Thursday, January 26, 2012

Shooting for Big Business

"Big," when referencing businesses is, of course, a relative term, but for me, I recently had the opportunity to shoot for one of Alamogordo's largest (if not THE largest) home builders.  It was definitely 'big' for me, as I was hired by French Brothers to shoot team photos and portraits, when they were looking to update their site.  Not bad for a guy that has a portfolio of kids and families, eh!?  This is exactly where I want to move my focus the professional/commercial realm.

When I was first contacted, the request was to add a bit of "fun" to their team/group photo and I began thinking about how I might be able to do something different from the norm - my first thought went to one of my grandfather's old Kodachromes, where a group of friends were getting together at a going away party.  It's a candid, snapshot type of photograph, which brings a sense of "real-ness" to it, the lighting is pretty good for old-school on-camera flash, and the composition of faces moves the eye around the frame.

With this as a template, I knew I would need an interior of a home.  As would be expected, French Brothers have an excellently decorated model home just up the road from my house.  Perfect; a group portrait, shot in a casual style, in a home built by their company, and decorated by the same VP that contacted me to do the shoot:

The above is from one of my "test" shots...shot with ambient light, and was just a rough draft that I could then take back home and figure out lighting positions and any possible compositions of the subjects.  I also realized that the glass in the photo frames might pose a bit of a challenge if I start throwing some off-camera light towards any subjects there...but more on that later.

This is from my first session with some of the French Brothers employees.  I have two speedlites camera left shooting into a reflective umbrella, and one speedlite in a shoot-through umbrella camera left.  I had the lights about 10-12 feet back from the subjects - this allows for a more even coverage of light (at the expense of a stop or two of strength), although the guy on the left is a little "hot" relative to the others since he was closest to the key (something easily fixed in post, but just wanted to highlight here).  I added the camera right light to provide some fill, and to reduce any shadows against the back wall.  

In this photo, along with the others I got that day, I felt I had captured a nice candid moment (natural smiles and laughs), along with a decent composition that would work well for use on a web page.  As it turned out, though, not all of the team members were able to make it for the shoot this day, so we'd have to re-shoot a few weeks later.  Also, the VP that hired me wanted to move away from this casual approach to the more 'posed' look - no problemo!  (...side note: I had them say "housing recovery" instead of "cheese" - know your audience!)

So, a few weeks went by, and the re-shoot was scheduled.  It was the same location, and this time with everyone able to attend.  The "first draft" shoot really helped me nail down my lighting, and now that I knew that we were going for a more 'straight' approach, the pressure of trying to capture folks in a candid moment was relaxed a bit - but, I still wanted a good, welcoming 'feel'.  I used the same lighting set-up as before.  Here's two that ended up being used on their site:

Here it is on their website

Here this one is on their website

I know I mentioned earlier about the glass on the back wall potentially posing a problem of reflecting light back towards the camera, and I was right - I just couldn't get the umbrellas far enough to the sides to eliminate them.  So, knowing this, I made sure that I took a few frames without the speedlites firing and used those to paste back into the photo.  Here's what the original looks like (notice some of the other cleaned-up items, like the fan and the green leaf on the right):

Lesson learned here, is to recognize where potential issues may crop up and take steps to be able to fix them later in post.  I'm not a huge "photoshopper" - in the sense of massive retouching - but I am a huge advocate of using Photoshop to clean up distracting elements in an otherwise solid composition.

All in all, it was an awesome experience where I took away a few good lessons-learned - some in photography, but even more in business, but I'll save that for another day.  Thank you to the French Brothers team for making it a fun experience, and for giving me a shot at commercial work that supports local business*!

*I ended last year with a Masters of Fine Art class final project that focused on locally-owned small-business owners, which I have displayed in the 'people' section of my fine art web gallery...enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My First Infant Photoshoot - "Explosivo!"

Well, just like in the first post where I proclaimed that I would never shoot families or small kids...I had my first photoshoot with an infant.  12 days old to be exact.  We did a bunch of 'safe' shots, in front of a white background, very angelic-like.  My 'big' idea was to have dad, without a shirt, hold his 12 day old daughter - sans diaper - against his chest.

By this time in the shoot (about an hour into it) the kid had already spit-up, peed on a blanket, and dropped #2 (at least the latter was into a diaper), so I figured we were good to go as far as any fluid output was concerned.

The set-up here is just one speedlite through an umbrella camera right and slightly high.  They have an excellent sun room with pure white walls that allowed for some good bounce from any spill.  The background is just a white shower curtain, which I brightened up a bit in Ps, but didn't put any extra light on.  Pretty minimal all-in-all.

So, the moment comes for the dad and daughter shot...the tripod is set in place, focus is set, everything is good to go.  At this point my main concern was focus and composition, so I really wasn't paying much attention to any specific action going on - just the big-picture stuff.  I guess Murphy's law then kicked in milliseconds prior to me releasing the shitter, I'm mean shutter:

It was the one and only shot I got of my 'big' idea.

Here's two you can cleanse your eyes with:

So, in the end, I now have a new found respect for those that specialize in photographing infants.  If you're in the Alamogordo area, you have an infant, and you'd like to have portraits done of said infant, I would give a shout to Living Dreams Photography.  It's a dirty job...I'll stick with the three year olds!