7 Minutes and 35 Seconds With Salman Khan
Before the shoot I had that very real photographer’s fear that I would walk away with nothing decent. This was my second time shooting Sal for Education Week. In 2012, he and his free online education venture were not as busy or sought-after by the media and investors as they are now. Back then, I had more time with him. For this shoot, I was told that he would only give me 10 to 15 minutes. Usually I’m fine with such a small window for portraits like this. But I had another shoot scheduled for the day that was “maybe” going to end at 2 p.m. at Facebook headquarters, which is a 15-minute drive from the Mountain View headquarters of Khan Academy.
Luckily, I was able to arrive 30 minutes before to scout and set up lighting for three different setups. Charlotte, Khan Academy’s manager of external relations, and a log used as a chair were my test-lighting subjects.
I littered the floor of the Academy’s office with yellow Post-Its to mark the stand positions and to note the lighting settings.
I knew I needed a blank background for the up-close portraits, and for these, I found a light blue wall outside Sal’s office. Next, I saw that there was a green conference room with a window that had equations already written on it.
Perfect. I decided on the third location when I got a brief glimpse into Sal’s office and saw a chalkboard paint-covered wall with all kinds of equations, numbers, and charts in colorful chalk. I knew that was my best location and so I saved it for the end. I usually start shooting subjects at my weakest location so they are fully warmed up and comfortable with me and the shoot by the time we get to the best, most promising location.
In between setups I told Sal he could do any work he needed to in his office. I think this helped as I raced to the best location and set up lights. In my experience, it’s much more stressful if the subject is standing by, twiddling his or her thumbs. I checked the time stamps on my photos and I ended up having a total of 7 minutes and 35 seconds of actual shooting time with Sal Khan.
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Ramin Rahimian is a San Francisco-based freelance photographer who shoots for Education Week, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and San Francisco Magazine, among others. He has been a freelance photographer since leaving the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2006. See more of his work at raminphoto.com and captureimages.com