Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stock Photography Photo Shoot Problem Solving

One of the reasons I started this blog, was to show people new to stock photography just how to overcome obstacles that arise in photo shoots. Well, this shoot was no different from the rest, and had several things to overcome.

For starters, I always shoot with the same make-up artist because this helps me to be consistent. I am extremely lucky because my make-up artist will also assist in other areas, such as holding reflectors, and helping the models with their posture, etc. For this shoot, I hired my trusty make-up artist, 5 models, and rented a conference room for a business shoot. I was unable to get a photographer's assistant for the day, and after going through all the trouble of getting the models scheduled, I decided to go ahead with the shoot without one. This always makes life hard.

After loading all of the gear into the conference room and getting the lights set, the first obstacle was positioning the lights so they didn't show any reflection in the glass, see image above. I accomplished this by putting the softboxes on the sides of the room, shooting straight toward the model, or in other words, complete side lighting. This worked great for wrap-around lighting, but left the front of the model a bit flat. In the image above, you can see the lighting on both sides of the model's forehead, but the front of the model needed just a touch of light. This was accomplished by a silver reflector down low and in front of the model.

Next, I needed to balance the front lights to the back light, in this case the back light being the natural light coming into the room behind the model, along with the ambient light from the fixtures. This was a logistical nightmare. I had scouted the room before booking it, but two unexpected things happened on shoot day. First, it was a cloudy day and the amount of natural light coming into the room was much less on shoot day. Second, the employees in the room behind the conference room had pulled down the shades on the windows, reducing the light even further. The office was locked and there was no way to raise the shades.

As I took a few test shots, I realized I was in serious trouble, and quickly moved to trouble-shoot mode. I needed more light in the background, badly. I started by bringing down the F/stop to around 5.6 to 8, or so. I still needed some detail in the background, so I didn't dare go any lower. I still needed more light. Next, I dragged the shutter to allow more light to come into the camera. I slowed the shutter speed all the down to 1/4 of a second and I still needed more light. With a shutter speed that slow, I couldn't hand hold the camera, so out came the tripod.  And yes, I still needed more light.

Raising the film speed is usually my last resort because of the grain that is associated with higher speeds. I ran a few tests and ended up at 320 asa. I was shooting into my laptop and felt I could live with the grain at 320, but it meant every shot would be taken from a tripod.

Now, it was just a matter of balancing the front lights to the back lights and we were ready to go. The front lights ended up being set at their lowest wattage setting, and were moved as far from the models as possible. Things began to look the same on the monitor as they did in my head, so we were in business. By the end of the day, I had shot through my shot list and ended up with images I think will sell.

I always shoot in RAW format, and make corrections in Photoshop's Camera Raw in 16 bit, and then covert to tifs (still in 16 bit) and make some minor adjustments, ending up with a high pass filter to add a touch of sharpening.  Now, if I can just get through all of the editing, retouching, keywording, and resizing, it will just leave me with all of the html code I have to build for the website.  Oh yeah, then on to loading the images to the agencies, then......does it ever end?  I hope not.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Selling Stock Photography

So, you ask yourself, what type of stock photos will sell?  What is the magic combination of conveying the perfect concept, lighting and model?  What does it take to create an image that makes people jump out of their seats to purchase the image to sell their product? What is the secret? Well, the answer is simple, I don't have a clue. Really.

I have shot images I thought would sell for certain, and no sales. Other times, I have an image I struggle with, and it sells.

Take the image above, for example. I shot this image last week for my lifestyle portfolio. I think it promotes the concept of a woman living a healthy, happy lifestyle. Do I think it will sell?  I would think so, but you just never know, and I have been wrong so many times before.

Why is it so hard to predict what sells? One reason might be that the market is quickly becoming over saturated with images, which means more competition.

Years ago, images were being sold as Rights Managed (RM) when Royalty Free (RF or macro) hit the streets.  Later, the microstock explosion hit the scene. If you look at the number of images being uploaded to microstock sites on a daily basis, you would find the number staggering.  Searching the big guy Getty Images for the term "lifestyle, female" yields 110,432 images.  That's a lot of images. 

Let's face it; there will come a point in time when image buyers will not have time to wade through millions of images, every time they need to buy a photo. Its simple math, time equals money. So, at some point something will have give and big changes will come out of it for all of us. 

We also need to consider the quality of stock photography.  We have all seen images that look like they have come straight out of the camera, and uploaded to the site with a few keywords added.  Image buyers are trying to save a buck just like the rest of us, but their reputation is on the line with the advertisements they create, and buying poor quality images hurts them as well.  And really, at the end of the day, if a client is spending a large budget for and ad in a magazine, do you really think it matters if the image was $5 or $500? 

One change that I have seen, is there seems to be a big wave of photographers turning to self promotion, either by building their own website or using a portal to self promote like Photoshelter. Maybe this is so they don't get lost in the crowd, or maybe it's because they are seeing the market becoming over saturated with images, and want a little more control over their own situation.   

With all of the changes happening where does this leave us?  Well, last week it left me shooting a girl in a polka dot dress with a handful of blueberries. 

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finding Props for Stock Photo Shoots

Props are one of the key items that can make or break an image for stock photography. Some props just add clutter, others are cheesy, and every prop at some point, becomes outdated. Beware of props that add a current touch to an image, as they can also make the image quickly outdated, such as stylish glasses, women's pointed shoes, hairstyles, and the list goes on and on. Coffee mugs, flower arrangements, cell phones, and the like can get you into trouble just as well. I keep learning to shoot images of people with more traditional clothing, so the style lasts a little longer. I also try and leave the shoes out of the image if possible, because they can be a dead giveaway as to the time frame the photo was taken.

Some props are more timeless. A few years back, I was in a costume shop and stumbled into this hat, at upper left. It was part of an Uncle Sam costume. I rented it for the weekend for just a few bucks, and then made my way to drain my ATM. I shot this over the weekend and I think it's a good example of a prop that may sell time and time again. The concept of government waste is timeless, so this has turned out ot be a popular image.

Other props such as furniture, office equipment, and medical equipment are an entirely different story. Many cities have "prop houses" which rent all kinds of props for theater and film. You can check google or your local listings for the prop houses in your area. Many times, you can just make a deal with someone in charge of props at the local theater company. Another suggestion is to look in furniture stores. Most will allow you to purchase the furniture and then return it for a nominal fee.

One day while out looking for cool props, I found a 6x5 lime green shag rug for $500. I explained to the store owner why I needed the rug, and we agreed on 10%, so in this case, it was $50. I found the chair at another furniture store that has a wonderful return policy, so I was able to use the chair and then return it at no charge. I make certain I use the store for my personal purchases to make it up to them, and they are fine with the arrangement. I simply hung the rug using it as a back drop, and it worked great.

I always purchase the furniture on a credit card and then return for a percentage of the original bill. If you damage the furniture in any way, it is not returnable, so there is risk you can wind up with some pretty funky furniture unintentionally. I have a few things myself.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Casting Models for Stock Photography

In my last blog, I gave a few ideas of how to find models for stock photography. The next step is picking the right model your image concept. This is one of the most important steps, because if the model does not convincingly sell your concept idea, the image will not sell. Resources, such as your time, props, editing, and retouching are all getting increasingly more expensive as time goes on, so picking the wrong model is a waste of time and energy. Everyone makes wrong choices when it comes to hiring models, and yes, I still continue to make gigantic mistakes. It's a learning process and you learn as you go. It's all part of shooting stock photography.

One suggestion, is to have a pretty solid idea of what type of image you are trying to produce. If it is a youth lifestyle photo shoot, try thinking though a range of ideas, so you have the concept in mind as well as how you are going to accomplish your goals for the shoot. After conceptualizing your idea, it will be much easier to pick a model.

Another suggestion is to think in terms of the keywords that will sell the photo. You are already keywording your images, so why not think in terms of the most relevant 3 or 4 keywords? For example, when picking keywords for the image above and to the right, I chose the keywords of wholesome, adorable, lively, and fun. With the keywords in mind, you can begin to look through the model portfolios, and match up the concept/theme with a face. It is certainly not a fool proof plan, but it helps to put things into perspective.

For the image left, the keywords might have been summer, kids, fun and play.

Remember to consider, most models look different than the photos in their portfolio, this is especially true with child models. Many times, the model is a few years older and much bigger, which can create stress on shoot day. I get around this by having a pre-shoot meeting in which I meet the model or models with my makeup artist. This way, there are no surprises on shoot day, and it allows me to put a live person into the concept in my head. From there, I am able to work further on the concept mentally before shoot day.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finding Models for Stock Photography Shoots

Finding models for stock photography can be a challenge, and finding the right model is even harder. For many, this is a challenge that seems insurmountable. Well, I am here to tell you, finding a great model is not as hard as you might imagine. Today, I thought I would share of couple of tips I have used to find models for free, yes, for free.
The first tip is Craigslist.org. You can enter advertisements for models on Craigslist for free, with great results. I place my ads under Salt Lake City Craigslist/Gigs/Talent Gigs. I found the model above on craigslist and shot with her several times. I always offer the model a deal where we shoot images for the model's portfolio that I need for my Lifestyle Portfolio. It's a collaborative effort where we both get what we want out of the deal. Instead of payment, I have the model sign a model release in exchange for a disc with both full res and low res images from the shoot. On the disc, I give the model the best 7-10 images, so the people that are seeing the model's work are actually seeing my work. The models can print (but never sell) the large images for their portfolio, and send the low res images out to prospective clients, and of course, all images are watermarked with my name and copyright info.
The second tip is to build a website with a dedicated page seeking out models. This way, models can find you through google and other search engines.
The model to the left contacted me though my website after finding me though Google. I loved her look and worked with her several times doing Lifestyle themes in the areas of fitness, medical, and business. I offered the same deal of full res and low res images burned onto a disc in exchange for signed model release. In addition, I always cover the cost of the makeup artist.
Most of the models have little modeling experience, which is fine because today’s stock is getting less and less posed. You just need to make sure you get someone that is fun loving, daring and never shy. Models love the experience in front of the camera, making this a winning strategy.
A word of caution though, it's been my experience that models rarely look like their photographs. Most often, hair color and length are different, and weight can fluctuate.
I make sure I have current pictures of the model, and then I schedule a pre-shoot meeting, where we discuss the specifics of the shoot. In doing so, you have met the model, keeping the surprises to a minimum, but also, you will find the model is much less likely to be nervous on shoot day, if she has already met you.
So, what are you waiting for? Jump in with both feet, and take out an ad to get started. There's a lot of models out there wanting to get photographed! Good luck to you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Studio Lighting Trick for Stock Photography

Have you ever wondered how it seems so easy for some photographers to get great lighting for their stock photos? Have you read all of the books about studio lighting and the concepts still seem illusive? Well, you are not alone. Professional studio lighting is a lifetime pursuit; however, you can get the basics down fairly quickly. Ultimately, you need to make some decisions as to what you are after. I have seen photographers make great photos with 6 lights or even 20 lights, yet you can create magic with just one light, it's all in the approach. One simple rule applies, the more lights you use, the more complicated things can get, so in the beginning, keep it simple. When looking at studio lighting set ups, I can share a trick that I have used repeatedly, and still use today. This trick works on any close up shot of people and will yield a great deal of information. Ready? Here goes. You simply find a magazine that has a lighting style you like, and one you would like to emulate. It doesn't matter what magazine or photo you choose, providing it is a close up. You see, the key is looking at the eyes of the photo and you can see the catchlight reflections. Catchlights are the reflections from the lamps or reflectors that show up in the eyes. From these catchlights, you can generally learn the placement as well as the size of the lights used in the photo. It turns out to be a wonderful learning tool. Let's look at an example:
This is an image from my Health and Beauty portfolio. I have punched out the eye in Photoshop to show you the lighting setup I used. As you can see from the catchlights, I used a large square soft box and placed it to the model's upper right (my left as I face the model). The second catchight is a strip soft box placed low and in the center to light the skin from below. Just by looking at the catchlights in her eyes, you can learn the placement of the lights. Now, what you don't know is the ratio between the lights, or in other words, the strength of each light. This is where you have to use a little logic and try and think through it. For example, you could assume from the catchlights, that the upper square soft box being larger, was used as my main light, and the lower strip soft box was used for fill. You are correct if you made that assumption. It would be up to you to place the lights in a similar fashion with a model, and play with the ratios between the main light and fill light to get the desired results. Let's try another example:
Looking at the eye on the right side of the image, you can see a 3 light set up. You can also see that I used smaller lights for a harder light. Remember, bigger light sources yield a softer light, and smaller light sources yield a harder, more harsh light. This image was a punk shot for my Lifestyles portfolio. And again, I have punched out the eyes to show you the catchlights. Looking at the catchlights, 2 lights are higher placed to the model's far left and right, and one is placed a little lower and center. You can also see that the lower light is the smallest light. Now, here's your test. It's time for you to try and read between the lines. Why did I use 3 lights in the lower image as opposed to 2 lights in the upper image? Why did I select soft boxes for the upper image and smaller lights for the lower image? Why was the lower light placed much lower on the model in the upper picture than in the lower picture? You can more than likely guess the answers, but with a little experimentation, you can learn the specifics. I hope you can learn from the catchlights as I have over the years. It’s a very valuable tool! DW

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Shooting A Model Into the Sun

OK, it's a perfect day, we have a beautiful model, the assistants were all on time, all of the gear is accounted for, so, what could possibly go wrong? Well, within minutes, it looked like it was going to rain, so all of the gear needed to be moved under cover, and then back again, again and again. Suddenly, the clouds broke and the West sky was filled with wonderful clouds. Let the fun begin.
I have always said being a photographer means being a problem solver. And so it was. Here I am, shooting into the sun, trying to meter as the sun moves behind thick clouds, thin clouds, dark clouds, and then to full sun. You get the picture, it was a metering nightmare.
The biggest issue was the changing background light, in this case being the sun, which can easily be solved by changing the front light with it. It's all about balance. I set the camera meter on Matrix, or full screen mode, because I wanted to get the background light set, thinking I can always turn the front light up or down with the use of flash or reflectors.
For this shoot, I set my camera to aperture priority, because I wanted to pick the aperture setting and have the camera adjust the shutter speed as needed. Picking the aperture and letting the camera pick the shutter speed would insure proper lighting for the background, so at least one obstacle is out of the way. I used an aperture of F19 because I wanted to have detail in the sky, as well as having a sharp model.
With my camera set, I fired off the first few shots and saw that the model was too dark. I needed a tremendous amount of light to fill the model against the brilliant backdrop, although I liked the background of the image. (See 2nd image).
I love the 5-in 1 reflector kits and use them in every shoot. I pulled out the 6-footer to blast light into the front of the model. I used the gold side to give the model a glowing skin tone. However, the shutter speed assigned by the aperture priority was 1/60, and I was hand holding the camera, and as you can see, the image was not sharp. (See 3rd image) The image was not at all what I had in my mind, but we were getting closer. To overcome the lack of sharpness, I mounted my flash onto the hot shoe of the camera and fired it up. The flash did a wonderful job of stopping the motion, but the model was still a touch too dark. I was using a flash and a 6-foot reflector and still needed more light. How do I come up with more light? I changed the output on the flash to its highest setting, which was + 3 stops. Wow, it was amazing how much light was coming out of the flash! The model was sharp and bright, and the background was in balance.
With the lighting set, I took several pictures until I felt I had the shot. Next, I took the Ipod prop from the model and handed her a toy bubble maker. She began to blow bubbles, and I fired another round of pictures. Luckily, the lighting held for a few minutes and I was able to get what I was after. (See photo at left)
After the shoot was over, I returned to my desk to edit the shots and found very little needed to be done to the images in Photoshop. I set the black and white points with a MacBeth Color Chart, and did a touch of high pass filter for sharpening purposes.
This particular shoot yielded about 10-12 shots and lasted about 2.5 hours. Its funny how the first 2 hours of the shoot was spent overcoming the weather and the lighting conditions, and the actual shooting took place the last 15 minutes of the shoot. But, isn't that the way it usually goes?