Over the August bank holiday weekend some important lessons were learned. People told me not to expect too much from my first portrait shoot. They weren’t joking! I can’t describe it as a complete disaster; I had a lot of fun and learned LOADS, needless to say on this occasion I have created lots of pictures that are genuine stinkers!
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My first attempt at a portrait shoot; My step-Dad (Mike) is a massive old hippy sporting long white hair, a goatee and a love of oversized, noisy motorbikes. In every respect he is an ideal candidate for a photo shoot; a quirky style, a massive Harley Davison and patient demeanour. Unfortunately, on Sunday mornings shoot we lacked 3 critical factors.
A suitable location
We were limited to taking the majority of our photos either within Mike’s garage, or on the driveway out the front of the house.
This resulted in a very poor backdrop for what should have been some great photographic moments.
I made do with a situation in which there wasn’t room to frame the bike correctly, or an ugly van featured in the background.
When taking shots of Mike, we didn’t make good use of natural light. I probably should point out that my current ‘rookie’ status means I do not yet own, off-camera flashes, lights, reflectors or anything else for that matter.
An assertive photographer
I should have been willing to boss the subject about, or at least bend said model to my will.
Time had been spent before the day researching photos of bikers and bikes, trying to work out the sort of settings that I felt would work. We also sat down together before the shoot and went through my ideas and thoughts. At this stage I got thought everything was going well…
Once we got started, and when problems arose I lacked the assertiveness needed to push and the confidence to argue what felt right.
Having written previously on this subject, I won’t labour the point. Sadly all of us had commitments and were grabbing a couple of hours when we could.
Bank holiday weekends are always busy, my parents have a shop to run and we all have social engagements coming out of our ears.
The Day before Mike had been in Cardiff at the speedway championships, so there was no way he was getting up early. I had a cricket match to go to which would mean we couldn’t do sunset.
I guess this will be something that can recur from time to time, so I will need to learn to work with what light is available.
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So, how do I fix this? Well confidence will come with practice. This was a harsh first lesson and I have no doubt my skills and confidence will improve given time and practice. The light and time of day is probably always going to be tricky. There will be time when we are going to be at the mercy of your client, I will have to learn to work, “with the light” and not try to avoid it.
The biggest lesson of all though is just how important your location is. I can only imagine that experienced photographers might be reading this and saying, “DUH!” right about now. So, as of today I am going to do 2 things.
- I am going to read and learn more about the fundamentals of portrait photography and the use of natural light. Work out what I might find useful in terms of beginners equipment. This does not mean I am about to run out and spend a thousand pounds on lighting, backdrops, lightboxs, diffuser and whatever the hell else pros use. I am sure that I can find a couple of basic items which can make all the difference. Once I know how to use them.
- I am going BOOK IN ADVANCE, another session with Mike. We will sit down and discuss location, we will try to get to the location early and work together to find the best shots. I might try and rope one of my more experienced friends into coming along for the ride, perhaps advise us along the way.
Oh, there is a 3rd thing I am going to do. I am going to head over to the excellent forums at expert-Photography.com and see what advice I can get from them. It is a great resource and I would definitely recommend joining in the conversation.
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- ALWAYS book in and agree a date and time for your sessions, agreeing “sometime on Sunday, when you have time”. does not work, even if is a friend or family, put it in the diary, and stick to it like you would any other appointment.
- Spent some time planning the shoot and selecting some locations well in advance of the day. Then sit down with the subject / client and interview them, talk about everything you have planned and the locations you have thought about. Do this AT LEAST a few days before the date of the shoot, Ask them to think about the locations and activities, what they are comfortable with get them to contribute and add ideas of their own. Come aways with a clearly defined set of objectives that you are all happy with.
- If you find yourself not liking something they are doing, tell them to stop, politely. Don’t be afraid to get them to repeat themselves. This is not street photography, it is a portrait session, don’t be frightened to get them to go through the same routine again and again, until you think you have got it right!
- Don’t be bullied, or pressed into compromising. Use the objectives set during the interview, tick them off and make sure you are both happy that they have been achieved.