Archive for the ‘Photo Shoots’ Category

I’ve got an all day product photography shoot today, shooting high end glassware and cookware for Juniper Homes. I thought it might be fun to document the whole shoot, and, decisive guy that I am, that’s what I’m going to do. When I refer to degrees and such, it’s how I think about lighting angles. Picture a circle around the subject that goes through the camera. The camera marks 0 degrees. so a light at 90 degrees right is on the same plane as the subject, camera right.


Got everything hooked up. I will be shooting with my camera tethered to my laptop, dumping raw files straight into lightroom. I’ll also be controlling my camera’s shutter and exposure settings with EOS utility. So, my camera will sit on the tripod the whole time, and I will control it from my laptop, based on the live results I get from lightroom. Slick. I only ever need to look through the viewfinder when I need to move my tripod. I am using a Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro lens throughout the whole shoot that I rented from PPR Atlanta.

Here are some shots of my initial set up in the morning. I have a collapsible black reflector mounted on a set of tripod legs. This will be my drop-in black background. I have a few strobes set up with snoots and grids, all homemade. These will rotate in and out based on the setup. My biggest light, the JTL versalight 160 (pfeh), is clamped to a post I have mounted to my ceiling (beginnings of my overhead truss system) will be dialed up to full power (again, pfeh) throughout the whole shoot. That full power will get me f/11 at 200iso, and the white backdrop will just barely not be clipped off the top of my histogram in lightroom. When I am shooting on white, I will have this light pointed at the backdrop, where it will kick back through my glassware for a nice, healthy glow. When I am shooting on black, this will swivel around away from the backdrop and down toward the subject at about a 45 degree angle. This will give me some of the backlighting that the white backdrop gave me, as well as some specular reflections.

Speaking of specular reflections, we are shooting metal and glass today, so that is pretty much the name of the game. As I go through the shoot, I will illustrate what each light is bringing to the party. When you’ve got hard reflections to deal with, sometimes a nice light can do more harm than good.

Once the client arrives, the first thing we have to do is get the product into the studio, and start sorting according to lighting setup. We’re going to be shooting basically everything on white, with a few special items to be shot on black. Client is going to sort the product while I get my metering tweaked in. We’re starting with glass.


Here are our cleaning supplies. We are going to use them to keep our glass looking immaculate. Dusting is way easier pre-shoot than in photoshop (especially since I hope to do about 95% of the processing in lightroom!) We’ve got compressed air, monitor wipes (these can leave fibers behind, but are great on spots and streaks), and trader joe’s multipurpose cleaner. I love this stuff. It is remarkable for glass, and doesn’t contain any pollutants! The mitts you see are microfiber dusting gloves. Today, they are going to be used to transport glass from the staging area to the shooting area. Swiffer clothes (for dust) and microfiber clothes (for polishing) as well as optical microfiber clothes (for super polishing). A lot of this is just an assortment I grabbed. We will see what is truly useful as the day goes on.


We’ve got product! Getting started on lighting tweaking.


Got the lighting set and the product sorted. Working through the glassware now. Showed Christopher, the client onsite, a few example shots, shown below. These represent slight lighting variations. The first shot is just the softbox on the backdrop, nice clean sillhouette. Second shot adds a snooted nikon sb-26 (set to 1/32) about 45 degrees above and behind the subject, camera right. The third shot adds another sb-26 that matches the first on camera left.


We’re going with option two, with a few catchlights, because the 2nd strobe adds too much ‘interference’ (as i like to think of it) in the middle of the glass. Here are a few shots we’ve done so far.


Keeping glass clean with compressed air, microfiber + trader joe’s stuff for getting gunk off, and the optical cloth for final polishing. So far, no dust.


Had lunch, walked through a few images with Christopher, who is pleased, so far! That’s good. I’ve moved on to the opaque stuff, and changed my lighting setup for the new products. We’re going for mostly wrapped, mostly hard light. From camera right, I have a gridded sb-28 about 90 degrees right, 15 degrees up, 1ft from the subject, at 1/32. 5 feet from the subject, at 45 degrees right and up, I have a bare sb-26 at 1/32. 4 feet away, 75 degrees right, 15 degrees up, I have another sb-26 at 1/8 through a white umbrella.


Slow going through each product, since this stuff is far less uniform than glassware was. My wrapped light scheme worked very well, because it was versatile. The best way to trouble shoot funky lighting is to turn your lights on one at a time, and see what each is doing. For each different product type today, I had to ‘rebuild’ my lighting. I didn’t move lights very much, except perhaps my grid as an accent light. I mostly had to adjust angles, and turn off a light or two from time to time. I will post some examples here shortly. I am shutting down production for the day. See you tomorrow.

Day 2


Here are some shots from yesterday. I’m pleased! An assistant would have been very useful yesterday. Next time, I am going to build that into the invoice. I am also going to do some looking into propping things up. The one thing that really kicked my butt yesterday was getting the product at nice angles, without any obvious or ugly support. Shooting continues today, so we’ll see what happens. Today I will be finishing up a few smaller items: cake pans, a coffee press and some kitchen tools, followed by a few large appliances and then some more glass decanters that Christopher is bringing over today. That should be the end of the whole product line shot on white.

We’ve flagged a few products for ‘special attention’, as in extra detail shots, multi-item shots, or especially sexy shots. I’ve got this awesome macro lens and some really great glassware, so I intend to really knock some dingers right out of the park.



Still working on shooting appliances. Slow going, but the good news is that I am getting some great shots and the client is pleased. I’ve posted the setup shots for the Beertender to illustrate what a pain in the butt chrome is. I love it, because chrome doesn’t leave you any room for mistakes. The beertender has a big rounded chrome section right down the center. From the setup shots, you can see that I have taken my white paper backdrop and run it down in front of the subject, and then back up again, where it is attached to the roof. I have cut a hole in the paper, and I am shooting through that. This white paper will give me a big, smooth broad specular reflection in the front of this unitasker.

I am lighting the backdrop with an sb-26 set to 1/8 power. I am also underlighting the subject with another sb-26. They are catty-cornered like that so they don’t cast shadows of each other, which would then show up in my reflections. No chance to be sloppy with chrome. I have a light back and behind the subject pointed over it, higher on the backdrop. Its purpose is to provide some catchlights higher on the subject.

Saturday Morning


Shot more on Friday, finishing up the last of the appliances, and starting on the secondary shots for some items. Sorry I didn’t blog it, but I was very tired, and the client was onsite for most of the day. The secondary stuff is basically cool, sexy shots of certain products, like the waterford crystal. I was really looking forward to this part of the shoot. If you know my architecture work, you know that I have a geometry fetish (I even married a mathematician!). I was really excited to approach this glassware with an architectural eye.

Lighting the glass was really, really easy. I swiveled my backdrop light (the jtl softbox) around and dialed it way down. It was lighting the glass above and from behind with smooth light. Then, I would add 2 gridded sb-28’s about 15 degrees above and behind the subject. Sometimes I would use one, sometimes two. Sometimes I would use one, and use the other in a snoot, straight down on the subject. The trick with etched glass is to use very tight, controlled light. A little will go a very long way. Most of the time, I was shooting at iso200, f/18, 160th of a second, and my strobes were set to 1/32 THROUGH a grid. That is almost nothing. My lights had plenty of headroom, powerwise, so I was able to get up to f/32 for some stuff later on with ease.

I am really happy with these two shots. Lit with 2 sb-26’s, one gelled full CTB camera left, and one gelled red camera right, each through a sheet of clear coroplast. Soft box high and behind and sb-28 bare and low, provide edge definition. Tried it without the softbox. didn’t like it.


I love this Riedel decanter. Lit with a gridded sb-26 (1/8) behind the subject, gelled full CTO, and with a snooted sb-26 (1/32) from above, and again the softbox above and behind. The star thing is the decanter’s stopper, straight down, at f/32. Crazy. Lit with a gridded sb-26 off to the side. In fact, I am just going to post the rest of the series. Assume that everything is lit with one or two gridded sb-26s, on very low power, a little behind and above the subjects. Easy peasy, lemon Squeezey!



I had a nice meeting today with a new client this week, an online-based home goods reseller. They’re a new enterprise. The client came to me interested in capturing the mood and character of their product line of high end glassware, cooking utensils and other luxury dining and entertainment accessories. This post is going to outline what lining up a shoot like this entails: all the whats, hows and whens. Let’s get started.


Here’s what it seems like the client is looking for:

We’re looking to incorporate their products into a dinner party setting with a story. Shots will focus on people conversing, holding our fancy glassware, or chefs preparing hors d’ouevres on gorgeous copper-core pots and pans. The copy for these products would, along with the image(s), tell a piece of the story and how the product plays in to it. We are going to weave together a tale of intrigue relating a few characters in our dinner party story. Each product, and its piece of the story must stand on its own, since we can’t determine the reader’s sequence, or whether they even look at all the items involved in the story.


A shoot like this will require securing a suitable location to host a posh dinner party. The location will need to be staged with nice furniture and decor. Using someone’s home is our first choice, whereas an empty home would necessitate furnishings and decoration. We will need guests. We’re going to stage the dinner party with real food, real drinks and real guests: a few dozen neighbors and friends. We’re going to have a team of hair and makeup stylists to keep everyone looking awesome throughout the evening. Since I will be running and gunning throughout the shoot, I will need an assistant to help me set up, meter, and move from shot to shot, according to our game plan (outlined below). I am planning on renting some extra lights, so I can have 2 lighting setups, the one I am currently shooting, and the next one being set up.


At this point, a fair estimate of the shoot’s cost can be made. The concept and the logistics are the raw materials you’ll use to create your proposal to the client. What do my vendors require of me? How much should I be paid to do the calling and organizing to have the shoot go off without a hitch? How much is my experience and talent worth? How will the images be used? Etcetera! These questions are extremely important. Luckily, a far better man than I am has covered these questions in explicit detail. If you haven’t purchased Best Business Practice for Photographers by John Harrington, you are throwing your career in the trash. Don’t freak out on these like I used to do. I would get panic attacks and put my prices just criminally low. I had no budget, cut corners, and sometimes, it would blow up in my face. It’s a vicious cycle, but paying yourself is just plain good business. Negotiate your way to an agreeable budget for your shoot. Once you’ve got the finances taken care of, and a contract signed, it’s time to move forward.


The next thing we’re going to need to settle is the scheduling. Are there any real, hard deadlines that need to be met? Do these images need to be delivered by a certain date, no matter what? That needs to be known first. Beyond that, it’s a matter of lining up availabilities for stylists, talent and location. I find that it really pays off to have a fat rolodex (ha! does anyone use those anymore? i don’t.) of stylists and models. Line up back ups as well. I covered this a little bit before in my post on lining up TFP fashion shoots. The difference here is that this is a paid gig. Unsurprisingly, stylists are far more amenable to make time for paid work. Imagine that. I’ve said before that free work is worth what you pay for it. Paying someone is basically the only way I know of to hold someone accountable. Don’t be afraid to hold someone’s feet to the fire when you need to. Be a leader, not an asshole. I usually pay in 30 days, so I don’t have to float the cost of stylists waiting for the client to pay me.

Lastly, this is a location shoot. Think of your location as another person, with its own schedule of availability. Oh, and it also needs to be insured. The difference is that it can sometimes be impossible to substitute in a different location at the last minute, unlike stylists. The idea is to line up all of these schedules to find a shooting date that works for all involved parties. Book a potential back-up date in case Murphy decides to drop in and screw everything up. The best way to anticipate problems is to imagine all the worst things that could possibly happen and then address them in your mind.

Game plan

The date and time have been set. Now, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to do throughout your time slot. At this point, the client and I will head to the location, if necessary, at a time when the lighting matches that of our proposed shoot, and decide how we want to present each product, basically storyboarding. Once I have a list of how each product is going to be shot, I can sequence those shots based on the logistical realities created.

It then becomes my job to create a stream-lined and efficient process to get myself through these shots. How many shots can I line up in a single location, or with a particular set of lighting modifiers? I optimize my shot sequence to maximize my creative versatility. These images are source material: the greater the variety of images, the greater the value I present to the client.

Your game plan is how you work smarter instead of harder. I’ve got to make sure everyone knows their part and is moving in the same direction. Write up a nice schedule of shots, and give a copy to all your stylists, your assistant, and the client, if present (they will be).


Ideally, I can get access to the location the day before the shoot to bring in gear, get set up and prepared, and to check out the location in the proper lighting for our shoot. I take notes and determine my camera settings for my different shots. I walk through the whole shoot, running worst case scenarios through my head, and deciding how I would deal with them. Paranoia is just good business.

I get a good night’s sleep, and on the day of the shoot, I am prepared. Having done the best I can to squelch any potential explosions, I can now focus purely on making creative decisions. Call everyone and verify their arrival. Check all your gear and show up early. Batteries? Focus working? Lenses clean? Your sensor clean? Laptop? Cables? Between the time that people start showing up and the stylists are finished getting everyone done up, stay out of the way. Don’t meddle with the stylists unless they’re doing something you’re sure is wrong.

With adequate preparation, the job of moving through your shoot becomes easy. Smile, relax, schmooze with your subjects, and get your job done. Stay on top of what your assistant is doing, and make sure you’ve got a hair person and a makeup person to maintain the subjects while they are being photographed. While I am concentrating on my lights, my composition, metering, focus, and the model’s positioning and gesture, it is usually too much for me to stay on top of hair and makeup as well. It’s nice to know that there is someone who is standing by, concentrating on just the kinds of things I tend to miss.


The whole process is one of reductionism. I am solving problems before they can become problematic. Have a plan. Prepare for contingencies. This is what you are being paid for: 10% of it is getting the shot, and 90% is making sure you get the shot.

That’s enough for now, I think. See you later. I am going to get to play with the Canon 100mm macro lens this week!

Recent Photo Shoots

Whoops! Looks like it’s been a week since I’ve posted. Wife and I took a roadtrip up to NC to visit some old friends, I’ve re-organized my online portfolio, and added some new stuff, too. I have a couple posts up my sleeve, so stay tuned. I am working on getting a few days ahead of myself. I would get into a regular posting schedule, so my personal lapses don’t make themselves apparent on the site. I’ve got a real humdinger lined up about how I developed my Unique Selling Proposition.

Today, I am going to highlight some talented models I’ve worked with and show off their great images. Makeup for all shots is by Katie Jones.

Ali Rijo

Ali Rijo was lit with a Nikon SB-26 firing into a white shoot-through umbrella overhead and camera right. You can also see the fill camera left from a silver reflector I made from foamboard and aluminum foil. Ali was quiet, with her own sense of grace. I love the beauty mark!

Amy Dianne

Amy Dianne was lit with my homemade fluorescent ring light, and a Nikon SB-26 back and to the left of her. Getting that light’s output low enough was a challenge. The color of her eyes really carries this shot, though.

Lauren Widmaier

Lauren Widmaier was lit with JTL Versalight firing into a Photek Softlighter II. This was her first photo shoot, and almost every frame was perfect. She’s a natural and it was an honor working with her.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. Check back later today for a must-read post on my Unique Selling Proposition!

Hello Blogosphere!

I wanted to start off today’s post by letting you know what I have brewing:

A series of interviews with top-level pros in a variety of fields. They talk about their professions, how they got there, and what makes them successful. I’m chasing down several different pros for this, so it’s taking some time. When I have the first 3 ready, I’ll start to post them.

But today, I’m talking about shooting tethered: what it means, what you can do with it, and how it can make you more money.

Shooting “tethered” means that your camera is connected via USB cable to a computer. Images are downloaded as they are shot, and, from there, you can do whatever you want. The good news is that you can do this now. Your camera came with everything you need: camera software and a USB cable. If you’ve got a computer (preferably a laptop), you can do this on location. The bad news is that shooting tethered makes you stationary. You can use this for anything but wedding and event photography. For that you’d need….

This thing. It’s an SD card (or CF card, with an adapter) that holds 2g of images and connects to a wi fi network, allowing you to wirelessly transfer images over a wi fi network to a connected computer. That is amazing. You bring a laptop, a wi fi hub, and set up your own private network at your shooting location. As you are shooting, the card in your camera is feeding your images to a computer over the wi fi network. (Yes, it can work on a secure network.) For $99, this thing is a steal.

Update: Photojojo seems to be the only ones that offer the CF adapter, as far as I know. The adapter is $30.

Either way you go, it’s a huge value-add. Being able to let clients see images as they are being shot on a big, gorgeous screen is a great way to add value to your services. You are bringing a huge element of stability to the extremely speculative nature of creative photography. WYSIWIG photography!

But wait! There’s more! Let’s say you shoot weddings. If you can get an internet connection on site, you can upload images straight from your camera to your website. To brides, this means that friends and relatives who couldn’t come to the wedding can watch it live on your website. Heck, they can even order prints as it happens! You will be selling prints of images before the pixels dry.

Interactive Photography: Cover a gala fundraiser, bring an assistant. You shoot, and are downloading the images to your computer, and uploading them to your website, as before. But, you also hook up a projector and show a slideshow of live photographs. If you’re tethered, set up a “photo booth” (backdrop, light, camera, laptop), and if not, you can work the crowd. The slideshow makes the process interactive! People take funny pictures, which show up on the screen, which gets others to do it. It’s a big hit! Guests see images on the slideshow and can buy prints from your assistant, who processes the order over the website which prints and ships the image straight to the customer. Just keep your prices in ‘impulse buy’ territory.

So, there you go: shooting tethered or wireless, getting your images quickly to your computer can be a great way to make more, add value for your clients, and let people have a great time. So give it a shot!

Blog post titles don’t allow formatting. Otherwise, that would read “Weddings: You Need a Game Plan!” It’s that important. It will absolutely save your butt. A wedding game plan is a collaboration between you, the bride, and the wedding planner (if she has one). You all sit down together, and talk about the big day, from start to finish, and cover everything. Get as much detail as you can.

Start with contact info. You need cell phone numbers for as many of the following as possible: Bride, groom, Planner, Bride’s parents, Groom’s parents, best man, and the maid of honor. Redundancy is key, because sometimes people don’t answer their phone on their wedding days. Imagine that…

Get locations. Exact addresses are important. Check them out on google beforehand anyway, just in case. Know the lay of the land beforehand and you can’t get lost Where will the bride be before the wedding? The groom? Where is the wedding? Where is the reception? Where is the parking? Where is the bathroom? (I kid, but it’s good to know, anyway)

Who is coming? How many people are coming? Which guests are important and will be in the portraits?

Talk portraits. Think of an estimate for how long portraits will take you, multiply it by 1.5, and tell them that, instead (Always better to end early than run long!). People often vastly underestimate the amount of time portraits take. Make sure you give yourself enough time to do the job right (I will write a blog post about running a wedding portrait session).

Reception rituals! Get a detailed breakdown of the reception, and what things will be happening and when. Will there be a band or a dj? Do they want photos of either? How, when and where will the bride and groom be arriving?

Are there restrictions? Can you use flashes in the ceremony location? What about monolights? Same for reception location? What areas are off limits all together?

Establish the timeline. You should put together a timeline for the whole day. When does the bride start to get ready? The groom? Will they be getting ready in the same place or different locations? When do they leave, and what time do they arrive at the ceremony location? When does the ceremony start? When does it end? When do pictures take place? For how long?

Plan B. This one is all on you, guys. Like an extension of the wedding emergency kit, having some good Plan B’s will save the day. You should have the number for a tux rental place with whom you have a good relationship. Same for hair stylist, dog sitter, mechanic, florist, seamstress, etc. Anything can happen on a wedding day. You won’t be prepared for everything, but sometimes you can whip out your phone, say “I got this.” and save the day.

That should about cover things. You don’t need to run through these as a big list of questions. Start a conversation about the wedding day, and get the information you need as you discuss, back and forth, the important details of the day. You will always be surprised at what new information can pop up in these discussions, which is why it’s absolutely essential that you have them.