Filming and photographing Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly

Filming and photographing Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly

I got a message from Sam last Autumn.  He talked about the album he was making with Ruth Notman and needing some photography to support the album and tour launch.

Having worked with Sam before, initially on photography and videos for the ‘Pretty Peggy’ album and then later on the video for ‘When The Reivers Call’, saying yes was a no-brainer.  As well as being a huge fan of Sam as a vocalist, musician and producer , I just find the bloke really easy to work with.

I’d never met Ruth before but I knew of her, mainly due to Spotify’s playlist algorithms!  Whenever I use Spotify’s radio feature and I start it off with a folk song, tracks from Ruth’s ‘Threads’ album seem to feature a lot. Hence a number of them had hence made their way into my default playlist. A lot of people criticise Spotify, but if it wasn’t for Spotify I’d never have heard of Ruth Notman…which would frankly for me would have been a travesty, because she’s wonderful! In person, I discovered, she’s as lovely as her music.

I hadn’t had a particularly detailed brief from Sam, other than wanting something that didn’t look ‘folky’ (Crap – you mean no rolling meadows and drystone walls?!) Oh and in terms of location, Sam’s guidance was ‘ideally somewhere between Bristol and Chesterfield’. So, a fairly wide geographical window to work with…

Having found a location that I thought didn’t look too folky, we arranged a date and the shoot was on. I did explain to the proprietor that it was folk musicians I was photographing, but I don’t think it registered. Hence when Sam turned up on the day he was asked ‘Are you the model?’ (which I have to say I found highly amusing!)

I always enjoy shoots where the people I’m working with take the process seriously…but not ‘too’ seriously! That was certainly the case with Ruth and Sam:

We did get some slightly more serious shots, a number of which eventually found their way into the album artwork:

ISO 1000, 43mm, f/4.0, 1/160, window light with a small amount of flash fill.
ISO 800, 50mm, f/4.0, 1/160, key light through white umbrella
ISO 400, 68mm, f/4.0, 1/160, key light through softbox
ISO 1250, 24mm, f/4.0 1/160, key light through white umbrella

Roll forward a few months and Sam pinged me about shooting a promo video to support the album launch. Requirements this time were ‘Somewhere with a piano…ideally a grand piano’.

After a few weeks of location hunting, we finally settled on a location in Birmingham that was available on the day we wanted to film. Given that it was a music venue with a technician on hand, it made sense for me to leverage the native lighting rig.

I was pretty much happy with the outset with Ruth’s lighting. With Sam I wanted to have him predominantly lit from above with a spot, with just a bit of fill from the front. The problem was, I could’t get the fill light without moving his position and I didn’t want to do that because (having discussed it with Ruth and Sam) the position was right compositionally and for the general ‘feel’ of the video. We wanted to Sam to be stood slightly away from the piano, but not so far that he looked disconnected from Ruth.

Up against time constraints, in the end I compromised and prioritised composition and the top-light on Sam over getting fill light on him. Fortunately, Sam standing slightly in shadow seemed to work well with the dynamic of the track…if they’d have been playing a jaunty sea-shanty then it wouldn’t have worked.

The track was ‘Bold Fisherman’, the first track on the album:

Of course it was all an entirely serious affair again…

So the album is now available from all the normal places and it’s a thing of beauty, both sonically and in physical product form. You can catch Ruth and Sam on tour at the start of April. There are limited dates so if you want to say you were part of the biggest new folk act launch of the year, I’d take a look and get a ticket…

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