Benedict Cumberbatch shoot for Vanity Fair by Jason Bell | Phase One

Benedict Cumberbatch shoot for Vanity Fair by Jason Bell | Phase One


I’m Jason Bell and we are here in south-west London on Wimbledon Common to shoot Benedict Cumberbatch for Vanity Fair. We have got a variety of lighting. We always tend to sort of mix it up. I’ve got three Profoto heads hidden in the background. They will basically beat the daylight so the end result is going to look like night. We plan a lot of it and set it up but always when the person is in camera and I start shooting is when I really decide that needs to move or that comes up a bit or that goes down a bit. We need to work out where to put the generators around the smoke machines and it seems that we have got enough cable so that doesn’t matter. I’ll have a look at the lake, I’ll be back. Got what you need? Backlit, let’s fill a bit here with flash. So you know what I need here? Yeah, how close in are you going to be? I think we should be quite close. Really, I think it is like that and all you are going to see is water behind. Let’s meet the dogs. I’m Jason. I’m the photographer. It is always the run-up to the shoot that is the most difficult bit. Planning is fine and having the idea and setting up, but the worst moment I always find is almost the hour before, waiting for the person you are photographing to turn up. Worrying about if it is going to start raining or are the dogs going to run off. Okay, well, they are a real deal. How good are they at standing still? I couldn’t handle two. You couldn’t? No. I couldn’t hold two, well, it depends… A new and unexpected problem. Great! Nothing ever goes wrong. It is always great. It turns out great every time. I think in a way a slight anxiety beforehand is good for you because it makes you focus. Give me a stop more on all the lights. At this stage I end up trying lots of different things and I get to a point where I have too many choices. Let’s try with less daylight. It’s easier to feel when he is here. And then he is there and then you are clearer about what it is you are trying to say. Sometimes playing with the lights beforehand on our own is sort of a cold exercise. You haven’t got the narrative of the picture to really say: Okay, now I know it should be like that. Now I am aware of what is possible. Okay, so there is a spot – I’ll show it to you in the test shots – it is quite out there, it is fun. I’m excited! And I’m excited, too. Fantastic! That is where we are at now and I think that is good. If you want to undo this… or start as you are? Well, this is quite nice, sort of high fashion and very organic and wild. I think it would be quite nice to keep it reasonably… Smart? Yeah, I think so because of the context. The trick is it’s a collaboration with all the guys doing the lights and the smoke. I’m not doing it on my own. I’m the captain of the ship. Well, we have got him something to do, haven’t we? Keep him busy. The hounds are good. Control them! Here we go! Here comes the smoke. That’s great! Okay, let me see your other hand. Every shoot varies. This is a big bigger because we have animals here, so there is an animal handler and the animal handler’s agent and then we have got hair stylists, clothes stylist, stylist’s assistant, I have got 3-4 assistants with me. It is daytime and I want it to look like night. So we have to cheat that with flash and mist. All those things require people to look after them. The smoke is perfect now! So that is how I want you to try and keep it. It is better with flash, isn’t it? Oh man, that’s great! I like to have a sort of narrative in my head which you don’t necessarily get when you look at the picture, but it sort of informs the mood of the picture. Okay, here we go, 1, that’s perfect, Kieran down down down, good. So, on this occasion I am imagining that he has been at a ball and he is probably drunk and he is going home with his dog. We have got to get that look where he looks handsomely dishevelled rather than just looking incredibly rough. That is the story in my head for the picture. It helps me decide where light should be and how they should be and even how I print. And it helps him to think about something rather than just: I’m having my photograph taken. We have got it, haven’t we? We are good. Relax everyone. I think you should change outfits. That feels like what I was imagining beforehand. What I like is that he looks very in control. And we have got a perfect eye line from the dog. That’s hilarious, look at that. Look at this fella! You are being outstaged. I don’t want it to look too real. It is not meant to be naturalistic. It is very stylised. You can tell a lot has been done to it. There it is. That is how I want him to look. This is always a lovely part in the shoot where you feel like: Okay, job done. Now you can just have some fun and play with it. We will do it again in a different outfit. Something less formal. I’ll start you off in the same zone because that is where we are lit and then we’ll start to move. I’ll mess around a bit. I’ll walk around a lot more and we’ll let him do a bit more and we will just see what else happens. Keep the smoke coming boys. We have got much more ambient and sun coming through now. I want this just daylight. Kill the flash for a second. Go, come up a fraction. Now it looks like a winter morning. Stop. I know I can see a light in the background but I’ll just retouch it out. Let’s try that with flash now. No, other way. That’s great, yeah. Let’s go there. That looks amazing! He is art directing the shoot now, I love it. That is good. That is lovely. My favourite thing about working for Vanity Fair is the creative freedom. They are fantastic at saying: What do you want to do, okay, do it. It is very rare that they would say: We need it exactly like this. They would come to me and say: How do you want to do it? That is obviously an exciting thing as a photographer to be allowed to do what you want. Boys, smoke has got to go over here. Good. Straighten the hand. Look at me. That’s nice, very nice, hold that! Relax the hand, it is fine. Good. Fear and blur – it’s what we live for. Not very attractive… Thank you. Great stuff! He got very involved and there were things he wanted to do, which I always really like. And now we will move on to the second location down by the lake. We are at our second location and Benedict’s idea is to jump in but the water is so murky. I don’t even know how deep it is. So we will test that first. Who knows what he is jumping into? We will see. That’s not deep enough but that’s quite deep. What could possibly go wrong? What are we on… 80 mm. Alright. Come stand by the water’s edge. I suspect we are going to end up just using ambient and having him quite backlit. We will see. We will test that now and maybe just a reflector at the front. Are you regretting your rash offer? A little bit. Let me show you. It is shallow here but it is that deep there. Is it cold, no, it’s not too bad. Really, it’s fine. The notion we are trying to get across is that you are giving your clothes up for good. Because what they are doing is that they are driving people to give their clothes to the stores, so it has something to do with discarding clothes, taking your tie off, throwing it away, undoing your thing. The clothes trick is there anyway because you are fully wet, so we don’t need to be overly literal. But something where you are starting to unbutton your shirt as if you were going to throw it off. Does that work? Yes. It does? Let’s just do a few here where you are taking the tie off and unbuttoning the shirt. Like I’m going to go swimming now, so I’ll just get rid of my clothes. We do discarding the jacket, taking off the tie, unbuttoning the shirt. Okay, off we go! Look back at me. Drop it. Look back at me now. Less! Less, really? He’s cutting me down in my prime. That’s really nice. Jesus! That’s what I want to see. That’s fabulous. It’s a much nicer picture, much nicer. You are sinking, what is going on? You cold? I am now. That was beyond the call of duty. It’s very good. Collaboration is really important. It’s not just the photographer, it is a big team effort. You have the designer, the stylist, and the groomer and it is about all of that coming together, and then once you have tried to get the ingredients right, you then just let go and have fun with it. Look, flares of water. Never seen that before. You get that buzz from it if you feel that you have had a little bit of creative input and done something different in your day and it is not just a routine shoot then that is really the thing that sort of just freshness. Being fresh in every aspect of it. I’m kind of excited to see how this one turns up in the final wash. You look like you are levitating! It is really weird! It is nice when people make an effort to sort of enjoy being photographed rather than it being a chore. Thanks again! See you on the next one. Where we will be in a quiet warm studio, and we will just wear something, and it will be so easy. Thanks for going the extra mile. It has been a really fun day. I got what I wanted and now I can start worrying about tomorrow’s shoot.

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