AT THE MIXING DESK

It’s your first time in a proper studio, you want to mark the occasion.

You need THE photo for posterity. You need THE shot.

At the mixing desk.

As time goes on, you feature in and take oodles of these pictures. So let’s have a look at how to get it right.

I’ve taken loads of them since we started Grand Cru commercially. Instagram filters help, but basically my efforts have mainly been shit.

I wanted to ask the nicest man in the world, and webmaster of RecordProduction.com, Mike Banks for some tips…

GC: Mike, first things first. I’ve found myself going for it, but pull away at the last minute…. Roughly what percentage of engineers automatically adopt a ‘fingers on faders’ pose?

MB: Ha!  Most will shy away from that one!  I only get shots like that when I spend time in the studio snapping away while they are working.

GC: Which angle do you favour, from behind, or to the side?

MB: I don’t have a preference.  I try to take a range of snaps from lot’s of angles including from above.  Scanning through some recent photos I can see more are from the side.

GC: What ‘at the mixing desk’ photo are you most proud of taking, and why?

MB: These two photos are with the same engineer, Stephen Watkins, and both were taken in super low light pushing everything to the max.  Quite often, most engineers want you gone and don’t really put anywhere near the effort they put in to making their records sounding great as they do in having their photo taken.  In this second instance, Stephen spent nearly a day having photos taken trying out lot’s of different angles etc.  It pays off investing a bit of time trying to get something really good.

GC: All engineers are, of course, seriously beautiful. But what is the most photogenic console you’ve snapped?

MB: It has to be something like this EMI REDD.51 – snapped with legendary producer Tom Allom sitting at British Grove.

GC: So what are your tools of choice? Can an iPhone cut the mustard?

MB: The camera and more crucially the lens choice is very important but as in recording, great mics don’t make great records, you need something great to capture.  With photography, you are recording light, that’s the most important thing to think about.  That’s why landscapists get up super early to get that special light as the sun rises.  You could be in the same place as a photographer taking that amazing landscape in that amazing light with your iPhone and it will also look great, just not as great as with the better gear but still very good.  

Before doing anything it’s always a good idea to tidy up and make the space look awesome.  Figure out where the best views are and what you want people to see.  My favourite photographer, Arnold Newman, once said that photography is 90% furniture arrangement.  If it’s a portrait of an engineer, think of what needs to be in shot to help tell a story.

Studio photography is all about capturing the atmosphere but generally, you need to help create that atmosphere by playing with the lighting. Frequently, studios have bright points of light (spots etc) and lot’s of deep shadows.  The average camera is unable to handle that dynamic range so do what engineers do – compress.  You want to bring up the shadows so that the camera can handle the dynamic range.  You can bring in a bit of extra light to do this but the art is not to overdo it and kill the vibe.  Personally, I love to bring in some lights, whack on some gels and try to make the studio look even better to the eye before even thinking of taking photo.  It’s generally when the engineer or studio owner comments on how cool the studio is looking that I feel we are getting there.

All of that is great when taking the ‘studio shot’ but for me, I don’t really enjoy that anywhere as much as taking photos of people in studios.  That is where the better camera gear does help as a lens that sucks in light and a sensor that is big and has low noise means that you don’t have to work on a tripod but move around and get loads of shots.  The average person in this business isn’t used to having the camera on them and it feels awkward.  The more you snap, the more they get used to it and the better the pics.  

So, back to answering the question, my tools of choice are my Nikon Df or D800, generally with a 14-24mm f/2.8 lens for super wide shots, 24mm and 35mm f/1.4 lenses for wide’s that let me work in super low light and maybe a 50mm or 85mm for closeups.  Posh Leica gear sometimes gets used but it’s slower and only suitable for more relaxed shoots where the objective is to get something even more special.  

GC: In an in-the-box audio armageddon, where mixing consoles disappear entirely, is there a different posed photo that’s likely to rise to the top?

Even if desks are no more, the recording spaces offer loads of potential.  Here’s one of Flood.

Hopefully you’ve found this interesting, helpful and inspiring.

It is, after all, a serious business.

Feel free to add to #atthemixingdesk on instagram.