Sound Matters More Than Lighting in a Photo Shoot

Why the veteran photographer arranges the lights just minutes before a shoot, yet agonizes over the music she plays for each subject.
  • Transcript


Question: What is your working routine as a photographer?

Carol Friedman: My days are kind of controlled by my projects, so sometimes they’re album covers.  Sometimes they’re commission portrait shoots.  Sometimes they are editorial, so it kind of—I don’t dictate it.

Question: Why do you only shoot on film?

Carol Friedman:  Well I guess I’m half traditionalist, half modern girl and I just never…  I love the digital world and I love electronica and after I shoot everything is digital, but I just... I don’t know.  I love my cameras.  I love contact sheets.  I love the visceral thing of film and I’m not positive that I can replicate my lighting digitally.  My assistants tell me I can, but, just stubborn I guess.

Question: What equipment and materials do you like to use?

Carol Friedman: That is the least interesting part of my work.  I kind of—you learn it,  you master it, and then you make sure that it just disappears.  You know, like if I could have invisible lights, I would, and invisible cameras.  I’m just really trying to get at my subject and I respect the technical aspect, but it is not anything that I think about at this point.

Question: Why do you spend more time preparing the soundtrack for a shoot than the lighting? 

Carol Friedman: For me there’s several components to picture-taking and it starts with my goals as an artist.  It’s capturing I guess the inner life of my subject and then it is giving them their idealized version of themselves.  We all look in the mirror and see us a little blonder or a little thinner or a little younger, whatever that ideal might be and most of the people that I’m photographing are selling something, you know whether they’re on the front of an album cover or a magazine or they’re a corporate person ready to switch companies or a doctor selling a skincare line... so I want to help them achieve that. And when I worked at Motown Records the head of the label called it, you know, he’d say, “Diva, you need to fix them.”  So he called it fixing people and that is really the joy of what I do is really... not to fix them, but to give them the them that they want to be visually and a big part of that is… for me is obviously making them comfortable, making sure that our… because it is a dance.  You know a photo session is really a dance and making sure that they’re comfortable and for me it’s the music, the music, the music.  That is everything.  So I do select a soundtrack for each of my subjects and again my assistants you know they make fun of me because that is more important to me than the lighting, which I just do in a minute right before, but I spend a long time on the soundtracks.

Question: What’s the most successful piece of music you’ve played during a shoot?

Carol Friedman: A lot of the people that I photograph are master musicians themselves, whether they’re singers or great jazz players and it’s kind of fun to figure out who they came up with and who they emulated or who they idolized actually. And that's just... it’s a wonderful way to get at who someone is through their own love of music and going right at their subconsciousness if you will.  You don’t play girl singers for girl singers.  You know, there’s certain things.  You do play Ellington for Bobby McFerrin. Sometimes like for Teddy Pendergrass, Teddy has a whole lineage that came before his solo career with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, so he has a signature song, “The Love I Lost,” so I planned it.  I got him ready.  There he was.  We put on “The Love I Lost” and the minute he heard that bass solo, boom, there was the album cover for “Joy,” and it really was joy, that is the title, because it was that visceral memory for him.  So sometimes it is an outright manipulation like that, but most of the time I’m just, I’m creating a mood that is a place of comfort for the person and a way for our dialogue to be more fluid.

Recorded on April 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen