“You’re only gonna use one, right?” was my introduction to country music legend Merle Haggard. I was already a little nervous about the portrait session because the singer has a reputation of being a bit cantankerous and this wasn’t the way I was hoping to start our conversation.
“Actually, Mr. Haggard, we are hoping to get a few different looks for a spread but I promise to only keep you for a few minutes,” I replied. He kind of smirked and took his first position.
Thankfully, fortune favors the prepared mind along with the help of a great assistant.
It was a few hours before our scheduled appointment time when assistant Nathan Lindstom and I arrived to scout possible sets. We found a couple of nice spots around the casino where Haggard was performing later that evening and came up with what we thought to be a good plan. Unfortunately, when we checked in with Mr. Haggard’s manager we discovered he wanted to do the pictures by his tour bus, no chance for a reprieve. Given the option of “by the bus” or not at all, I’ll take “by the bus” every time.
One o’clock in the afternoon on an asphalt parking lot is not my first choice for a portrait location but we proceeded to mark out some angles and lighting schemes. We were able to plot 5 different setups within thirty feet of the bus door. I had brought almost every piece of grip and lighting equipment I own but opted for a single Plume Wafer 140 modified Dynalite on two spots with the idea that Nathan could move the first one to the third spot while I had Mr. Haggard on camera at the second and continue the rotation. With this setup we were able to get him through the 5 shots in about 8 minutes.
Mr. Haggard was terrific on camera. He even cracked a wry grin a couple of times, perhaps because for half of the session I was lying flat on my stomach on the asphalt in an effort to eliminate light poles and lousy backgrounds.
When we finished, I told Mr. Haggard we really wanted to do one more shot in the hall he would be playing. He paused but agreed before disappearing into his bus.
Remember that “prepared mind and great assistant” part? Well, after setting up outside the bus, we had almost an hour before we had talent so I asked Nathan to set up a lighting scheme we planned earlier just in case we could get a shot inside.
About 30 minutes later, Mr. Haggard emerged from his bus, jumped on a cart and headed toward the concert hall. As we walked in he told me a story about a photographer once asking him to swim out into a pond and sit on a log for a picture. I assured him we didn’t have any logs but wanted to photograph him on stage. “I wouldn’t be on stage without my guitar.” “Yes sir, I was hoping we could get your guitar.” “It’s still packed,” he said. “Not a problem,” I replied, “since we don’t have a log, we’ll do the picture in the seats.”
Three minutes later we were shaking hands and offering thanks to Mr. Haggard for his graciousness.
As we were leaving, his manager said, “You really caught him on a good day.”
Maybe so but I prefer to think one professional artist appreciated the preparation and professionalism of another artist.