Monday, July 2, 2007

10 Lessons From A Family Photoshoot

For the next week I'm going to be really busy (three TFCD shoots in 8 days, plus my tutoring and classes have suddenly picked up). That, along with the DPL playoffs this week and leading two tours at work, has pretty much sucked away my desire to blog. But at least I'm not as far behind as Photomedic!

Last night I photographed a family that is leaving for bigger and better things next week (the children are J. and L. as seen here). They are good friends and we'll miss them.

The shoot went smoother than my first family shoot around campus, but there were still a rough areas and I learned a few more things. As usual, I'll present them in list form:

1. Acting like an idiot helps get attention of little ones. L., the baby, didn't like to look at the camera. But I found that yelling 'Beep!' at the top of my lungs, waving my arms around, and standing on one leg got his attention. Yes, for some of the shots, I was literally standing on one leg (with my other one out horizontal), and my non-camera hand straight in the air.

2. Golden raisins calm a baby. Near the end, L. was getting fussy (even when I did my little act) but J. (mom) was doing a good job of keeping him calm. Only near the end did I notice her secret; she was popping golden raisins in his mouth whenever he got fussy. Worked great for the shoot (they kept his mouth busy so he didn't cry) but I have to wonder if he has a raisin addiction now. Check it out, you can see it in the image at right (ewww, gross!). Click to see it larger, if you dare...

3. Doing the first set-up before the family arrives helps. For the first spot (the photo that opened the entry) I was able to unpack and balance the flash before they arrived. It allowed them to sit right down and get some shots before the kids even realized what was happening, and since I had time to think through the lighting and setup, I think those were some of the better images.

4. I need to get some experience with a model. This isn't really related to the family at all, but at one point I was working with just J. (the mom) and L. while R. and little J. scouted another location. It was amazing how much easier it was to work with just one person. I really need to find a TFCD model to get some extra practice with posing, lighting, and balancing flash and ambient. Without the need to stand on one leg while I do it.

5. Look around for interesting light. R. actually pointed a few areas with interesting light that I didn't notice; one of them is in the image at right. The sun was coming in low and hitting the stone floor, causing some interesting reflections. In hindsight, I should have bounced the flash off the ceiling and wall behind the camera (and to the left) but it makes an interesting image with nice segmentation between the subjects and the background. Of course, Stanford is just loaded with these types of places, but they can be found everywhere, from the city to the barnyard.

6. More locations may not be better. We did a LOT of locations (maybe 8?). I think I would have been better served to perfect a few instead of moving around so much.

7. Tell portrait subjects not to wear white! I keep forgetting to warn my TFCD families not to wear white, and invariably one (or more of them) shows up wearing stark white. In processing, white is a nightmare to keep from blowing out (and dodging it is not easy). Plus, bright objects draw the eyes, so it is ideal if the subject's faces are the brightest thing in the portrait.

8. Direct sunlight is hard on kids, even in the evening. As much as I'd like to do frontlighting, both little J. and L. had trouble looking anywhere near the sun, even at sunset. Especially J., he was making all sorts of faces when I had him face towards the sun. See left for an example. I need to figure out poses which shield their eyes yet don't make sharp, nasty shadows.

9. An hour is about the max. We went a little over an hour, and honestly both the kids and the adults (including me) were showing the strain. I think 45 minutes to an hour is about the perfect length for a shoot.

10. I need to get a sand bag (or make one) for my umbrella stand. The wind blows it over way too easily (although I was able to tie it down with the ball-bungees... those things are useful!).

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