Joanna Levine

June 10, 2009 – Brooklyn singer/songwriter Joanna Levine commissioned me to shoot a series of portraits for her new promotional materials. Her shoot is a perfect example of the variety I try to achieve in my band photography sessions.

Despite shooting between 150 to 300 shots in a normal session, I try to keep things as simple as possible. In Joanna’s case, this meant working with mostly available light and a few changes of clothing. Likewise, all of the images in this set were taken within a couple blocks of her Brooklyn apartment.

I’m a firm believer that every portrait should have a concept that guides the look, composition and equipment used. Having a concept, which could be as simple as needing a variety of shots to use on Facebook and a promotional postcard, ensures that photographer and client are working towards the same goal. In the midst of a multi-hour shoot when either party can loose focus, taking a break to refer to the concept can be critical.

As I do with all of my clients, I met with Joanna in advance of the shoot to hammer out the exact look we were going for.

The concept? One that is a bit Folk, a bit Rock and a bit Fashion all at the same time.

Here are some of the highlights:

Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine Joanna Levine


Joanna’s shoot started around 10am and went into the afternoon following a short lunch break. Conditions were cool and bright (a stark contrast to the lightless sweaty confines of the photo pit a.k.a. my normal working environment).

Though I enjoy working outdoors, we shot a lot on either side of noon, which necessitated finding creative ways to improve upon the harsh sunlight.

This meant everything from shooting on the shaded sides of buildings to using wardrobe (hats) to provided the needed diffusion. When little or no shade was available, I made sure to have Joanna’s back to the sun while using a reflector (on the ground or held by an assistant) to fill the shadows.

I shot entirely with D3 and a mixture of both prime and zoom Nikkor lenses. To my surprise, a majority of the best photos came from the most humble of lenses.

Yup, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8. Despite being made of plastic and retailing for only $100, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 provided two of the essential qualities for the shoot, a comfortable working distance with the subject and very shallow depth of field. To my astonishment, the 50mm provided plenty of resolution on the Nikon D3 even when shot wide open.

Several of the tighter headshots were taken with the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 VR. Even though the working distance is further away than I like (about 6 feet), the telephoto end of the 70-200 is perfect for lots of subject isolation and the creamy background bokeh.

Nearly every shot in this post had different exposure settings and post processing.

As always, if there’s anything I haven’t mentioned just ask!


A ginormous thanks to Joanna for still looking good even though it was cold out. The great shots would not be possible without the help of Sabrina: Photo Assistant and Stylist to the stars.

  1. ermmm, nice way to spend the day, superb work as always.
    faves: #2 with reflections and faint flag in window and #11 on the fire escape !

  2. FG

    Chris, this is a really nice set. Love the treatment, the softness and the light.

  3. New blog post: Portraits: Joanna Levine —

  4. Nice work Chris! — Ada

  5. Anubnoo Williams


    Those are some amazing photos of a truly amazing girl. I hope both you and Joanna are well on the way to success in your respective areas of practice!

  6. Thanks Paul. I always appreciate your picks. I love #2 and #11 as well. #11 is sort of the shot that “doesn't belong” but I just couldn't leave it out!

  7. RT @chrisowyoung Band Photography: Joanna Levine, Singer/Songwriter, Brooklyn NYC | The Best Conce..

  8. Thanks Paul. I always appreciate your picks. I love #2 and #11 as well. #11 is sort of the shot that “doesn’t belong” but I just couldn’t leave it out!

  9. Thanks FG,

    I was really trying for a soft look the entire shoot. I’m glad it came through in the final product. Making sure that the light was soft and even was just as important as the shallow depth of field.

    Of course, it didn’t hurt that Joanna has nice skin.

  10. Hi Ada!

    Thanks so much for the comment! Hope you are doing fabulously.

  11. Thanks for the comment Anubnoo. I’m glad you like the photos!