The Making of: Emerging Musicians' Portraits

DISCLAIMER: What started as an effort to document rockstar style from the bands playing BYT and the Hamilton's upcoming DC Emerging Artists Super Sampler, Vol. 1 (holla for tickets HERE) was quickly derailed. I pictured leather pants, perpetual bedhead ("organic self-styling"), knock-offs of those Chloe boots that everyone and myself swoon over, and more Penny Lane faux fur than you can shake a stick at. 

I was wrong, somewhat.

A few bands were interested in style, and the rest...not so much. BUT I HAD A PLAN! Instead of focusing on their fashion style, I focused on the visual identity of the band, and everything that comes with that. From band houses of questionable cleanliness to laser light shows and beloved Pomeranians, the visual identities of the bands are unique and very much their own. So I set out to shoot portraits that tell the stories of those visual identities, and adventures into the wilds of the DMV ensued. As a personal photographic challenge, I shot each in a different lighting style - I had a whole group of ready and willing subjects, and I was determined to make this a learning opportunity. 

You can check out my three-part feature on BYT HERE, HERE, and HERE, and read on below for my favorite shots, behind the scenes wildness, and of course, the photographic dirt. 

Black Hills


Upon arriving at Aaron Estes' house in Northern Petworth on a Saturday afternoon, I was attacked by the first element of his visual identity, his maniacally happy Pomeranian named Warf. (So cute!!!!!!!) After lots of face licking and petting and belly rubs (Warf, not Aaron), Aaron and I chatted over a pot of coffee and took  photos. His quiet and thoughtful way reflects his mindful way of writing music, so when he told me he is also a professional trapeze artist and trainer, I was a bit surprised (and really really excited, to say the least). I love when people surprise me! 

Since he is a straightforward guy, I opted to shoot his series in natural and available light, which provided some soft options upstairs at the dining room table, and more dramatic ones in his studio. 

Drop Electric


Drop Electric drive the world's most typical and awesome minivan, in which they picked me up to bring me to their band house in the outskirts of Silver Spring. Lots of jokes about soccer moms, juice boxes, and FREE CANDY ensued, I can assure you. Anyway. It was the typical band house to the nth degree - equipment and gear piled ceiling high all over the place, and a living room devoted to being a rehearsal space. Drop Electric write epic movie trailer music, so after taking pictures that showed their love for all things audio visual (PROJECTORS! LED LIGHTS! COLOR!!), we made a hilarious short film of them doing epic household chores...forthcoming, promise! 

To continue my lighting challenge, I created a custom continuous light set-up using projectors and custom LEDs. This enabled me to give each band member their own vibe while still creating a set of images that transformed their living room from band house to performance space.

Beyond Modern


In an apartment complex near Catholic University, I entered an unassuming condo to shoot Beyond Modern at their graphic designer's house...which happens to be covered almost entirely in graffiti. Yep - all of these photos were taken inside. And it's awesome. We figured out that we have mutual friends, and then we set off to shoot, hooting and generally having fun. 

After standing with my mouth agape as I took it all in for a good 5 minutes, I started planning the lighting. To create drama that would match the backdrop while adding some street grit to our interior shots, I popped a diffuser on my hot shoe flash and positioned it just slightly below the guys. I was able to move it around as needed, but generally kept it low and close to make them pop and use the harsh shadows to separate them from the graphic backdrop. 

Kid Named Breezy


Breezy is the ultimate gentleman - he picked me up in a nice car, took me to his nice house, and then offered me a refreshing drink once we were inside as we got to talking about visual identity. Clearly a fellow kindred spirit, he knew exactly what I meant form the beginning, and we decided to include his favorite artwork in the photos. His neuvo-Fresh Prince style is distinctive, but it was his eagerness to talk about the art scene in the District that made us fast friends. 

Since we were shooting during the day outside by the pool, there was available light but it read pretty flat. To combat it, I positioned my gridded flash just off camera to add some light interest and help make things pop. That with his colorful ensemble, and shazam, portrait a gogo! 

Locke Kaushal


Locke wanted to take me on a tour; after we met up at the Fort Totten metro, he changed into his vintage Army/Navy jacket and we hit the streets of Fort Totten. Our destination: Kennedy Ave, which was U Street before U Street and remains one of DC's classic neighborhoods. This un-gentrified neighborhood acted as the perfect backdrop; from colorful storefronts to institutions like the Kennedy Theater, the settings were perfect for shooting. 

I shot Locke similarly to how I shot Breezy, except this time I widened the light and floated it a bit higher then the camera. With the overcast mix of daylight, it added just enough extra drama.

Reesa Renee


I'd been warned that Reesa loves shoes, but I wasn't prepared for her to show up at House Studios with 6 pair. That was an awesome new challenge for our shoot - take on an unfamiliar setting and a pile of props to boot. I love shoes, so I was excited to tackle the challenge!

After some working around, chatting like old pals about the DC music scene, what we love and struggle with being creatives, and dating, we decided to shoot two lighting setups with the small softbox I brought. For one, I positioned the softbox in a traditional 45 degrees off of the camera, and for the other, I moved it back parallel and occasionally behind Reesa for deeper shadows and more drama. 

Shark Week


As I tend to, I got incredible lucky with the setting for Shark Week. They invited me to hang out backstage at the Warner Theater, where they were set to perform at the top of the stairs in the lobby...leaving the stage itself vacant for our shoot. In an epic Tom Waits moment, we climbed onto the stage, which was occupied by a single lightbulb on a mic stand. OF COURSE IT WAS. So lucky. Incredibly lucky! I'd like to thank the gods of the Warner Theater for leaving that light bulb for us there, because it made for some hell of a photo set. Coupled with some reportage-style shots from the greenroom, and we were good to go and off to a raucous Thursday night at Que Sera. 

Of course, Ryan Hunter Mitchell did a power slide down the banister at the Warner. Wouldn't you? ;)



While at most shoots I come in with a plan and run the show, that definitely wasn't eh case at my shoot with Incwell - I realized quickly that their magic lay in their dynamic interactions with one another. I set up a softbox to light their basement, and took a fly on the wall approach to shooting their larger than life personalities. 

RA the MC


Ra was all down to business but incredible in front of the camera - our shoot was a quick 20 minutes, and I had the highest ratio of usable frames from her. Amazing! We shot in the back alley next to House Studios, and had a blast talking fashion for our whole shoot. 

To light her, I hooked an SB800 up to my Pocket Wizards (WHICH ARE LIFE ALTERING) and fired a single flash up into a silver-lined umbrella to get nice spread and snappy light. Gotta make sure that boombox is lit properly! 

The Static


We talked a lot about vanity, since there's no doubt that the Static don't lack it. In fact, that's what made them incredible to shoot - their high-energy, theatrical style and personalities lit up as soon as I took my gear out and started shooting. Those are my favorite kinds of people to shoot, that's for sure!

With my SB800 firing into a silver-lined umbrella I had no problem filling the studio with light, but the photos were a little boring. To spice up an otherwise standard studio space, I decided to try playing with varying levels of shutter drag, and that did the ticket! With me dancing all over the place and weaving in and out of their rehearsal, these more than the others felt like I was on stage with the band, and we had a blast.