-on-one affairs. Anyone who’s worked in corporate communications will know that getting all your execs in the same place at the same time for a group photo can be really tricky.
But there’s a clever workaround. Photomontage isn’t new, but Adam was one of the first photographers to embrace and evolve the technique for digital group portraits.
He shoots people separately or in small groups and then comps them together against a background plate to give the impression that the full group was photographed together. Adam explains, ‘This started at Channel 4 when we couldn’t get everyone together for a shoot. It takes a lot of preparation, taking measurements and drawing plans, particularly when shooting in different locations. You need to shoot everyone from pretty much the same angle with the camera at the same height and light very carefully to match your background; it’s got to be spot on for it to work.’
This makes it a brilliant solution for corporate board or full-team photos.
Adam’s promo picture for 24 Hours in Police Custody (Channel 4 Television 2014) involved shooting 9 people separately or in small groups over three days in the studio. He then comped the individual shots onto a retouched backplate featuring an old police cell block. Adam explains, ‘The corridor (between the cells) was too small to fit everyone, so I stretched it out. I noted where the lights were positioned and replicated that on the shoot, with a woman looking through a peep-hole into a cell, for example’.
Perhaps it’s his punk-loving (today’s t-shirt, Adam and the Ants), ego-free Mancunian chutzpah set against an easy self-confidence, or maybe it’s just that he’s such a bloody lovely bloke, but no one walks away from a Lawrence shoot unhappy.
That’s not to say he gets it completely right every time. On a weekend shoot at the London HQ of an enormous multinational a couple of years back, Adam cheerily welcomed his subject on set: ‘Hey – it’s Brendan from Derry!’ to which a charming but slightly perplexed CEO replied ‘Close. I’m Bernard from Kerry’.
Oh how we laughed.
Steven Croston, agency head.
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