Some people are complete pains in the arse to photograph. Everything is a chore, even if they have to sit there and do sod all, or they're smart arses, or they're just plain old $%#@wits!
On the other hand, others are a total delight.
This bloke, the botanist David Bellamy, falls into the latter category.
He is my all-time champion person to photograph. He will do ANYTHING for a photo and we've (me and other photographers on the job) had him knee-deep in a duck pond and even up to his neck in a water display at an aquarium. And for both he didn't have to be asked twice. It was if he's thought of the idea himself.
Unfortunately I don't have the duck pond or the water display negatives, however I do have this.
This photo was taken on a PR job I was shooting in the mid-1990s when I was freelancing in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I was doing the job for a window frame company at, of all places, a hothouse at Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens. The only reason I can think it was at such a location was because the wooden frames must have been made of recycled wood...or something like that.
Anyway, the PR company wanted me to do the job for them but also see if I could get a photo in the newspapers, who they knew I also worked for.
PR photography and newspaper photography are two very different beasts. PR is all about the product whereas, for the most part, news photography is about getting a great photo. Often the two cross paths but, for the most part, news photographers hate rolling up to news jobs that are thinly veiled PR jobs. We delight in trying our very best to make sure the product isn't in shot - anything to piss off a PR person. However, this day I had both hats on and I couldn't piss off the PR person - they were my meal ticket!
The one thing in the PR company's favour was that Bellamy was (is) a household name in the UK, meant there were a few news photographers there.
The obligatory photos were taken of Bellamy leaning through the window frame, looking out through the window frame - doing all sorts of things with the window frame. It was cheesy at best but Bellamy was his usual great self and doing whatever was asked of him, even coming up with a few ideas himself.
While the PR company loved what they were seeing, most of the other photographers were a bit restless. Even I was wondering what I could do to make it look interesting for the papers.
With the PR photos done, we all took Bellamy and wandered off into the hothouse, as a few of the other photographers had come up with ideas while I served up the cheese i.e. PR photos. I was scratching my head a bit but wasn't too stressed. At worst, I could send out the least cheesy photo I'd taken and feign sorrow if none of the papers used the photo (I'd still get paid by the PR company). Getting a photo in the paper was a bonus for PR companies but they didn't put all their eggs in that one basket.
I trailed off the back of the pack and started looking around. It was then that I saw the lovely soft light illuminating the fronds (that's what I'm calling them) of the plant you see in this photo. It was a simple idea but the thought of Bellamy poking his face through, surrounded by the fronds of the plant, really struck a chord - how apt for a botanist!
I waited for the others to finish taking their photos and explained what I had in mind to Bellamy. His eyes lit up and, before I could say 'that frond over there', he was off into the bushes. Being a botanical garden he had to be a little light of foot, but he was off all the same.
He poked his face through two of the fronds but it wasn't quite right, so I suggested another and 'bingo'!
I got in close with the wide angle lens and, while it looked okay, I knew the 80-200mm zoom was the way to go.
By now the other photographers had seen what I was doing and, as I positioned myself with the 80-200mm, three other photographers perched themselves around me, getting the same photo (they're called parrots because they 'sit on your shoulder' - we've all done it).
And that is the photo you see here. I tried him looking up, straight ahead, at me...and a few other poses, but this was the shot. The light was so beautiful and soft - from memory it was the start of winter - and bathed his face in a gentle glow.
If this isn't my faourite portrait, it's pretty damn close. This is as much as anything for the reason that whenever I see this photo of Bellamy I think of him on that other occasion we had him up to his neck in water and he was still smiling happily and obliging for all of our photo requests. A truly great bloke who understood the benefit of giving photographers what they wanted.
FOOTNOTE - I had this photo enlarged to one metre and framed, and had it hanging on the living room wall of my flat in Edinburgh. When I returned to Australia I couldn't bring it with me and donated it to Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens. I hope it's still there.
Gear used - Nikon F4, Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 lens, Fuji 800 ISO film, 1/125 sec, f5.6