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Creating A Photograph From Scratch
Tips To Get Your Photo Shoot Going
One of the biggest challenges for a photographer is creating a photograph from scratch, especially when you have a passionate craving to capture something with your camera. When the urge hits, you start thinking, what can I create? So let me help you with some tips and take you through my most recent shoot.
First, let me preface my mindset. I’ve done photography for over three decades now and today I push myself to shoot something different. I’m about concepts. I crave a more editorial or telling the story result. I expect more from myself than my past photos. I want better and often it’s frustrating. While I battle my frustrations internally, I’m careful that my subject doesn’t see that frustration externally.
Does he love me, does he love me not?
While I do tell my subjects my intended approach in creating an image, I make it clear that we will take bad shots to get the great shots. We all take bad shots, regardless of our experience level in photography, the only difference is the professional photographer doesn’t show you the bad shots—amateurs do that.
Now before I expand on my most recent shoot, here are some tips that can help you get a great photo when working with a model. Tips I personally follow.
1. Let your subject know upfront what you want to achieve. You can do this through discussion, but if you can, provide some examples. Do an image search on the Internet and find a photo that you both like and ask yourselves how you can make it better or more original to your own ideas.
2. If you both have no idea of what you want, then brainstorm together and find a starting point—start from that point and allow for the shooting session to evolve around it. Evolvement is as simple as adding other elements as the shooting progresses, such as a wine glass, a rose, a candle, etc., or removing elements that just don’t fit.
3. Don’t get stuck, if something isn’t working out, if you don’t feel it, if she doesn’t feel it, adjust and move forward, don’t spin your wheels. You both may have wanted to achieve X, but if X isn’t working out, move on to Y, never quit out of frustration.
4. Communicate throughout the shoot with your subject. It’s give and take. You have to let each other know if it’s working or if it’s not. If it is, keep shooting, let it flow. If it’s not, take a break, move things around, change the location, clothing, anything, just to make the shoot flow in a new direction.
Heather had her ideas for the roses too that would eventually evolve in the photo above.
5. If the lighting isn’t working for you, change it. Light can change the “mood” of the photo as well as the mood of the shoot. If you start with flash photography and you don’t feel it, change it. Switch to existing, natural or ambient light. Don’t be afraid to increase that ISO. Use the modeling lamps, normally tungsten, in your flash heads for ambient light and adjust your white-balance accordingly.
6. Be proactive and then reactive. By that I mean, take initiative to get the shoot going, then react to what is or isn’t working. As an example, create a scene with what you have around you, but be aware of what takes away from your subject. The human eye always goes to the lightest part of the image first, so if you have a white pillow, take it out of the scene. Look for distractions and remove them. Use the KIS principle, keep it simple, less is more.
7. Work together, not against each other. Arguing never works and damages rapport between you and your subject. Stay positive. Get feedback from your subject and give feedback too. Stop and look at what’s been captured with your subject, and discuss how to make it better.
8. Be cognizant of what, how and when you speak. For example, don’t tell your subject to suck her tummy in, tell her to sit tall, straighten her back. Adjust your tone of voice to a happy tone, not a condescending tone. People react to voice inflection and tones.
9. Be aware of your body language and gestures. We communicate to our subjects even when we don’t say one word. A sigh is just as misunderstood as a smile. If you sigh, follow it with an explanation, “I finally got the lighting the way I wanted it, yeah!” If you smile, say something like “Wow, that’s beautiful.” If it can be misunderstood it will be misunderstood. Follow body language with words.
10. Compliment your subject during the shoot and avoid being critical. If you don’t like the way the model has her hair, ask her to change it, don’t tell her you don’t like it. Learn to leave the “I don’t like this, I don’t like that, etc.” in your mind. Tell your subject what you like, and if you see something you don’t like, change it eloquently. Use words like, “I’d prefer this, or let’s try that.”
Now let me take you through my most recent shoot with Heather. We were both feeling the effects of “cabin fever” being stuck in below zero freezing weather for days. So I told her, let’s do a shoot and I made it very clear that I wanted something different; I wanted an image that would tell a story. She wanted a headshot, so we came to a conclusion we’d start there and let the shoot evolve as it flowed.
Notice how the photo shoot evolved, from one rose to the petals in the end.
At first, and perhaps it was because of the cabin fever, she said she wasn’t in the mood. That of course irritated me a bit and I worked on my computer. A couple of hours later, she asked me if I still wanted to shoot. “Of course,” I responded. So while she did her make-up and hair, I broke out two Hensel Integra Mini 300 Monolights.
I fitted one monolight with a Chimera 3-foot octabox. I fitted the other monolight with a 7-inch metal reflector and placed a 30-degree grid in it. My concept was to use the octabox as my main light and the grid for her eyes. The second light is used only for the modeling lamp, so the flash is not triggered—in other words the flash isn’t configured to fire when the main light fires.
A “light for the eyes” is simply a flash head with a reflector, grid attached, that is placed next to the main light and is pointed at your subject’s face to bring more color out in the eyes. This light causes the subject’s pupils to get smaller so you have more of the colored iris vs. the dark pupil.
I then placed both lights in Heather’s living room so she could sit on her sectional sofa’s chaise attachment. I removed some framed photos from the wall that would be her backdrop. Basically we were shooting in a small area of the living room but I didn’t want the scene, or set, to appear like it was shot in a living room. I wanted a simple background as my focus was my model and the story she’d tell.
As I waited for Heather to get ready, I noticed fresh roses in a vase on the dining table. The gears in my head began to turn, and as she came down the stairs, I told her I wanted to incorporate the roses at some point during the shoot. Well that point came after the first five photos were taken as I wasn’t “feeling the flow.” The roses helped, but I still wasn’t happy with the lighting.
As mentioned earlier, I had a concept for the lighting, to use studio flash with an octabox. But what I noticed, to my eye, the ambient light produced by the two Hensel monolights looked more appealing then what I saw on the LCD screen after the flash went off. Light creates mood and the flash just wasn’t cutting it for me. I chose tungsten because of the mood it created.
Here I’m placing the rose petals on the California Sunbounce Zebra fabric.
As the shoot progressed, Heather went from holding one rose to holding a bouquet of roses. We stopped after a few bouquet shots, downloaded the photos into my laptop with Adobe Lightroom, and reviewed them together. We then discussed the idea of taking the roses apart and creating something with the petals. I also wanted a little “punch” in her eyes, so I took the fabric from my California Sunbounce Mini and placed it on the chaise. There I placed the rose petals on the fabric, then had Heather sit on a few pillows behind the chaise. That eventually evolved into her laying on the chaise for the end result.
While it wasn’t the headshot we had talked about achieving in the beginning, it was a photo that told the story—does he love me, does he love me not? From scratch a craving became a photograph, not a picture, and we totally forgot it was a -9 degrees outside. The cabin fever ended with the romance of the roses. I close by saying, don’t forget the men and women in uniform, plus their families, who sacrifice everyday so we can enjoy our warm cabins and freedoms. God Bless them all, Rolando.