Lucy Zirins 'Unfound' - Behind the Scenes on our London Portrait Session

“My new record is almost ready for mastering, and I’ve had this idea… I’d love to create a series of photographs that fit with each of the tracks. This record has been a real personal journey for me, and I want to capture that.”

When Lucy and I met for coffee last June, I would never have guessed that we would end up on one the most fun and creative shoots of my photography career so far.

I met Lucy Zirins when we both worked together a couple of years ago, bonding over our love of music (in this case bonkers childrens’ songs) and positivity. Lucy is, I would say, the hardest working 26-year-old that I’ve ever met, and of course she does it all with her natural bounce and a big smile.

A few days after that conversation, Lucy sent me a copy of the album. From the very the first listen, I was absolutely blown away. Every word on this record is chosen with care, but beautifully flows. With each track I started to build ideas, making notes and working out how we could translate audio to visuals in a way that allows the listener to connect even more with Lucy. When we met a week later, I asked Luce to tell me the story behind each of the songs, and choose key words to describe the feelings that she was portraying. It just so happened that quite a few of those words were the very same as the ones I’d written down on listening. That’s how good she is at song writing, taking her listeners on her journey with her words and her choice of the same 12 notes that every musician has to play with.

Over the next few weeks we worked together on a moodboard using Pinterest, pulling together a series of images and styles from all over, to help give us the overall theme of the visuals. Lucy’s selections had quite a 70s influence, but a raw, ‘this is me’ feel about them. And all of the portraits she selected I’d call iconic.

This record is completely and utterly Lucy, her heart and soul in physical and digital form, so pulling together all of those ideas and concepts to fit an album written in the 21st century meant we needed to create a very particular series of portraits. And there was only one backdrop for these that could be vibrant but calm, recognisable but flexible, homely but full of possibility.

Our very own London Town.

The original shoot date was set for August, but was only to be half a day due to both of our busy schedules. I was worried that we wouldn’t have the flexibility to use multiple locations, and I knew we wanted to be able to use the variety of natural light available to us to create different looks for each of the portraits; from the harshness of midday to the softness of sunset, reflected light from buildings and pavements, and that brilliant spot-lit effect when the sun is just at the right angle through the trees. I drew up a shoot plan as I always do, and it looked to be a pretty full on, covering the City, the South Bank and Mayfair. So when Lucy called me that morning and said she was really not feeling well at all and she could hardly stand, it was a blessing. (Sorry Luce, but it was, wasn’t it?)

The rescheduled date happened to be the first Sunday in September, and we had the whole day to shoot. And my goodness it was glorious, possibly the best day of last summer. In the bright blue skies, and London looked beautiful. And there was a magical energy in the air, perhaps from all of the Londoners feeling blessed to have such a day to enjoy at the weekend!

One of the things I struggled with when I started as a Photographer was how to get ‘In the Zone’. That place where your mind is just buzzing with energy and ideas and passion, and each frame you capture makes your heart sing. It still takes me a little time to get to that place, and a brilliant way to do so has been taught to me quite recently by my mentor and friend, the phenomenal british portrait photographer Paul Wilkinson; sit, drink tea and chat with your subject. Listen, get to know them, and observe their body language. Everyone is nervous at the start of a shoot, us photographers as much as our subjects, so just take a little time to go over plans and ideas. Lucy and I did that in a lovely organic coffee shop just a few minutes from Victoria shortly after 10am. One of the new ideas Luce had was to shoot with a red telephone box, the type now hardly used thanks to mobile phones, but a nod to the style that Lucy had identified in our moodboard. Maybe we could find one somewhere? We added that to the shoot plan. We had a lot of ground to cover!

Our first location for the day was meant to be Millennium Bridge, full of leading lines and passers by, to show Lucy still in a moving world. Jumping on the tube we headed east, and for some reason we decided to get off at Cannon Street and have a wander. And just a few metres down from the station entrance was the very telephone box that Lucy had wanted, striking and bold next to the trees and pavement on the north side of the river. With some balancing of bags to act as a reflector stand, we shot a series of images, one of which became the cover of 'One Long Goodbye'. And when I saw the finished cover on release date in the iTunes store, it stood out amazingly well. It’s funny how things happen isn’t it?

So after a quick stop at a nearby Pret and an outfit change, we arrived at Millennium Bridge. Lucy however had neglected to tell me something quite important: she really isn’t great with heights. Or bridges. Especially both together. But taking one for the team, we not only got a few shots at the start of the bridge, but we also crossed it together. This girl really gives her all to the cause!

Working our way along the South Bank, we stopped at a green space just next to the Tate Modern. It was here that whilst chatting I saw the light hit Lucy’s face in a particular way, and with a ‘Don’t move!’ I captured the image that Lucy finally chose as ‘Unfound’. The image I was intending to get is the one you see on the back of the record, with her mesmerising eyes against her pale skin and red hair, but I think you’d agree, she’s made the perfect choice.

So we carried on our way, stopping just under a bridge and negotiating with a rather large family of non-english speaking tourists to get the next few shots. I was drawn to the leading lines created by the way the bridges and the railings crossed, and by leaning out over the rail, it allowed Lucy to be framed by lines, with extra detail in the far bridge.

Next we hit the beach!

To be fair, the banks of the Thames weren’t particularly glamorous, but the low tide gave us the opportunity to show Lucy as soft and feminine under the gritty, weathered supports normally totally submerged.

After winding our way through the book stalls of the South Bank, we made it to Hungerford Bridge. By this point it was most definitely time for a late lunch, and another outfit change. And for some down time imposed on me by Lucy, even if I only managed to not touch my camera for just 15 minutes! The bridge shot I’d taken earlier lacked the height I wanted, but I could see from our viewpoint that Hungerford Bridge had just want I was looking for. Poor Lucy, back over her second bridge of the day, but I think the way she steeled herself in her position gave just the right amount of strength to the image.

One of the ideas that I didn’t think we’d be able to capture that day was for the track ‘The Right Side of Wrong’ with the idea being Lucy sitting in a church and a shaft of light spotlighting her face. But as we walked through the park down from Embankment station, we spotted a monument with steps and a seat. I could see the light flickering onto the stone through the trees, and we found a place for Lucy to sit that created that exact spotlight effect we were hoping for. Squashing myself as close up to the stone as I could added a cream wash to the image, and the sunlight gave Lucy’s skin a warm glow.

By this point it was about 5pm, and I still wanted to have another go at capturing Lucy in a busy place. So we headed to Covent Garden, one of the most vibrant places in Central London. But when we got there, it was just so crazy busy, and gave us a strange almost claustrophobic feeling, so after taking a couple of shots we decided to head back towards Mayfair.

By this point it was 6pm, and we were both feeling the effect of the 15,000 steps we’d walked so far that day. But as the sun was getting lower in the tress, that magic light we were looking for was starting to appear.

It was then that we captured another of my favourite portraits of the day, in a sliver of sunlight falling across a path towards St James’. Another trick I’ve recently been taught is to watch how the light falls on the ground, and seeing how it lit the pathway in front of us, I asked Lucy to stand with the light hitting her face.

And then as we headed towards the Palace, we managed to catch quite literally the last rays of the day, in our very last frames. The image isn’t particularly sharp, which I’d have loved to correct, but it captured my subject in the very way she wanted, as herself. A little vulnerable, a little tired, but with a sparkle in her eye and as a young lady with a bright future ahead of her.

Happy Album Release Lucy!

with much love, Rachel xx

Lucy Zirins 'Unfound' is released on iTunes on Monday 4th February.

For a physical copy of her album (and it's really rather lovely), head over to www.lucyzirins.com

And please head over and support her instagram and facebook, for her tales and anecdotes as an independent musician and a witty and honest twenty-something Lancastrian lass figuring out life.

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Rachel Thornhill ABIPP ASWPP LMPA  - Beautiful story-telling photography and stunning wall art for fun loving people, Rachel is an award-winning professional portrait Photographer based in Lower Kingswood / Tadworth, Surrey, UK.    Tel: +44 (0)1737 244745     

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