Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Can you take some pictures of.... ?

In my day job, I get a lot of questions...  I have learned that in order to give the right answer, I often need to ask various other questions in order to clarify the question.

Today's blog will hopefully help you ask a few questions so that you are prepared when someone asks you to shoot some pictures of an event for them.
What do you need to know before you can accept the assignment?  whether it is paid or pro bono.   

I've put together some of the questions I like to have answered prior to 'game day', or even before accepting the challenge of a shoot.

1. What are the clients' expectations? - this one can be a little nebulous... people may have their expectations set in stone; or more often, they just want something aesthetic and memorable.
First, it helps to know where the images will be used... are they only going to be posted online or are they going to be enlarged for the living room wall?
If you are charging for your service, make sure the expectations are set out fairly specifically.  I have a neighbor who was doing a family shoot for a large extended family.  She was getting paid a nominal amount.  She ended up spending hours and hours and days and days on the phone with the mother and then in Photoshop trying to please the client; swapping heads, whitening teeth, even taking away double chins.
Ideally, the client should come to you expecting you to do your best and maintain the integrity you have shown in your portfolio.  They should not expect you to shoot like so and so, or worse, make me look like so and so...  (having said that, if you're one who offers alteration services, knock yourself out, and have a good time with it - just remember to let the client know up front their will be an hourly charge for additional alterations)

2.  How many people in the group? (we are assuming this will be some sort of portraiture work).   This is really important to know.  Larger groups take much more coordination... of people, props, lighting, expectations, etc.  It is not always easy to get the entire group in focus if your lighting is low... remember that the more light you let in with the aperture (fstop), the shorter your depth of focus (and the larger the group, the more focal depth you will need).  Don't forget to keep your focal length no less than 35mm, because you can really start to stretch the people at the ends.
Again, feel free to decline if the group size or conditions are greater than your comfort level.  It is better to have people find the right person for the job than to do them a favor and they end up having to redo the whole event because they weren't satisfied with the results.  -- I learned the hard way one time.  I was shooting a family group and I couldn't get far enough away at the location they had selected. I pushed my focal length to 24mm.  When I went to process these pictures, I was shocked at how much the people on the ends were stretched... not very appealing.  Luckily Photoshop and Lightroom have a way to correct, but it's never the same... would I want to be the person on the end who was stretched and then corrected?  nope.

3. Indoor/Outdoor  - lighting, space to work in, backdrop.  Most cameras allow us to shoot well in daylight.  But if you don't feel comfortable in low-light settings, don't accept the offer.  Even shooting a reception in a gymnasium can be difficult (they are often lit by fluorescent lights mixed with sky lights, and the wood floors give a golden yellow reflection).  Tungsten lights (traditional bulbs) give off a bluish hue while fluorescent lighting create green in a photo.  Also ask yourself how much room am I going to have to work with?  What lenses will I need?  And do I have the right lens/lenses for the job.

4.  Do I need an assistant?  When I have shot weddings, it has been so helpful to have an assistant there (AKA my wife).  She can keep the flow to our session, notice clothing out of place, understand some of the expectations, and ensure that the party feels that they are getting the interaction they need to feel comfortable in the pictures.  Do I need my assistant to hold a reflector, a diffuser, a flash, a lens or camera, or just hold up my spirits when it is a long day?  
This last weekend I had a helper for the prom shoot.  He was invaluable.  We knew we would be shooting mainly in the shade.  I like to either use an off camera flash or a reflector when I shoot in the shade so that the subjects pop and I get the correct skin tones.  So my assistant was there to make sure the flash was firing, it was the right distance to the subjects, and it didn't fall over in the wind and end up in the rubbish bin.  Because I had an assistant, we were able to shoot with a flash (speed light); thus we were able to use a faster shutter speed and get this shot:

5.  Finally, and this is after you've accepted the job and are at the shoot: Save time for the individual or group to give you some input or make a suggestion.  Sometimes they know what pose they want to try.  This lends credibility to you as a photographer and it gives the client the satisfaction that you really wanted to give them a product they were pleased with and personalize their session. 
I was shooting some families I am related to and I asked a set of parents if they wanted any individual shots.  They casually asked for the kids to be together in one.  The kids were very excited and glad to have their own time in front of the lens.  The kids grouped up and wham bam.

Pic of the Day:  There is a place for supersaturated photos.  It's in Havasu Indian Reservation

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