head shots and portraits
The opposite scenario from the last post about having the opportunity to scout locations is editorial portrait photography. For the most part it’s either budget or time constraints that don’t allow for location scouting. That’s why I test. Over the past few months I have been throwing myself in situations where I go to someone’s apartment or a location of their choosing and try to make situation work. Its my job as a photographer to be experienced and prepared enough to walk into any location and make great photos. On location photography always has it’s challenges. Lighting is probably the biggest challenge, although with enough gear it’s easy to overcome. The next biggest challenge is backgrounds.
In March I wrote about my shoot with Devon. Her apartment was roomy and had great elements and decent natural light. A few weeks ago I went into Hollywood to shoot Kasia. She had mentioned that she had a pink apartment so I figured it would be a great place to shoot portraits and capture a bit of her personality. Before I packed up I asked her about natural light in her apartment and she mentioned it didn’t have much. I brought small speedlights as well as my Elinchrom Ranger. I showed up to find out she lived down the street from a hugely popular hiking trail in Hollywood. That meant parking sucked. I drove around the couple blocks near her place a handful of times and finally settled on a space a block away. Because of the distance and the weight of the Elinchrom (a 35 pound pelican case) I opted to leave the ranger in the car. I took my rolling camera bag (about 40 pounds and a light stand bag. When I got to her apartment I realized I’d need to make a second trip because I’d need the power of the big strobes.
For the first look I used the strobes to fill the room with light. The shots looked a little too safe so I moved her to the frame of her patio door and used natual light. The shots were a bit more dramatic and interesting.
Space in Kasia’s apartment was limited and the pink wall was so defining it was time to move on. We walked around her building and found a couple of interesting spots. These shots were taken in the hallway of her apartment and the elevator. I wanted to add a bit of variety.
Given the opportunity I will always scout a location prior to a job. There is so much information to be had by checking out the location. By checking out the location of a shoot it allows me to take my time and think about the shoot. Who am I shooting? What is it for? Where and how will the photos will be used? Do I have a lot of space to work with? Is there good light? Is there interesting backgrounds or furnishings? What equipmnet will I need to bring to make the shoot work? Will I need lights? A ladder? A tripod? As I walk through and around the location I start to develop ideas and pre-plan my shots.
Last night I scouted for an upcoming wedding. It started with a meeting at Loft Seven Penthouse in downtown LA where the ceremony and reception will take place. Haley and Joaquin have a place in their heart for downtown LA and being in the middle of downtown LA will allow for unique wedding portraits. After we walked though the location we took a walk around the block to see what we could find and what would be interesting for portraits. There’s plenty of cool opportunities within the couple blocks of Loft Seven but I also have to keep in mind other factors.
- The bride and Groom don’t want to miss all of their cocktail hour
- Wrangling a group of 14 people on a wedding day
- Time of day and temps
- Comfort and stress
- Bride and groom’s goals
As great as it is to have amazing and unique wedding portraits there’s a bit of a trade off. That trade off is usually time. As much as I’d like to spend hours creating interesting, fun and memorable portraits, this isn’t about me. There are so many factors to consider. In the case of Haley and Joaquin they will be seeing each other before the ceremony which allows me to shoot couple’s and bridal party portraits before the ceremony. This will allow them to get back to their reception as soon as possible. When we are talking about photographing a group of 14 people, each person has their own schedules and willingness to participate. Comfort and stress are huge considerations. Wedding days can be stressful enough and my job is to alleviate stressful situations. I can’t think of one wedding I have participated in that everything happened on time. Sh!t happens, people are late, there’s traffic, shoes break, people forget things, babysitters don’t show up etc…. My job is to go with the flow and make do with the time I get. As much as I’d like to walk two blocks to this great location I have to ask myself; If I was wearing a suit on a summer afternoon would I want to walk four blocks to get the shot? If I were wearing high heels or a brand new white wedding dress would I be willing to walk that far? How much can I ask of my wedding party?
Haley and Joaquin will be staying at the Biltmore Hotel a few blocks away. After I left the loft I drove to the hotel to look for more possible locations. Typically I will shoot bridal and groom’s portraits at the location they are getting ready at. Sometimes it’s mom’s front yard other times it’s a grand, historic hotel. I walked around the hotel and was excited at the history and grandeur. A perfect place for photos.
I could picture the group shot along this double staircase at the hotel…..but then there’s reality. I’ve shot in some high end hotels before. And even though I have been there to shoot the wedding, many upscale hotels in Los Angeles have their client’s privacy to think about and ask me to shoot with discretion and not disturb other guests. I decided I’d ask security about setting up a large group shot on these stairs. They basically said no and implied that the difference between being able to shoot on the stairs and not is about $50,000. Since the wedding and reception aren’t being held at the hotel I just happen to be shooting some of their guests and don’t have the same privileges of someone shooting a wedding that’s being held at the hotel. Sometimes it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. We just might stop here as we walk out of the hotel. I came across these locations as well. Stairs are a photographer’s friend when shooting a group of 14.
Like I mentioned above, I get what I get. These are just ideas and locations that I can go to if the opportunity arises. Having this information is better than showing up day-of and trying to find interesting locations on the fly.
The reality is that being a freelance photographer isn’t always filled with glamorous or interesting jobs. The fact is that most of my time as a photographer isn’t even spent with a camera in my hand. A few months ago Chase Jarvis posted about the realities of what it means to be a professional photographer (Via SwissMiss). If I break up the 12% piece of the pie into fun and/or interesting jobs I’m probably down to 6-8%. That’s why I shoot for myself. Self created assignments with fellow creatives allows me to experiment, control the outcome to suit me and the people I am working with and to just have fun taking photos. Me booking this job was a result of one of those, for-fun, unpaid, self assigned jobs. It’s actually the second “job” that’s resulted from that shoot. We licensed one of the images from the bodypaint shoot to Chef Rubber for use in a full-page ad in So Good Magazine.
It started with an email through my website. A plastic surgeon in Australia contacted me asking if I’d be interested in shooting some artwork that would be displayed throughout his office. I’m not sure exactly how he stumbled on my work, but he noted reading my blog as well as watching the behind the scenes video I made of Seth’s body paint shoot. His goal was to use the photos to showcase women’s figure and beauty. The photos would be displayed throughout the waiting area, exam rooms and his office. Did I mention the images would be nudes? It is and was a delicate line. The images would need to be beautiful, tasteful yet remain PG13. If I put my self in the shoes of a woman visiting his office for a consultation, the images would need to spark interest and discussion but not alienate anyone.
My thoughts went to abstract nudes. I’d be able to show parts of the body in a way that weren’t immediately identifiable. My goal was to to use light and shadow to get the viewer to look past the fact that they were looking at a naked body. I enlisted the help of Marie who is an experienced figure model.
In addition to the abstract images I’d be shooting one main beauty image. I pulled some reference images and we decided on the stark, yet beautiful landscape of El Mirage Dry Lake Bed. Little did I know how challenging shooting out there would be. After months of planning we finally made it out to El Mirage. I booked Megan as our model and enlisted the help of Sura Radcliffe to help with hair and Tiffany Selby to help with makeup. I’ve worked with both of these talented stylists on different shoots and knew they would make me and Megan look great. The hair and makeup process was pretty involved. I’d need Megan’s makeup to read from about fifteen feet away. I also knew that there would be a potential for wind in the desert so I wanted to make sure the hair style was one I could get away with if the wind were to move it around. We prepped from noon until almost 4PM, spent a couple hours in the car driving out to El Mirage and caught the last hour of the setting sun. (Yes eight hours prep/wrap – One hour shooting) Despite a weather forecast to the contrary we were greeted by 20mph winds when we got out to El Mirage. The temperatures made the wind bearable and luckily the wind was blowing from the west. I was able to use the setting sun and wind to my advantage.
A few weeks ago I came across an article about Herb Ritt’s exhibition at the Getty. One of the images noted was this amazing image shot out in El Mirage. I was at the fabric store a few days later with hopes of creating an image as beautiful.
We got to El Mirage with about an hour of daylight left. We had taken some wardrobe to experiment with and plan what we were going to shoot while Megan still had clothes on but I couldn’t run the risk of Megan getting wind blown and ruining the reason we were there. I was there to shoot a beautiful nude. The fabric and drape was a bonus and I figured with the wind howling it might actually work. It allowed me to figure out where I wanted to position her once she dropped the fabric. Turns out my client loved the images of the drape in addition to the nudes.
We shot both the drape and the nudes as we watched the sun fall like a rock. The sky in the west as the sun set was beautiful, and despite the wind we tried shooting into the wind to see the beautiful sky. We put Megan’s hair up and tried shooting her with the wind at her back. Utter FAIL, that much wind blowing that much hair looked horrible. In addition to Sura and Tiffany I had my friend Bill to help with the shoot. Even though we had the shot I came for we figured why not break out the strobes. Having Bill there to hand-hold the light was an incredible save because the sun was pretty much down and it was getting darker every second. We took her hair back down and put her facing the wind. We spent the last three minutes of the shoot using the strobe and once again came away with amazing surprises like the following image.
Despite the challenges, the amount of work and planning that went into it we came away with beautiful images that everyone was happy with. It also reinforced my opinion that if I shoot my own type of work, people will notice. A big thanks goes out to Megan, Bill, Sura, Tiffany and a very trusting client.
As I mentioned on my post about the Elinchrom Ranger, when I get new equipment I take it out and test with it. Up until my shoot with Kiana I had only managed to shoot a handful of images of my kids and was blown away at how new the Mark III and settings were. The Mark III is my seventh Canon digital body. With many of my previous upgrades, the upgrade was based on the image quality and size upgrade. The Mark III is a giant leap in quality, focal points and provides me with a full frame body that I have been missing for months.
There’s nothing more stressful than shooting at a location I’ve never seen. Is there light, is it pretty, is it big enough, can I make it interesting? When placed in this situation my goal is to take whatever was handed to me and make a great photo. Some refer to these type of images as environmental portraits but that term strikes me as related to professionals at work. I wanted a little more creative freedom and was going for an editorial look. A few months ago I went to Devon’s place in Hollywood to shoot these portraits.
A few years ago most commercial photographers wouldn’t stoop to shooting weddings and family portraits. It was beneath them. Some of the photographers that did, went to great lengths to hide their wedding and family work from their commercial clients. Although I separate my commercial and family work on different websites I’ve never been shy about either. I love working as a photographer. Period. I love shooting both and I’m proud of the work I do in both areas.
The downfall is that on a couple of occasions the lines have blurred and I’ve ended up having uncomfortable conversations about my pricing and why I charge what I charge. Do I charge more to shoot a head shot of Mrs. Jones compared to shooting her during a family portrait session? Yes. Why? Specificity. A recent (potential) family portrait client was scheduled for a portrait session. She mentioned and hoped to get a few shots to use on her business website. In my most professional and gentle manner, I described my purpose and goal with family portraits. I explained how those goals and the associated pricing isn’t in-line with shooting corporate head shots.
When I shoot for a commercial client my job is very specific. I’m hired to help my clients with sales and marketing. Are they trying to sell a home, their jewelry, their interior design services, or just sell themselves? Typically the results from a commercial shoot is a handful of preconceived images. They pay for my help to execute their vision or in some cases to help conceive of and shoot their vision. I charge commercial clients based on the scope of the job, the resulting retouching and a licensing fee for using the images. If the job is relatively easy and straight forward they pay a lower rate. If the job requires me to drag a bunch of lights and grip equipment to the beach at 5AM, then the resulting rate will reflect the challenges involved with the shoot. After it’s all said and done commercial clients only pay to license and retouch the photos they want to use.
The image below is a section of proofs I shot for a Best Buy commercial. The image was to be used as a full-page ad on the back of a newspaper. On this particular day I shot 458 images including lighting tests and shots of just the laptop. I shot Mark holding the laptop, not holding it, with a jacket, without a jacket, sitting, standing, etc…. This was our second photo shoot to get this one image. Of the 1000 or so images I shot over the course of the two shoots they chose one. (In the end they changed the concept and didn’t use any.)
Wedding and family photography is a different story. My wedding and family clients expect a variety of great images to view and chose from; something that my commercial clients don’t usually request. I edit every single image my wedding and family portrait clients see. I want them to see their proofs and know that they will look at least that good if they order a print. The image below was shot a couple weekends ago in Santa Barbara for Matt and Sara’s engagement session. I shoot in a format known as RAW. Basically it’s a digital negative needs to be processed on the computer. Because I am doing the processing rather than allowing the camera to decide on how the image should look, I have control over how the final image looks. The image on top is what the image would have looked like had I not edited the file. The colors are drab, it’s not sharp, the contrast is low and it reflects that we were in a parking garage. The image below is after editing. This editing process is included in all my wedding and family work but not in my commercial jobs. Ironically I photographed both Matt and Sara’s business head shots and they are familiar with both pricing models.
For the most part my wedding and portrait clients don’t get to direct during my shoots. Yes, when a mom or a bride has a specific idea for her photo, of course I oblige and shoot it. It’s her time, she’s paying me and only if she likes the resulting images will she order a print. But they don’t get to view each image as I shoot it and then discuss what’s working and what’s not. It’s a different level of service and therefore the rates for wedding and family clients are substantially lower.
This pricing seems logical to me but it wasn’t to her. The potential family portrait client I mentioned decided she didn’t want me to shoot her family portraits. It would have been easy for me to just shoot a handful of “head shots” of mom during the family portrait session rather than loosing the job. One of the images might have worked for her head shot purposes, but what if it didn’t? What if I didn’t spend enough time and effort making the head shot and she thought they all sucked. Now she thinks I’m not a good commercial photographer. Maybe she tells her friends and colleagues, maybe she hires someone else. Why put myself in that position? If you want a specific image, let’s spend time thinking about and planning it. If you want variety and great images to use on your holiday card and hang on your wall then let’s plan on that.