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.