May 21, 2012
Lately I’ve been shooting a careers campaign that involves arriving at a location, usually inside, and needing to quickly assess the shoot location for lighting possibilities, set-up, and my subject for how I’ll place them in that location. The subject/model doesn’t have much time or patience. Sound stressful? It can be! This is where my journalist background comes in handy.
Nothing builds confidence and skill like experience. Day after day, as journalists, we would be given 3-5 environmental portraits to shoot. Each one must tell the story, all on its own. So here are some tips for the beginner – some basics that worked when I started and continue to work for me today.
Everything is easier when you have a formula – a recipe for success. My recipe is to do three things as soon as soon as I arrive – assess the subject, location, positioning.
Of course there are one million exceptions, but let’s not go there. If you can remember these three tasks, you can survive any environmental portrait shoot.
• Talk to the subject about his/her work and their vision for this environmental portrait. Ninety-nine percent of the time they’ll greet you with “ugh, I hate getting my picture taken”, which is unlikely to make you feel great. But let it go. Your job is to make them feel interesting and relaxed. I let them know they are not alone and move right into “what is your job?” What do you love about your job? What do you think would, in a “snapshot,” illustrate your job to someone interested in your career? It helps to get them on board with the shoot and to feel more interesting.
• Check the location. Once the image is established, I figure out how to light it. I generally look up at the ceiling the minute I enter a room. Is it painted? Is it white? High or low? Can I bounce a flash off it? How can I make it help me? Then if there is time I may figure out a second or third flash to add drama, colour or accent. There isn’t always time or space and at a couple of shoots I wasn’t allowed to use flash, so every situation is unique.
• Check the setting for subject positioning. Is there a clutter free background I can use? Is there a background that speaks to his/her profession? How can I position my subject to make them look their best?
This should all take 5-10 minutes. That’s it. Any longer and you run the risk of losing your subject’s attention.
If you have the luxury of more time on your environmental shoot, get the first image in the bag, and then look around for a second unique angle. The more you shoot the better you’ll get. And don’t forget, ALWAYS shoot horizontal and vertical. You never know where they’ll want to use your portraits – increase your odds of success! Happy snapping.