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Opening Night at the Film Fest

With his Tamron 28-75mm G2 lens for Nikon Z mount, Nader Abushhab offers attendee portraits in a fast-paced environment he compares to speed dating.

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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Nader Abushhab

For more than two decades, the Phoenix Film Festival has celebrated the big screen, with hundreds of screenings of the latest feature films, documentaries, and shorts. And every year for the past couple of years, photographer Nader Abushhab has set up a photo booth at the fest’s opening night gala, where filmmakers, actors, and donors congregate to celebrate the world of cinema.

“The event is held outdoors under tents, and my setup is basically like an on-location studio,” Nader explains. “I bring in the stands, the lights, the carpets, and the backgrounds, which this time around were painted canvas backdrops. My goal is to offer high-quality portraits to go to attendees in a fast-paced setting. Between setup time and the actual shoot itself, I’m there for about four or five hours.”

Assisting Nader in this exciting, animated environment is the Tamron 28-75mm F/2.8 Di III VXD G2 zoom lens for Nikon Z mount. “Because this lens is native and I’m not relying on an adapter , it brings the size and weight down, which is important for me when having to use my camera for a few hours in such a rapid-fire situation,” he says. “It’s less than 20 ounces. Because it’s so light, I feel like I can balance it better, which means my camera doesn’t shake as much when I shoot. It’s also so fast and sharp, and the F2.8 maximum aperture gives me an extra stop or two if I need it.”


Light it all up.
I’m working in a compact 10x10 space at this event, so I need to have a versatile, dynamic lighting setup that will work for both individuals and groups. In the past I’ve brought in a kit of constant lights for consistent, big illumination throughout the shoot—not necessarily a cinematic look, but with eye-catching light falloff from all the subjects. I usually try to bring in at least three lights: two that are stationary, and then a third I move around to accentuate the group or individual. This year I decided to use strobes so I could keep my focus consistent at F8.

Allow your subjects to guide the posing.
Strike a balance between direction and spontaneity for natural, engaging compositions. You can do so by taking cues from your subjects’ initial movements and interactions. For the woman leaning on her male companion’s shoulder, she came in right off the bat and started doing different poses. When I saw something I thought would work well, I’d ask her to re-create it, maybe with just a little extra direction from me. Because some of the attendees at the festival were actors, when they hear “Give me more!,” they know exactly what to do.

© Nader Abushhab
28-75mm (38mm), F8, 1/160 sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

For solo subjects, it can be a little more challenging, because all of the focus (and pressure) is on them. I often find that subjects don’t know what to do with their hands, so having a prop they can hold, or a posing table or stool, helps. They’ll naturally situate themselves around it, and once they’re in a comfortable pose, I usually have to offer just minimal direction to get them to where I want them to be.

© Nader Abushhab
28-75mm (75mm), F8, 1/160 sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

Keep the energy high.
A photo event like this isn’t much different than speed dating. Once a line starts forming, I’ll typically only have between a minute to two or three minutes max to take some pictures. I try to quickly get to know them by having them talk about themselves for a bit, then instruct them to get some motion going. I’ll also poke at them playfully a little until everyone is having a blast, which almost always results in fun, natural-looking portraits.

© Nader Abushhab
28-75mm (36mm), F8, 1/160 sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

© Nader Abushhab
28-75mm (45mm), F8, 1/160 sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

When shooting event portraits like this, also consider tethering your camera to a monitor or laptop to allow subjects to view images in real time. As they see themselves on the screen, they’ll gain confidence. When I showed these folks the photos I was taking as we were taking them, I earned their trust, and they were super stoked to play it up for the camera. It did help that there was a bar set up right behind those backgrounds. People were wandering over after grabbing a drink, so they were already feeling pretty gregarious!

© Nader Abushhab
28-75mm (41mm), F8, 1/160 sec., ISO 250
Click image to view larger

To see more of Nader Abushhab’s work, check out his website and his Instagram.

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