Jan 242012

DISCLAIMER: I am fully aware that “fryed” is not the generally accepted spelling of “fried”. It’s a blues thing. Just go with it.

With that out of the way, I’d like to introduce to a positively kickass blues trio fronted by a young firebrand named Matt Hill. Originally from North Carolina, Hill currently makes his home in St. Louis. His mid-south roots are plainly evident when he speaks, and when he is wrestling his guitar to the floor during one of his sweat-drenched live shows I swear I can smell open pit BBQ cooking.

OK, maybe I’m projecting just a little.

Either way, Hill is an award winning up-and-comer on the blues scene and his new trio features two more of St. Louis’ most talented young guns: Joe Meyer on drums and Paul Niehaus IV on bass. I’ve photographed both Joe and Paul before, so I was pleased to shoot them again with the new project. I also knew that the shoot would be a blast, especially with Joe around–he’s one of the funniest people I know.

The Concept
The goal of the shoot was a single image that would work for the band’s new album, entitled “Tappin’ That Thing”. The idea for the shoot came from the band, and when Matt told me about it I had to smile. I mean, it’s a booty shot. No two ways around it (pardon the pun). And in any genre but the blues, it would seem hokey and cliche (except maybe hip-hop, but I digress). But it works perfectly with Hill’s rootsy yet modern take on the blues, especially considering the setting.

The Location

Matt told me the band wanted to shoot in a greasy diner and after a couple hours I realized I had the perfect spot: Billie’s Fine Foods.

Billie’s is an old-school family diner that seems content to fly below the culinary radar of most folks. I’m sure it has a lot to do with their location on a sparsely populated side street in an industrialized area south of downtown, but it’s a shame that more folks don’t partake of their terrific food. They serve the standard diner fare of all-day breakfast, meatloaf, and sandwiches but they also offer more, uh…creative dishes like the meatloaf omelet, The Heart Stopper, and the Breakfast Bowl. Oh, and The Avery–an off-the-menu item consisting of massive helping of biscuits, eggs, sausage, potatoes, cheese, onions and peppers all smothered in a thick layer of country gravy. Oof.

And if it sounds like this is the kind of place you would typically eat at after a night of hard drinking, you’re right. Billie’s is typically open at 5am and closes its doors at 2:30pm. But on Friday and Saturday night they open up at midnight (yes, you read that right) just for the barhoppers and night owls. Which probably explains why the place looked so radically different when I went in there at lunchtime to discuss the shoot with the owner. I quickly realized I had never been there in the day time. And on the day of the shoot even Joe remarked that he had trouble finding the place because it was daytime and he, well…had all his faculties about him.

The Shoot

When we set up the shoot, I told the guys that I would handle the location and left them in charge of their wardrobe and finding a model for the photo.  This wasn’t a high budget shoot so casting a pro model was not going to happen but I knew that they had ties to the burlesque scene here in town and figured they would have no problem finding someone.  Granted, I had a backup plan in mind. Then, the day before the shoot I got a text saying, “guess who your booty model is for tomorrow!” from my friend Kelly, who I’ve worked with before.  You guessed it, she was my backup plan.  Funny how things work out! In addition to having the uh, physical requirements, Kelly also boasts the qualification of being an actual waitress.  +1 for realism.

The day of the shoot found St. Louis dealing with its first significant snowstorm of the year, so getting around was interesting but the weather also thinned the lunch crowd a bit. This allowed me and my assistant for the day, Jarred, plenty of setup time. Since I had a solid concept in mind, I set about finding the right camera angle for the composition and then lighting the scene.  Lighting details are below if you care about such things.

Once we had the lights in place and the camera locked down on the tripod, the guys were free to move around in the scene.  Which they did.  A lot.  You can see some outtakes below.  As expected, we had a blast but since we were on the diner’s time we wanted to get out so the crew could go home after their already long day.  So we got several possible shots out of the setup, did some quick photos with another setup in a nearby booth, and called it a day.  Total time from setup to strike was about 2.5 hours.  As an added bonus, the band loves the photos.


The main shot used a four light setup

  • an Alien Bees B800 in a 50″ softbox, placed camera right.  This was our main light.
  • an Alien Bees ABR800 ringflash, on camera.  I used this to fill in shadows on the subjects.
  • a Nikon SB800 camera right, behind Matt, aimed at the camera.  Just a rim light to keep the group from blending into the background.
  • another nikon SB800 in the kitchen, aimed at the wall to Kelly’s right.  Otherwise that whole wall goes dark.

Here is a shot of the space with just the overhead fluorescent lights.  They are still on in my photos, but I used a fast shutter speed to effectively turn them off in my photos.  All the light you see in my shots comes from my flashes.  Wanna learn more about this stuff?  Visit Strobist.com.

I purposely left some blank spaces since the photo is going to be used as the album cover.  Gotta have somewhere to put the text!  I also skipped most of the post-processing since whoever does the artwork for the album will want a clean image to start with.

A MASSIVE thank you to Chris and the staff at Billie’s Fine Foods for their patience and gracious use of the restaurant.  Also thanks to Jarred Gastreich for the assist.

Let me know what you think of the photos below!

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