BTS: How I Flew To Amsterdam To Photograph 5 Seconds Of Summer

This is one of those phone calls you always hope to receive from a photo editor, but you can never envision happening. Well, it finally happened to me - "One of the biggest pop bands in the world right now needs to be photographed for the cover of a music magazine, Alternative Press, and you have to fly from New York City to Amsterdam to do it." This is the story of my adventure and how I made my photoshoot happen.

Let's get this first big question out of the way. No, do not expect to make the big bucks accepting a project like this. You'd be lucky to break even for an editorial job like this, which is more than enough for me considering the potential for adventure. Most magazines today hire photographers in the regions of the content/subject they need photographed. I'm just stoked that AltPress Magazine trusts me to get the job done enough to fly me across the world and because I got to visit the Netherlands for the first time!

Quick road trip through beautiful Iceland (iphone shot)

When looking at travel, most reasonably priced options (typically Iceland Air) had a stopover in Iceland. Well, I also had never been to Iceland before and noticed they had a 10 hour flight stopover option near Reykjavik, the country's capital. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly suggest this option. Iceland is such an amazing place with inspiring vistas. We ended up renting a small manual transmission Volkswagen Golf, and driving nearly 300 miles through the Icelandic countryside. We saw everything from the Gullfoss Falls, to The Great Geysir, to a dip in the famous natural hot springs. You'd be amazed what you can do on stopovers between flights! Next stop, Amsterdam!

The Phase One at Gullfoss Falls. Had to cover it with my jacket so it didn't get too sprayed when walking up to the falls, but she held up.

Took a dip in the milky-colored and warm natural hot springs

On the day of the shoot, my assistant and I headed to our location, The Amsterdam Arena (used mainly for soccer and concerts). Our subject, the band 5 Seconds Of Summer, was on the road opening up for the other famous band, One Direction. It was a madhouse of thousands of young screaming girls and flustered parents outside of the venue, even in the middle of the day... many hours before the concert venue would even open its doors.

We were placed in a room deep within the venue. It looked like some sort of press conference room for the home Soccer Team. As we set up, the band's stylists arrived and set out a lot of cool clothes for the guys to check out (as you'll see in the video). It's always nice when you can get a talented stylist team for shoots like this. Magazines love it when you squeeze in a lot of looks and outfit changes so that the photos can be used long term when necessary. This means they can use a bunch of different photos in the issue and they can even keep some unused photos on file for future issues. 

For the trip, I flew with three bags. One was my clothes and personal attire and extra cables and charges. Bag two was my pelican case with four Profoto D1 Air 1000's and reflectors. Bag three was a long padded case for my stands and light modifiers (softboxes). I opted to travel with my own gear because I know it well and didn't want to hassle with an overseas gear rental house when I could just have my own stuff and go right to set with everything I needed. Although this comes with its own risks... As I unloaded my gear to set up for portraits, I noticed that two of my four trusty D1 Airs were not firing. When I would push their test buttons, they would beep but not fire. Maybe the baggage handlers were tough on my normally impervious Pelican Case configuration? Anyway, the shoot had to be completed with only two flash heads, but I made it work! My old photo professor at RIT told me that as long as you have a camera, you have a shoot. You just make it work!

As a carry-on, I brought a bag with my Phase One IQ140, 75-150 leaf shutter, 55mm LS, and 28mm as well as a backup Canon 5D mk3 with the Canon 24-70 2.8L and 70-200 2.8L IS. As I arrived to the airport in NYC to board my international flight, I saw that unlike US airlines, they had a 20lbs carry-on limit. Well, with my laptop, I was over that limit by about 30 lbs. I admittedly had to smuggle some of my camera gear in my jacket as they weighed the carry-on during the airport check in or they would make my check my camera bodies (no way, not going to happen). I wouldn't suggest this strategy, but in a pinch it worked out.

The talent getting in the zone before the shoot.

Thankfully I think everything turned out pretty nicely for a quick 90 minute shoot (including wardrobe change times). It's always a challenge to meet a band, try and connect with them, and then shoot at least two cover options, individual portraits, and four or five magazine interior group portrait setups (article spreads, table of contents, web content) with at least three outfit changes in a limited amount of time.

Usually the first thing I do when I show up to a shoot is consider location options and prioritize the setups, the first setup usually being the most important. I've had celebrity shoots get canceled after only one or two setups due to circumstances out of my control, so it's always important to get your key shots out of the way first (cover options and main spread). The room we used (aka the room we were given by the venue) for the shoot had a cool red tall curtain they used to split the room into two parts when they had big events. I ended up lighting and using it as if it was a big stage curtain you'd see for a Broadway show. The room also had a cool grey painted concrete wall, which lent itself to unique moody individual and group portraits.

For this setup, I used a beauty dish for a sharper edge key light, rather than a soft box. They guys are young musicians and I wanted something edgy, so to speak. I used the second light with a 7" reflector and 30 degree grid to put a small spot on the background in order to separate them a bit from the wall. It was also important to move them away from the wall far enough so the key light didn't spill on it.

We ended up wrapping the shoot upstairs on a 3rd story loading dock. I kept it simple and took a single Profoto D1 1000 Air with a large octobox powered by a Vagabond Mini power pack so we could be mobile as time ran short. We first took some photos of the band with the dark sky and moody clouds behind but had to move when I heard the eerie groan of thousands of young girls screaming. Some of the fans had climbed a hill in the distance and caught a glimpse of the guitarist's green hair while we were shooting and just went nuts. It was sort of like being in a zombie movies, just replace the hungry zombies climbing fences to eat your flesh with uncontrollable tweens. We just moved over 10 feet and shot in front of a truck, which worked well enough, even though I preferred the original open sky location.

The fans arriving 5 hours before the concert

Truck setup with single D1 1000 with a large octobox

The shots on the middle and left were done on that "concrete wall" location shown in the BTS pictures above. The image on the right is the red "stage curtain" location. I used a single large octobox to light the band and a gridded flash on the background to make it pop.

It's funny if you really think about it. I traveled to two new countries on the other side of the ocean to do a 90 minute photoshoot, but it was completely worth it. I don't care if I didn't make a fortune (you never really do in editorial), but I loved the adventure and am pleased with how the shoot came out! Thanks to AltPress for sending me!

To see more from this shoot, head over to Alternative Press Magazine's website

To see more of my work and behind the scenes videos:

Have questions for me? Comment below.

Douglas Sonders's picture

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.

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Nice pics man!

Awesome man!

Great article! what light stands are you using?

Very cool! How were they to shoot? You had some looks on your face in the video that I've had on my face with certain clients. I call it the annoyed look. =) Trying to get 4 young guys to be serious enough to get good shots and to respect what you do can be very challenging. Do you have some tips for dealing with this type of client? (not that they were, just in general). Keep up the sweet posts!

"I noticed that two of my four trusty D1 Airs were not firing. When I would push their test buttons, they would beep but not fire."

Dude....I totally can relate to you here! About a month and a half ago I was hired to shoot the cast and cars of the TV show Counting Cars on the History Channel. I arrived on set, with 3 Einsteins ready to go. 1 of them would only beep during testing but wouldn't fire right off the bat. I had two left. Then a dust devil was literally summoned for the sole purpose of wrangling up one of the lightstands, send it crashing to the ground, then disappeared!!

I was down to one Einstein and we were only on day 1 of 2 of shooting! I was never more thankful for speedlights ever in my life. Here's a sample of one of the shots I was able to get using a speedlight for key and the Einstein as my kicker. The odds were definitely against me on that day.

That was you? I just watched that episode this week. Great images! I'm very impressed with your compositing skills.

Thanks Jayson! It was definitely an experience and has put my skills to the test. I'm finishing up the last 3 vehicles as we speak for the calendar. Keep your eyes peeled for the release of it!

Awesome shots! Thanks for this great story!

Awesome! What was the bag you flew with your lightstands?

Great job Douglas and thanks for the BTS!

Great job man!!