Welcome to Brandon McCranie’s zany, creative, and talented world!

In my “Characters of Natchez” photo series, I set out to photograph a limited number of local people and portray or reveal something that is uniquely them. In doing so, I use a photographic style, lighting technique, camera angle, lens choice and setting that fits them. I don’t use a one-size-fits-all approach and squeeze them into my “box” – the “box” changes with what best represents them. Harder and more taxing upon me? Yes. But, it’s also much more rewarding in the end because it stretches me artistically and creatively to fit the techniques and style to what will best reveal them. This is “subject-centric” photographing. My entire process is designed in every way to bring out the essence (or at least one aspect of it) of that person. That’s my goal anyway. Although I may shoot five hundred photos in a given session, I am working toward the one shot that best represents the person. That image … “the one” … is what I post to my portfolio’s “Characters of Natchez” section. However, in this blog I provide an extra shot or two and go into the back-story of the photo shoot to reveal a few more interesting details about the person and the session.

Brandon is a very talented person who literally and figuratively wears many hats. (When I looked into shooting him and did my study of Brandon – the first thing I noticed besides his energy and gregarious nature was his fun variety of headgear.) He sings and plays guitar in his band Mojo-Mudd, is an amazing bottle-cap artist, and also is a radio personality at a local radio station. Even with all of that, that’s not all he does … he has a day job at Rolling River Bistro. However, the above three creative aspects were the three elements I chose to focus upon when thinking about an image that might truly capture his personality and be “Brandon.”

After an initial social media contact following a “call-for-talent” I made, I phoned Brandon and then spent a quick thirty minutes at his home scouting out a shooting location. In Environmental Portraiture the idea is to capture the person in their environment, in other words, in context to their life and what they do. This is in contrast to studio portraiture, where you photograph your subject in a studio with a backdrop. Studio portraiture can be very effective in that it “isolates” the subject to that one element – the person alone. So, both approaches can work really well. For Brandon I chose to go on location and shoot him in his bottle-cap workshop or in his home environment if I could. The problem with this approach are the logistics of lugging lighting and camera gear, and at this time of year if the shoot is outside (as this one was), the heat, humidity and mosquitos make it tough.

After scouting his place and finding a great location that matched my “vision,” I went back that evening and I spent about four hours gathering my gear, hauling it, unloading, setting up lights, arranging the “set,” doing test shots, and finally shooting. Keep in mind I am going for one final image – that one special shot. In Brandon’s case, I fired off 301 total shots, about one hundred of which were test shots for lighting or scene composition. Every single item in the photo is deliberate – every single item. If it’s there, I considered it and left it in. We continuously tweaked every little thing, including arranging the bottle caps on his table. His wardrobe, hat, gesture, posture, my angle of view, framing, lighting, etc, were all carefully chosen to bring out the goal of the image – to capture Brandon. THAT is shooting deliberately; and while it is difficult, I love the creative control it brings.

I used seven lights, including mono-strobes, a 53″ octabank (a large softbox), and various other high-tech lighting gear … and, we even plugged-in a $10 work light for some of the background lighting. (Low-tech works well too sometimes.)

After using a couple of lenses, I asked Brandon if he had time for me to play around with a brand-new lens I just received called a Lens Baby Composer Pro. I had an Edge 80 optic mounted on this lens front. It allows me to have “slice” of focus area in my shot, and to be able to widen or narrow that slice of focus, and even move that around in my composition as I desire to creatively. The areas of my framing that are not in the slice of focus are, of course, blurred. The effect is to draw the viewer’s eye to what is in focus, and creates a nice effect for special shots. It’s considered a “special effects” lens, but if used well can create quite an image. It gives us photographers another creative tool to draw upon. In this case, I tried it on Brandon.

Here is that image I captured of Brandon using the Lens Baby. It’s a “bonus image” that captured another very important aspect of Brandon in my opinion. The main shot (above) captures Brandon’s public persona. Anyone who knows Brandon at all (or knows OF him) has this idea of him as zany, energetic, full of life and personality, hats!, creativity, talent … all of which contribute to his wild world of color, music, art, and fun that makes him larger than life. That’s why a 16mm fisheye lens was used in the above photo, because it “warps” (in a good way) what we are used to in our own world when we encounter Brandon. We are entering his world when we view that photo (at least I hope it conveys that). But, in this second photo, we see a very different Brandon … a quiet, reflective, thoughtful man who has hopes, goals, and a faith of his own.

I can say that because I got to talk with Brandon quite a bit during this long shoot, about his life and where he is going. In fact, we both opened up to one another a bit about our lives and aspirations, both as “creatives” but also simply as men who want to be better human beings tomorrow than we are today. He told me about his amazing weight loss; and, he answered honestly and poignantly when I asked him what motivated that desire to lose all that weight. 

Brandon is a deep thinker … a thoughtful and reflective, philosophical man who, like many of us, has chosen to make a better life for himself, and raise others around him in the process. While the first shot (top) is the best shot to portray what I originally set out to do: to show the energetic, talented and artistic Brandon that is the radio personality, musician and artist that he is … the second shot portrays a Brandon that I would suspect his family and closest friends see as well. This is a much smaller group of people, but I suspect they see and hear him talk about his life, his hopes, and what he thinks his purpose on this green earth is, and how he wants to squeeze out all the marrow of life. Perhaps this shot represents the Brandon that he knows himself to be, maybe even more than the earlier one.

The second shot was not posed, it was actually an accident – the best kind of photograph (when talent and preparation meet opportunity) – snapped off in a moment when he was a bit tired after hours of working on his yard and then hours of shooting. I was fiddling with the fussy Lens Baby, and he became lost in thought. When a person looks down and to their right, they are doing deep thinking. I looked up, saw the shot and took it.

So, welcome to Brandon’s world … both of them. 

I hope you enjoyed the images and the peek behind the process of what I do, and how I got these shots. If you would like a “once-in-a-lifetime” portrait that captures some aspect of who you really are, then I’m just the photographer for you. Contact me for rates. 

Remember, there’s always more going on around you (and inside of people) than what meets the eye.

– Mike

Shoot Details and Camera MetaData:
Shot 1 (Top): Nikon D810; 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens; ISO 64; f/2.8; 1/250th of a second; tripod mounted.

Shot 2 (Bottom): Nikon D810; Lens Baby Composer Pro with Edge 80 Optic (80mm); ISO 400; f/11; 1/5th of a second; tripod mounted.

Tripod: Gitzo carbon-fiber legs with a Really Right Stuff ball-head.

Lighting: Elinchrom mono strobes (x3) with 53″ Octabox as key light (all others accents and kickers); gridded 8.5″ reflector; and one with a snoot to light anvil and front work table; Paul C. Buff Einstein mono strobe (x1) with shoot through umbrella; Nikon SB910 speedlites (3) with magmod modifiers; a $10 shop light with silver reflector to help light the background. Lights were triggered with Pocket Wizard radio controllers (x6) – Flex TT5’s, TT1 Mini, and AC3 Zone Controller; stands – C Stands with booms, Manfrotto Nano stands, and Alzo 10′ stands. Black foam core boards – known as “flags” – were used to flag off unwanted light sources from nearby lights.

Post-Processing: Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 & Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.