Shooting editorial assignments is a tough business; sometimes you get a sweet gig and sometimes you don’t. As photographers we often take the not-so-fun gigs in hopes of landing the big assignment or ad campaign. I’ve been lucky enough to have shot more then a few big assignments in my career: each one I learn about myself, my photography and what I’m willing to endure to make the image happen.
Last year I was assigned a large project with Village Voice media in part due to a personal project I shot with the Pen Mini.
My first breakthrough project with a mirrorless camera was the Art Basel Street Portraits where I shot over 100 of the worlds most talented street artists and their fans. The project helped me overcome my fears of using a micro 4/3 camera in a professional environment and I had sent some of the photos over to a very talented art director I work with. Partially based on the Art Basel Street Portraits, he assigned me to shoot the Miami People 2012 project.
The Miami People Issue is the largest publication, second to LA Weekly’s Celebrity Issue, that Village Voice Media publishes annually and I was about to shoot the whole thing with….A freaken small mirrorless camera?!? Hell yes I was!
The Miami People issue, published annually, features 30 of Miami’s movers and shakers. The subjects are a spread of politicians, actors, musicians, artists and personalities that represent the best that Miami has to offer.
With 30 subjects and 3 covers to shoot this was a large job and one that I was super excited to shoot. This was to be my first large assignment in Miami and my first with a mirrorless.
Designing the visual theme
When taking on a large project such as the Miami People 2012 project you have to decide in advance what you want the photos to look like and how you want those photographs to represent the subjects. Defining the visual theme is something that is usually done with the art director but if you’re working on your own personal project then you could do it yourself. It’s not as easy as it sounds and there is a lot to consider on defining the visual theme on a project like this. We had to take into consideration the span of time we’ll be shooting, post production, subject matter, locations, current trends, shoot budget, even the economic climate needed to be considered.
Up until about 2009, my visual style was more surrealistic and illustrated requiring a good amount of preproduction, shoot time, larger crew (7 to 10 people was the norm), many hours in post and a sizable budget. As an artist I grew tired of this look and felt this high-impact visual style was slowing down in popularity. The work load to shoot in a illustrated way took hours to create and was both mentally and physically taxing. As people grew accustomed to digital cameras as the norm, shooting in a hyper realistic style got old and when the economy crashed along with the budgets, people began looking for authenticity and simplicity in art once again.
I took notice this trend and decided back in 2011 that it was time for me to re-think my visual identity inline with something more natural and authentic.
When I put this idea of shooting subjects in a natural and beautiful way to the test with Art Basel, it really resonated with my clients. Everyone loved the idea of shooting fast, light and free, capturing the subject as they are with minimal, if any, retouching.
The idea of shooting in a natural, spontaneous and fun style just made sense for Miami People 2012 project. To keep inline with the theme of natural beauty, I had to organize my priorities of lighting styles -
When possible shoot with natural light - this meant that the shoots would be durring the day and since there’s load of sunlight in Miami this would be my first choice.
If needed use a strobe to work with the light available - if I needed a splash of light I would use one of two Olympus FL600r units wirelessly only using a TTL cord if necessary.
For times when the light is a challenge - my preference is not to make the strobe lighting obvious but if I can’t then make the strobes very obvious. For certain shots I planned on using the FL600r units without any diffusion such as in windy or dark environments emphasizing the shadows which would give more depth to the image.
Producing the shoot
Producers hold a shoot together. A good producer will make the jobs of the crew members easy while satisfying the needs of the client. Producing a shoot is a lot of work and often times its thankless work but if it were not for producers, shoots would not go as smoothly as they often do. Like most jobs on a shoot, a producer wears many hats. Due to budgetary reasons and because I was going to be shooting the majority of subjects for the project on my own, the client and myself were producing the shoot together. The client would first contact the subjects and let them know that both a writer and photographer would be contacting them to schedule a shoot. If any special requests were made at that time we would be sure to accommodate them as much as possible.
Schedule to make life easier
Shoot times needed to be respectful to the subject’s schedule while allowing enough time for me to get a solid shot. Since shooting with a hybrid camera such as the OMD allowed me to shoot faster than ever before, I decided that I only need about 30 minutes to setup, shoot and pack up. Any shoot that required hair and makeup, such as a cover, was going to take longer but I’ll still aimed to keep my part of the production as fast and smooth as possible.
Here are some scheduling tips that worked for me
- When possible I was going to shoot two locations in a day
- On every cover shoot we would also shoot a second look for the interior of the issue
- Connect with the subject via phone, text and email to schedule if necessary
- If a subject cannot be shot for any reason we would have backups
- Have plenty of backups.
Dealing with special requests
Special requests are wide and varied but most of the time they come from a couple of places deep inside a person. As a portrait photographer, it is important to take into consideration what your subject needs in order to be comfortable to the point where they will realax and open up to you. This is probably the most important thing a portrait photographer can do. If your subject is not into the shoot, it’s going to show in the photo.
One of the most important actions a portrait photographer can do is allow their subject to be open and relaxed with the camera.
Some reasons why you’re going to get special requests
- Your subject is self conscious
- They want to be represented well in public
- They have no idea who you are as a photographer
- The publication is not known to them
Basically special requests come from fears within your subject. The requests might come off as being egotistical or rude, but understanding that their fears have very little to do with you will help you work with the subject’s requests.
While you will not be able to work with every request that comes your way, do your best to accommodate your subject and you will be rewarded. When your subject is relaxed and happy only good things can come from it. As a service based business, photographers should be putting their service first. Good customer service is paramount to running a business and keeping it going for years. When my subjects talk about their shoot experience with me I want them to rave about me as a photographer and the quality of my production. The work will speak for itself.
Here’s some tips that works for me to connect with my subject
- Be myself and don’t try to be something I’m not
- Smile because I’m doing something I love
- Remind them throughout the shoot how good they are looking (if you don’t they might assume they don’t look good)
- If something does not look good fix it right away.
- If what does not look good to you is something on your subject be polite and tell them what would look good rather then telling them they don’t look good.
- Keep any personal conversation light and fun while never talking about anything potentially inflammatory (politics, war, religion, etc..)
- Play music that works for the subject.
- Never say No rather say what you can do
- Relax and stick to my shoot plan
Never forget that the shoot is not about you its about the photograph. Don’t take anything personally and do not get upset over the small stuff. Do speak up if a request is not possible and offer an alternative that will work for the subject and the shoot.
I use the tern shoot but as you know the project is 30 shoots. So that you have a better idea how I shoot, I’ve compiled some of the BTS footage into my action reel.
As you can see when I shoot I’m in action, animated and positive, bringing out the best in my subjects.
Probably the least important thing of a shoot is the gear. While you might not want to hear it, that is the truth. If you have your visual theme set and know how you’re going to light the shoot, the gear just becomes a tool to finish the capture. Use what you know and only buy gear for a shoot if its needed and do so way in advance of the shoot. You don’t need to be fighting gear or just learning how to use your gear on set. Sometimes gear fails on set but if you are comfortable with the gear you have you can overcome technical issues with ease and confidence.
Once I got the visual theme down, choosing the gear was straight forward. I knew I was going to be using the OMD for the shoot. I loved how it operated and I already had the camera set up to give me the visual feedback I needed to shoot fast. Now I needed to choose my lenses, lighting mods and grip. Below is a list of the majority of gear I would take with me on location.
As I stated above I’m now shooting in a very natural, minimalistic way. This sensibility also applies to my post. Once finished the capture I load my RAW files into Capture 1 Pro. C1 Pro has the cleanest colors of any RAW processor hands down. The software is designed for Phase One medium format backs so many features related to the Phase One cameras are not supported in C1 Pro like tethering but the files C1 Pro renders are outstanding.
I think I spent about 90 minutes total on retouching. Yes you read that right, 90 minutes total. The shoot simply could not be done with my old surrealistic style. In fact I’d probably not be able to even take the job because I would need to hire a retoucher and thus require a much larger budget.
The retouching I did end up doing was for simple tasks such as stray hair or removing something very simple from behind the subject.
To deliver the final JPEGS to the client I uploaded my finals to Dropbox. I love using Dropbox to the max! My account is a free account and If you don’t have an account get one free using this link - http://db.tt/3nj0KD1 That is another cool thing about Dropbox. When your friends sign up Dropbox increases your storage so help a brother out and sign up ok? Seriously though if I’m uploading some big files I can start the upload process and leave the office and when the files are done uploading send the link from my phone to my client. Dropbox also backups all my photos from my Samsung Galaxy S3 including any that I transfered wirelessly from my camera. Having a simple photo delivery system is a godsend.
Hooray! Once I delivered the photos my part is done. Now I sit back and wait for the awesomeness to happen…the printed and online issue!! Every photo in the printed issue was shot by me with a hybrid camera which is like being hired to build a portfolio. Check out the shots as they were used in the online version here. The shoot would not have been possible if it were not for the art director Miche taking a chance on a photographer that had a passion to shoot in a new way. I want to thank Miche, the assistants, interns, hair stylists, makeup artist and everyone that put their energy into this massive project.
Learn how to shoot like G
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I think once you learn a bit of the basics on how I shoot you’ll be shooting like a rockstar in no-time and when you do, tell me! One of my biggest motivators of Small Camera Big Picture is hearing from photographers that are inspired to shoot the best work of their lives thanks to the hard work we put into the site. Tell me what you think in the comments so everyone can learn from one another.
Peace out and thanks for reading, supporting and loving Small Camera Big Picture.