Sometimes being a photographer or an entrepreneur can be an extremely isolating and individual experience. You’re by yourself for immense stretches in time whether it’s doing marketing work, retouching, business administration, or countless other tasks we don’t think of but have to do to create a functional business. I absolutely know the struggle and even before I set out on my own to chase this dream I was working out of my house as a national sales representative for Siemens. Here’s the thing we have to remember though: humans are social creatures. Even if we’re loners, introverts, or anti-social in nature we still need community around us and one of the easiest ways to set yourself up for social interactions with peers is by joining an organization. For me, one of those organizations has been ASMP. I’ve been pretty involved in the Houston chapter since I joined in various positions on the board and teaching different topics ranging from Sales to Creative Voice and plenty of other topics in between. One of those opportunities was to teach a workshop last Spring at my old studio space for about 12 people.
The overall idea we had when approaching the workshop was to create a shoot that would show the beginning through completion of a “test shoot” and how we could use that to create marketing materials and get our names out to other people. Shooting test shoots or spec shoots isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as you see benefit to yourself and make sure you actualize that benefit as much as possible. Meaning, put your photos to work for yourself! I led the workshop through pre-production ideas, lit two different sets for us to shoot with the model, and finished by editing one of the images I had captured and creating a mailer that could be used in a marketing campaign. In doing so, we covered a little bit of pre-production content, some lighting and shooting work which everybody loves and always wants to better their own craft, some retouching workflows, and the business aspects of owning a photography business. That business point is always emphasized because you can be an amazing artist, but if you can’t turn it into a business then it’s a hobby you’re really good at.
Anyway, y’all probably care more about the content then my ramblings on business philosophy so let’s get into it.
We gathered everybody at the studio and having an initial get-to-know-you kind of phase, we kicked off the night talking about pre-production. You can always just show up on a set and try to make it work, but your odds of success are drastically reduced because you’re going to be mentally all over the place thinking about lighting, styling, posing, and 100 other things. If you can eliminate as much of that as possible before you ever get to set, you’re going to be much more focused on creating amazing images and connecting with the talent. We went over creating and presenting a mood board of inspiration photos to pull from, as well as communications with the talent to kick things off with the whole group while we waited for the talent – Mr. Juan Valentine – to arrive for the evening.
After touching on some of the mood board points and answering some quick questions, I transitioned over to the lighting and getting everything as set as possible for our two different setups before Juan got there. We used a simple sitting pose for the first setup, and another simple standing set for the second shot. The first set used one light source and the second set was a two light system. The goal here was to create lighting scenarios that are easy for people to recreate and don’t take huge amounts of resources and expensive equipment to replicate.
For the first set, I used one of the trunks I had purchased as a foreground prop and had my warm-toned Oliphant backdrop as the background. The lighting was a single Profoto B1 light with the 69” Elinchrom Rotalux Octabox as the modifier. I just put it off to camera right and we talked about positioning the light and feathering the light, demonstrating the different effects each movement had on how the light hit the face of the subject. Shooting tethered, everybody was able to see the test shots and the difference in the lighting as they came into the camera for a great demonstration. Our chapter VP and amazing photographer Adolfo “Killy” Chavez jumped in to act as the test subject and I had a blast capturing a couple of portraits of him while he was in there.
Once Juan arrived, I approached the shoot just like I would if he was a client or the model on set for the client. We went through the mood board together to get an idea of the mood and style for the shots as well as touched on wardrobe and grooming. As soon as he was ready, we switched him in for Killy and got after it. Working with the model and creating a connection and collaboration between the subject in front of the lens and the photographer behind it is a huge part of capturing great images and I wanted to present that message as best as possible before turning it over to the students to shoot. I took about 5-10 minutes to capture what I wanted to capture before turning over the Profoto Trigger to the first student and helping coach and develop as different people jumped in to shoot.
As the line for shooting started to die down and I knew Juan needed a little break, we switched things up and moved to the second set. For this shot, I used a setup I like to go to for darker portraits on a black backdrop. I used 2 V-Flat World v-flats to knock down any spill light on either side of the model, creating a little cave or space in between them for the model to stand in. The backdrop was just black background paper from Savage, absolutely nothing special and I’ve done this without having any background paper available by turning the v-flats the other direction (you can probably find an image of it on my blog in other places). For this demonstration, I wanted to create another simple lighting setup, but I also wanted to demonstrate working with multiple lights and building the light setup piece by piece. I used a top-down light that was a Profoto B2 head on a boom with a 39” Elinchrom Rotalux Octabox as the modifier. This adds just a little bit of separation from the darkness around the subject and a glancing light both down the face and on the hair and shoulders. We started by adding this light in the mix since it is the subtle of the two lights I used. Always start with the subtle lights first so you can see exactly what they’re adding to the image. Next, I added the main light which was a second Profoto B2 head attached to the same battery pack (the B2 travel kit I think comes with two heads, one pack, and 2 batteries). On this I had a 4×1’ Profoto Stripbox (told y’all this was going to be kind of repetitive from a lighting standpoints, but the basics are a good thing!) that I positioned horizontally and raised up high and angled it downward. Adding these two lights in this way almost acts as one giant light source that wraps around the subject.
It was awesome to see people start to get what it looks like to work with multiple lights as they were able to see the scene build into what I had envisioned. So many times people just turn on multiple lights and don’t necessarily understand exactly what’s going on getting the lights set and showing how the lights build into the scene together. It can be overwhelming and absolutely turn people away from learning how to use lights more effectively, so being able to really show that in person and watch people start to see the step-by-step process was an awesome thing to get to experience and be a part of.
Everything set, it was time to shoot again. Juan jumped back on set and we fired off a bunch of different shots from different angles and positions. I wanted to try and shoot something similar to a Platon style of getting in close to the subject with a wide perspective, but the ultimate goal was to shot how many different shots you can get with a super simple setup. Again, after shooting for a few minutes it was time for the students to jump in and put their cameras to work.
The finale of the night was really a ton of fun for me. I don’t have too good of a way to show what we were doing without creating a screen capture video of an edit, but I had everybody pull out the laptops and we walked through an edit from RAW capture through a finished product out of Adobe Photoshop. For me, getting to see this process in its completion is the ultimate way to see a photographer work. It’s one thing to see a light setup or see them work with talent and get a capture, but process has always been a huge part of photography and still is today. Everybody has a different method or a different idea of what “finished” looks like so getting the curtain pulled back on how that effort comes through to completion is an important aspect for me. So, I was sure to share it that evening for those that were able to stay and watch me finish an edit and put that file into a marketing design to be sent out to prospective clients.
The workshop was an awesome evening and experience and I really hope I’m invited to do another one again sometime soon in Houston, New York, or LA. It’s always a pleasure to get to try and impart a little bit of wisdom, and as a self-taught photographer I completely understand that thirst for knowledge that drives me to keep looking for another way to better my craft. Thank you again to ASMP for inviting me to host this and I’m open to another one soon!