Emily Shur: Master Of Illuminating Fame

Nick Offerman

Closer study of Shur’s portraits reveals that she doesn’t care for dramatic shadows, and while her images are full of color, she doesn’t use it arbitrarily. She’s very precise, with both color and fill. It’s part of her visual signature.

“I’m not really big on shadows,” she says. “I like shape in light, but I’m not a huge fan of pronounced shadows. My assistant makes fun of me for not wanting any neck shadows. And I do spend a lot of time on color. I obsess over it, and I really don’t like for my skin tones to go too crazy. Generally speaking, I like a neutral skin tone, and then I’ll bring out other parts of the picture and take those parts of the picture wherever the mood is.

“And I don’t always light softly,” adds Shur. “I definitely like to figure out what works best in that particular shot. I always ask for a lot of setup time because I like to play around with lights and really figure out the best lighting scenario for a certain picture. Lately, I’ve been doing some things with a Fresnel and just getting a little bit more into doing something with a very hard light. I like that, too. It really just depends on the picture and what looks good on the person. Can they handle a hard light? Not everyone can. Does it look good? Does it work for this shot? I would be bored if every shoot we just busted out the same three accessories and set them up the same way and took the same readings.

“When I used to shoot with a large camera,” she continues, “that was a big part of my technique—the camera and what look the camera brought to the picture. The camera adds a whole other element. But with digital, not so much. I kind of feel like that’s somewhat lost for me at this point. Shooting 4×5 or with the RZ with the bellows kind of gave an added element to the picture, and now it’s strictly lighting. Instead of creating that mood with a format change, it’s a little more about lighting.

What I Use

“If I have the budget, my preference is to shoot with a Hasselblad H system with an 80mm, a 65-110mm, a 100mm and a 150mm lens,” Emily Shur says. “I usually use the P65 or the P30 digital back. If the budget doesn’t allow, or if I need to shoot in a lower-light situation, I’ll go with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with 24-105mm, 50mm and 70-200mm lenses. I prefer the Hasselblad system mainly because I have just never been much of a 35mm shooter. That said, the Canon is a great camera. I usually wind up cropping the frame to more of a 6×7 crop just because the 35mm frame has always felt too long for me.” “It takes a lot of effort,” Shur says. “I know a lot of sloppy photographers. Lazy. We’ve all been there. I might complain and whatever, but once I’m there, I’m like, ‘Well, we’re here, let’s make it good.’ It’s not always easy.”

When it comes to celebrity, som
e photographers deny all but the faintest acknowledgement of their famous subjects. Not Shur. While she’s a total pro, she’s also a regular fan. It’s not the fame that’s intimidating, though. Like any photographer, it’s the opportunity to make an exceptional photograph that keeps her up at night.

“Photography is so cutthroat,” she says. “I’ve had it happen a million times. Even if you turn in a good shoot, you might never get another call from that magazine or that client. It’s so cutthroat—what if something should actually go wrong, let alone not just be amazing? It’s very nerve-wracking, and even though I know what I’m doing, I do get nervous and excited about working with certain people, and I want it to go well, and I want them to enjoy working with me, and I want them to think I’m a good photographer. All those things, I want all those things, and I definitely would never sit here and say I don’t care. I do care. And I think it’s good to care.”

Go to www.emilyshur.com to see more of Emily Shur’s photography.

Leave a Reply