Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Chemistry of a Photoshoot (Part 3)

I wanted to discuss the aspect of controlling a photoshoot.
Some of this overlaps with the previous 2 posts.
In order to really be in control you must have prepared everything properly in advance. This will not only give you a good understanding of what's going but will show your client that you know what you're doing. If the client has to do a bunch of last minute running around &
detail finalization for you it will have them questioning your organizational skills in no time.

Also, you must be able to control the energy of your shoot. Obviously there are some things that will always be out of your control, but if you can't keep your subjects interested you will quickly lose control of your shoot.

Having briefly touched on those points, let's move on to some things to keep in mind while you're at a shoot.

It is important to establish yourself as the person in charge of the shoot as soon as possible. The only time you wouldn't do this is if you are working with a creative director or another type of director who is organizing everything. However, most of the time, you, as the photographer, will be the one calling the shots.

If you don't establish your leadership over the shoot you will quickly lose control of what is going on. One of the first shoots I ever set up was with a local car club. My initial thought was to get in touch with 3 or so of the vehicle owners & have them let me photograph their cars. I was mostly going for location shots and detail shots.

I got in touch with the person listed on the club's website and he emailed me back sounding enthusiastic about the idea. But then somehow he took my idea and turned it into a huge meeting with 30+ vehicles attending!! I stood by & didn't say anything to discourage him.
The appointed day came and I walked into the shoot so discouraged that I didn't even bother to make a game plan for the people that showed up. I ended up taking group photos and some individual shots of owners & their cars. Pretty much people were telling me what they wanted photos of & I was taking them. Nothing even close to what I had originally envisioned. I shot until my memory card was full & ended the shoot.

I was originally mad at the guy who organized the event, but after considering everything I had to shift the blame back to myself. If I had truly been in control I would have insisted that only 3 or 4 cars come or I wouldn't do the shoot. That was one of several hard lessons learned that day!

I have come a long way since then! The last shoot I was on I sent a whole family to their rooms to change their clothes because the outfits were not working at all in the photos! It ate about 10 minutes of the shoot time but the photos we got after the wardrobe change were infinitely better than the ones before. The family was happy with the end product and that is really what counts.

That leads me into the next thing you, as the photographer, should be getting better at: Direction.

Once you have established the fact that you are the one in charge of the shoot, you have to be able to give direction & communicate your ideas clearly. You can do this by having a go-by image to show the subjects, or by verbally/physically placing them. A go-by image is helpful to have because the subjects can see exactly what they are expected to do. Keep the image handy and visible to your subjects. Whenever possible, have an assistant ready to move the subjects or refresh their memories of the go-by image. If you must physically move your subjects it means leaving your post and having to come back & reset yourself every time an adjustment is required.

You must be able to tell people what to do without being timid about it, or abrasive. If you walk into a room to shoot someone and there is furniture everywhere you must be able to tell whoever is working with you that the shot would look better without it.

If your client is choosing a location for you, you must be able to go to the location and make an assessment as to whether it will work for the shot. If it wont work for the shot then, in the name of making a winning photo, exercise your authority and explain to them why it will not work and offer other suggestions. If the location they picked works then that's great. Marketing/PR people often don't have the same eye for photography as you do though, so its important that if you are given lemons you quickly right the situation and go find some grapes. Don't force yourself to make lemonade unless you absolutely have no other option.

Starting a shoot in a bad location can throw a hitch in your creativity because, in your mind, you will have given up on making a good image as soon as you determined that the location was bad. Your energy will suffer and from there it is all down hill. If you look around and can't find anything better then at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that this location was the best YOU could find. Then and only then should you start to make your lemonade. But my guess is that if you have control of things, and you have the right attitude, you will make the best lemonade the client has ever had!

Follow-through with what you have said you will do for your client. For example, if you say you will have the images in 3 days, make sure you have the images in 2 1/2! This shows them you are in control of things on your end and that will instill them with confidence, ultimately leading to more work for you. If you can't deliver the images on time, for whatever reason, be sure and call the client with plenty of time and make them aware of the situation. Don't just deliver the images late without letting the client know. It always looks better if you own up to your mistakes than if you try to hide from them.

Finally, follow up. Call the client, make a time when you can go meet with them and go over the images you have shot together. This will give you immediate feedback and you can discuss the shots you picked and why you thought they were worth picking.
Also, if the person you are delivering the images to was not with you while you were shooting, the meeting will give you a chance to explain to them why furniture was moved or why wardrobe/locations were changed. If they just look at the images by themselves they may misinterpret your intentions and be upset that you did not deliver the images they requested.

That's it for this time.
Hope this will be helpful to you as you start to take on more and more shoots.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Chemistry of a Photoshoot (part 2)

The last post went over with such a positive reaction (other than people not liking the font - which I am changing for further posts) that I decided to move up the schedule and write the 2nd part of the series.

The next thing I'd like to touch on is the energy of a photoshoot. This is really an unspoken thing in classes and seminars on photography. However, I have found that this can make or break a shoot.

What is so important about energy? Energy is what keeps a photographer going creatively. Energy is what keeps the subject(s) attention. Energy maintains a feeling of comfort and fun. All of these things are important to producing quality images.

I'd like to suggest some things to do to maintain a good level of energy, as well as some things to avoid.

The first thing, and often something that can be overlooked, is the atmosphere.
This mainly applies to an indoor shoot, as you can't always control the atmosphere of an outdoor shoot, especially if it is for a grunge theme and you are shooting near demolished buildings or dumpsters.

Imagine walking into a room that is darkly lit, quiet, and just looks bare. This is a perfect example of a negative energy atmosphere. It makes me sleepy just thinking about it.
I understand that it is sometimes important to shoot in darker conditions, however I believe you will find that most of the time you can leave all the lights on in a room (and even add some) and your photos will not be affected much.

For example, you may find that to shoot a properly exposed photograph in a room lit by tungsten lights you need to be shooting at 1/60th, f/2.8, at ISO 400. Most home lights do not have the power output that studio lights or even speedlights can put out. So you see, if you are shooting at 1/250th (the most common flash sync speed) and ISO 100 you will not come anywhere close to having interfering lights from the room. It is intimidating enough to stand in front of a camera and lights if you are not used to doing so. If the subjects are standing in front of bright lights in a dark room it could feel like an interrogation room, which never puts anyone at ease!

If you can, have upbeat music playing. Sometimes, if you are shooting a model, it may be a good idea to tell them to bring their ipod or a CD with music. This way you know for sure the music is something they will like and feel comfortable with. Play it loud enough to where it isn't just background music, but not so loud that you can't hear each other talk. This obviously doesn't apply to shooting on locations where you can't have music playing (outdoors, office environments, etc)

Another thing that will keep the energy going in your photoshoot is the photographer's energy. That's right, YOU can affect the shoot in a positive or negative way depending on how you are acting. If you are moving slowly, and talking quietly it will affect the mood of everyone there. The photographer should be the liveliest, most peppy person at the shoot. Your mood infects everyone present. If you are upbeat, it will show in the images you take. Try to get as many people smiling as you can while you are going through introductions and preliminary stuff.
If they remember you as the "fun photographer" they will want to work with you again and will cooperate with you more easily.

A common pitfall of some inexperienced photographers is to chimp after every image shot. Unless you are shooting light tests, or shooting inanimate objects, I beg you, don't do this!! It sucks all the energy out of the room by breaking the rhythm of the shoot.

Once you have set up the lights, inform your subject that you are going to do a series of light tests and that they don't have to pose or anything until you are done. This allows them to stay relaxed as long as possible, and also gets them used to the idea of how bright the flashing lights will be before they have to jump right in and start posing for your camera. Once you have the lights set up the way you want them, let your subject know you are ready to start shooting. From this point on, the lights will not change from shot to shot, so there really is no need to check your screen after every shot.

Imagine you are the subject and you're not used to having your photo taken. (This is common in corporate environments). If your photographer stops after every frame shot, you will start to feel like the shoot is going to take forever. So now, not only do you feel a little awkward or uncomfortable in front of the camera, but you are fully expecting it to take 25 minutes just to get one usable head shot.

Chimping after every frame also affects the rhythm of your shoot because every time you take the camera away from your eye several things happen on the subconscious level. First, the subject sees the camera is not pointed at them anymore and they will stop holding the pose you just worked so hard to get them into. If it takes you 30 seconds to chimp, and 30 more to get your subjects back into position before you can shoot, you waste 60 seconds every time you take the camera away from your eye. In any kind of high-pressure environment, a minute between frames is much too long!! Sometimes all you get with a subject is 5 minutes. If you spend 3 of those 5 minutes chimping you aren't going to walk away with much to work with.

Second, if there is more than one person posing for you the time between frames encourages them to start interacting with one another (usually out of boredom from waiting for you to finish looking). This is not necessarily a bad thing as it can put them at ease with one another, but it encourages movement and at times the subjects break out into uncomfortable laughter which is often hard to stop. There is nothing worse than needing someone to look serious for a photograph and being met with uncontrollable laughter on their end. It is both frustrating and time consuming to get them to get their head back into the shoot. This isn't to say you can't have fun while shooting, but it all depends on the shot. You don't find many Forbes covers where the CEO is rolling on the floor from laughter...

Finally, it affects you as a photographer, because every time you stop to chimp you slow your creative flow. Your mind is no longer concentrating on capturing images. It gets away from making great photographs and then has to concentrate on getting the camera back into the exact spot it was in, making sure the subjects are where they should be, etc. There's really no way to avoid chimping all together, I'm not suggesting that. But there is no reason to do it constantly after every exposure. Shoot 3, 4, 5 frames and then glance quickly at what you have. Shoot 4 or 5 more frames, and glance quickly. The main reason for glancing at this point is to make sure that your subject(s) had all their eyes open, that they were smiling, or to make sure the posing was what you had intended.

One other point I'd like to stress is to always sound excited about your images. This contributes to the positive energy of the shoot.
After you've shot 5 or 6 frames, as you are checking them for closed eyes, etc, just comment on how good the photograph looks. Compliment the subject on their appearance, or their pose, or anything that comes to mind. This eases their mind and makes them feel more confident. Unless it is a truly amazing photograph I usually hold off on showing them any images until the very end. Again, walking away from the spot you are shooting from means you have to rethink part of the process when you get back, which eats up time and takes your mind off of getting what you came for. However, if you feel like the subject needs to see the image they are helping create then by all means - go for it. Having a subject who won't cooperate or doesn't feel comfortable being photographed can and will ruin a potentially great photograph.

Hope this is helpful and informative. I know it was a bit long but there was a lot to go over.
Stay tuned for more!

(Merry Christmas)


Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Chemistry of a Photoshoot

Not too long ago I was asked to assist a friend who was doing his first photoshoot. It was to be a family portrait, for a family of 4. At the time I didn't think much of it as I assist on a weekly basis.
Plus, the friend I was assisting needed to use lights, which I was going to provide since he didn't have a lot of gear at his disposal. As we arrived on location, I realized that this was not going to be my typical assisting gig.

My friend is in art school, studying photography, but it seems there are still some things you just can't pick up in a class room. Some of those I have been fortunate enough to have picked up over the last year or so of having assignments on my own and assisting another photographer. This is in no way a reflection on my friend as a photographer, but these are the things, I thought, that should be shared on blogs. These are things that are often taken for granted as we skip on to more interesting things such as composition or lighting. Sure learning how to create good photographs is important to the business but if you can't manage a photoshoot then you will not get many opportunities to use your skills as a photographer.

That is where the concept for this little set of posts came from. I'd like to just walk through some of the aspects that are often overlooked, but are so key to having a successful shoot. Some of this stuff I've read in books, but most of it I have not found in text form. It has been picked up from watching others or from personal experience. I'm by no means an expert, but I think I can at least offer somewhat of a foundation to build on.

Some of the things I'd like to talk about include:
- pre-shoot thoughts
- energy
- controlling the shoot from start to finish
- making the subject feel comfortable
- some common pitfalls

First thing I'll talk about today is "Pre-shoot Thoughts".
By this I mean a mental check-list to go through before the shoot, as well as making sure the assignment is understood, etc.

The easiest parts of the check list are things like date, time, location, and subject. These are all things you will be discussing with your client prior to anyone's arrival. Assuming all of this lines up, there are a few other things you will want to discuss with your client prior to shooting.

One of the first mistakes I made as a photographer shooting one of my first assignments was to just start shooting as if I was shooting for me. I framed things the way I thought they should look. I lit them the way I thought they should be lit. I edited them the way I would normally edit a photograph. This is all well and good if you are shooting for yourself. But when someone else's expectations are to be met you can't just do everything as if it was for your own portfolio.

My first shoot resulted in a 4-hour reshoot because the client was not happy with any of my images. I had failed to ask one of the most important questions: "what exactly do you want?"
Turns out the client wanted wide shots of the interior of their house so they could see as many rooms as possible in each shot. What I had shot was more close-up, detailed shots of the rooms. He referred to it as something that looked like an advertisement for a furniture company.
Had I taken 3 extra minutes at the beginning of my shoot to find out just what he expected out of the day I would have saved myself 4 hours of re-shooting, which of course he was not charged for.

Things to consider are things like the useage of the photograph - is it going in a magazine, a mailer, a website, etc. Each of these can require a different type of shot. For example, a photo for a magazine could be, among other things, a cover, a spread, or a small insert. If it is a full page photograph you will need to know if it is supposed to have text printed over it. If so, it is a good idea to pick a background that lends itself to having something printed over it. A plain wall, or a blue sky are good places to start. Text is almost always printed in one color, so having half the background black and the other half white (for example) might require that a half of the text be an opposite color than that of the background. Always try to keep it simple, and keep the final product in mind.

Another important thing is the format. If you are shooting photographs for a horizontal banner on a website it would be a bad idea to shoot all verticals, as only about 1/1oth of the image will be able to be used once it has been cropped down to fit the banner. Likewise, if you are shooting for a cover of a magazine, shooting a horizontal image is probably not the best use of your time.

You are probably thinking that this is all stuff that seems pretty logical, and I would certainly agree. However, you would be surprised how easy it is to forget these details once you are on location and wrapped up in getting the subject to cooperate, lighting the scene, plus getting it all shot within 15 minutes so the room you are in can be used for something else as soon as you walk out of it.

Getting all of these details hammered out with the client before the shoot begins will save you many hours of post processing (trying to convert verticals into horizontals, etc) or worse, hours of re-shooting.

Another important question to ask is when the images are needed by. It would be easy to assume that if a shoot is scheduled for a Thursday that Monday would be an OK due-date. However, it could very well be that the client is on a tight deadline and needs the images by Friday morning in order to meet their deadline. Don't assume the client will let you know of the deadline they are under. They may assume you already have spoken to someone else about it. In which case, if you haven't, they miss their deadline, the images you have just shot become useless, and you will not look very good for having missed the unmentioned deadline. Save yourself the trouble and be sure to ask!

Your check list should also include a question about location permits, or security. Some buildings have security officers who have been instructed not to allow photography. In most cases if you are doing a shoot on location you will have someone with you who will alert security, however this is not always the case. Check with whoever you are working with to make sure all the proper permits and red-tape has been worked through or you may find that you have to come back on another day to shoot. This may ultimately be the responsibility of someone in marketing or PR, but they don't always have experience dealing with photographers and may not know to cover this. Asking ahead of time can prevent a lot of issues. Even if the person knows to do a lot of this, they will know that you are on the ball and are thinking ahead as well. That can never hurt!

Be punctual.

Finally, dress appropriately. Photographers can get away with dressing down a lot of times as they are seen as "artistic", and everyone knows artistic people are weird (heheh). But it speaks volumes about your professionalism if you show up in clothes that are appropriate to the location you are shooting in. Just like I wouldn't go shoot a wedding in jeans, I would never go to a corporate environment in old shorts and a T-shirt. Find out what kind of environment you will be in (business formal, business casual, etc). If the company is a very formal one, you should at least be dressed business casual. This shows them that you respect them enough to put in the extra effort and not stand out all day looking like someone they picked up off the street to shoot their annual report. I would even go as far as to say the same applies if you are dropping off images to a client. If they think of you in a positive light, they will be more likely to call you back for another assignment. It may not seem like much, but dressing professionally can make an impression on all the right people.

Hopefully not all of this was redundant information for you. I will post more soon and share more hard-learned lessons. I'd be interested to hear any comments you may have, or input on things I may have overlooked.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Issey in Blue

I haven't posted much in the past few weeks so I thought it would be fun to throw together a quick product shot.

Let's start with the product:

This is a bottle of Issey Miyake cologne. (image taken from
Nothing really special about this shot. The bottle is well lit, and there is a small reflection, possibly done in photoshop after the fact.
Pretty easy to replicate if you have the lights to do so.
Here is one of my first test shots:

I didn't remove the horizon line or blow out the white background but I think you'd agree that for a test shot this is pretty close to the macy's one.

The first thing I wanted to do was to create a little mood in the photo. I did this in about 3 seconds by putting a blue gel over my main light:

So there you see we already have a pretty strong image. However, the top of the bottle is completely dark since it is lit from the back. This is a quick fix. By pointing a 2nd light with a grid (to limit the beam) at the lid, we solve the issue.

As you can see, the image is starting to come together.
Just out of personal preference I switched the side that the blue light was on and also positioned the bottle differently after this. At the same time, I decided I'd like the blue to be richer, which meant making the light not quite as bright.

The final touch is to make the background a bit more interesting. Right now it is just dark and isn't really working for me.
To liven things up a bit I added a 3rd light, with a blue gel and a grid and positioned it so that the light would fall across the background.

After some tweaking here is our final image:

Pretty nice image, and fore sure more interesting than the original image!

Labels: , , ,

Free Hit Counters
Free Counter