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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.
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!
I’ve been assembling my new commercial portfolio for 2009. My old book was about 2 yrs old, and I’ve been apprehensive to send it out, causing me to lose business. Not good. Starting a new portfolio from scratch is a tough project. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to pare down your entire library to not just your best, but also your most applicable work. What I mean is, your commercial clients won’t be interested in your wedding work and vice versa. It gets far more specific than that, so today I am going to talk about the process of assembling my commercial portfolio.
Your portfolio should show off the best of the kind of work you want your portfolio to generate. So, if you want to generate still-life, table-top and other product photography, don’t show the client a book of nothing but portraits. Be specific, but not a one trick pony. Be versatile, but don’t just throw spaghetti at the wall. On assembling my single 40-page portfolio, though, I felt my range of subjects was too broad. I flitted from portraits to fashion and beauty to product photography to architecture.
Essentially, I was trying to reconcile two key pieces of advice:
Your portfolio should represent the kind of work you want to get. No one will hire you for something that you don’t tell them you do. I want to shoot a broad variety of work, so shouldn’t my portfolio reflect that?
On the other hand, your portfolio should not be so broad as to make you a jack of all trades, and master of none. For a big portrait assignment, would you call the photographer who shoots nothing but portraits, or the one who divides their attention amongst many subjects? It seems that my problem is that I want to shoot architecture, portraits, fashion and product photography. But will the images designed to turn on one set of clients turn off another?
How can I focus my work like a laser beam with a smaller (15-20) number of images, without sacrificing the breadth of the work I want to promote, or going broke printing multiple portfolios?
I thought I’d decided to print on blurb.com, but I scratched that after reading that some folks have been having real issues with color. check out this quote:
if you think on-demand publishing is an easy way to get a high-quality book you might want to think again. In the best case, you’ll spend a very significant amount of time and money on everything – and then it’s very worthwhile to ask why you wouldn’t do real self publishing.
So, back to the drawing board. I believe that I have come up with a portfolio that will satisfy my need for specificity and versatility. Mounting prints in a quality screwpost or ringed binder. For my money, the binder is a great deal for new photographers. Moreover, a binder will allow me to tailor my book to its potential recipient, showing them the best work for their publication or project. I do all the 2 page spread layouts in photoshop, then keep the prints all stored away, until they need to be placed in the book and sent out. This allows me to keep a library of not just images, but pre-designed spreads, so changes to the portfolio can be made quickly.
I’d rather have a low-cost, easily updatable and refinable binder portfolio than to pay more money for something that becomes obsolete, just for a little extra wow-factor on the presentation. I guess I’ll just have to rely on my images being enough to impress potential clients (isn’t that the point?).
Let’s remember that it is the content of your book and your professionalism that will ultimately win you clients. The fanciest book won’t get a crap photographer anywhere. Turd polishing and all that.
Stay tuned tomorrow, when I will actually post some photographs.
My non-rss readers may notice that I switched up themes here. This is a bit clearer to my eyes. The lack of header image means I will have to do better about posting photos. You’ll see some in my next post, coming later today.
This is part one of a two part series on working with grain.
When I say grain, I mean digital noise. It makes more sense to me creatively to relate the two concepts of ‘film grain’ and ‘digital noise’. Digital noise is nothing more than more-orderly film grain, and I’m not sure why it has the bad reputation that it does. So, moving on.
First, let’s talk about what grain is, so we can better understand how to get rid of it. Know Thine Enemy!
Here’s an extremely detailed article on digital noise. Read up, and then come back. We’ll talk about what we can do with and about grain. I think of grain as the camera’s guesswork. The higher the ISO, the more guesswork the camera is doing on the detail it is being asked to record accurately. More grain existing in an image represents the camera’s estimations being further and further from ‘accurate’. It makes guesses based on color and luminance (which is like brightness). So, inconsistencies of both brightness and color can exist. In this post, you’ll learn how to get rid of, de-emphasize and mitigate graininess in your image.
Most of my grainy images come from shooting concerts, so we’ll start with one of those.
This is a shot of Malevolent Creation, a metal band I shot at the Masquerade in Atlanta. I shot this with my Canon 30d at 3200iso, 1/60th of a second, at f/1.8, with my 50mm f/1.8 lens, without a flash. I pushed the exposure up. This image is extremely grainy, as you can see in the 100% zoom below.
Notice in this next image how, even the sharpest areas of the image are suffering from the noise’s ‘averaging’ effect. Yikes! Let’s get started.
Before we start attacking the detail of the image, let’s start with some global adjustments. There is a lot of noise in the darkest areas of this image. Let’s push all those noisy shadows even darker so they get knocked out and less noticeable. I used a curves layer, like so:
Next, we’re going to attack the noise more directly by looking at the image’s individual color channels. If you’re using photoshop’s default window setup, it’s right here:
Let’s take a look at the individual channels, looking for noise. Here’s Red, Green and Blue, respectively:
As a rule, the blue channel is a complete dick about noise. The red channel is bad in this case, but not always. The green channel is fine, as it usually is (this, I believe, is because there are twice as many ‘green’ sensors in your camera’s sensor as either other channel). The blue channel is almost always the noisiest.
I’ll knock out some color noise by reducing the saturation on the image a little bit. I’ll use hue/saturation for this.This is a good idea because it not only reduces color noise, it also helps control the extra-saturatedness of high ISO images. Check out the shadow area on this dude’s arm while he throws up the devil horns.
So now that we know where we need to reduce noise, Photoshop has a reduce noise filter that we’re going to use next (there are other 3rd party tools, like the highly-lauded Noise Ninja, which are considered by some to be better). So, I’ve created a new merged layer (I keep all my previous layers underneath, so I can preserve the ability to edit and redo my work later).The reduce noise filter has ‘advanced options’, which let you work on noise on a per-channel basis. So, I’m going to make my decisions here based on my observations earlier, preserving more detail in the green channel, and really obliterating the blue channel.
‘Preserve detail’ is a threshold control, just like in Unsharp Mask. It’s Photoshop’s way of figuring what is noise, which should be destroyed, and detail, which should be retained. Strength controls how much smoothing (or whatever it does, exactly) it will apply to the areas that are ‘noise’ and not ‘detail’. I prefer to set it higher overall than I think I should, and then paint in the noise reduction with a layer mask. Noise reduction can be hell on the actual detail you want to retain, because the threshold control is not perfect.
At this point, I’m done working on noise, and I can put some saturation back in, since I’ve gotten rid of the noise that would have caused a problem. At this point, I’ll make my creative decisions about the image: toning, contrast, saturation or what-have-you.
Lastly, I’m going to create a new merged layer again, and run Unsharp Mask. It’s important to get rid of noise before sharpening your images. Photoshop can’t always tell the difference between noise and detail, so Unsharp Mask can end up intensifying grain. I am going to use a higher-than-usual radius setting, because the noise in the image ‘scattered’ the detail. A higher radius will allow me to ‘corral’ it back into defined edges.
Here’s the before and after:
Much better. Great! Next time, we’ll talk about getting convincing film grain in our images. See you then!