I took part in a process I can best describe as “batch headshotting”. I set up my lights in a dedicated area, and then had people come up to have their picture taken in five minute intervals. I guess this isn’t actually that obscure a concept or idea, it’s just that most people refer to it as “picture day” at school.
I think the main difference between the two is that in school, the idea of not having to be in class for any period of time was awesome, so everyone was delighted to go to the gym and stand around for a while until you could sit down on a chair and have some shots taken. In the business world, everyone is busy and taking time away from projects/meetings is an inconvenience, so things need to be prompt, organized, and efficient. Another luxury of children is that most of them haven’t yet become overly conscious of their looked, or developed the self loathing that blooms with adulthood.
This resulted in a great number of learning experiences for me in a very short period of time, so while this was an extremely nerve wracking and exhausting ordeal, I’m so glad I did it, because there was a lot to take away from it. Some key lessons include:
- Different types of glasses reflect light in different ways: Catchlights reflecting from the eyes of the subject are nice. They add an energy and “life” to the eyes. Unfortunately, those catchlights will also reflect off of glasses, often causing distraction, or even worse, blocking the eye completely. You can modify your lighting and position the subject’s head in a way that will hopefully still evenly light and avoid reflecting in the glasses, but this can take a bit of time and playing around (I discovered that the act of staring at someone’s glasses intently and not their eyes is noticeably disconcerting). Unfortunately since glasses come in many shapes and sizes, what worked for one person won’t automatically work for another, so every time someone came up with glasses I was squirming around and adjusting things to try and get it looking decent. I could have also brought my polarizing filter and that may have helped out, though that tends to work better with flat surfaces, so again, variance of glasses would still probably have been an issue.
- Short people are shorter than tall people: Due to the space available, I had the lights pretty close to the subjects at a medium power level to light them and the background. Because of this, the softbox I had to the upper right needed to be raised or lowered fairly frequently. Having to raise the softbox for a guy tends to cheer them up. Lowering it does not delight them. Women didn’t seem fussed about raising or lowering.
- Most people don’t like to have their picture taken: I’m used to taking pictures of people that want their photo taken, people that don’t realize their photo is being taken, and my girlfriend who doesn’t want her photo taken but said she loves me so part of that price is being subjected to my photographic whims now and then. I think around 60% of the people here didn’t want their picture taken, and 40% were vocal about that. In the eyes of these people, you are almost a villain. A threat to the wellbeing of their comfort level. It’s jarring to be doing something you love, and the person you are about to work with basically tells you they really wish you weren’t doing it, and want to be somewhere else. It can very easily rob you of the desire to try and work with them to portray them in as nice a light as possible. Regardless of their feelings on the matter, the goal remains the same, so you just have to do what you can to make the experience as quick and painless for them as possible so you can get what you need, and have them on their way. It will keep both of you happy.
- 5 minutes is not a lot of time to build rapport: A big factor in why I prefer taking photos of people I know is because I have enough understanding of them to capture the elements that encompass them. To be able to tell the posed smile from the genuine smile. To get it so that anybody who knows them can look at the picture of them and not just say that yes, it’s a picture of that person, but to look at it and say yes, that’s them. That’s them to a T. I don’t expect to end up as a groomsman at the subject’s wedding after doing a shoot, but I do try to get to know a bit about them before I try to create an accurate portrayal of them. Only having 5 minutes with a subject greatly reduces the ability to get to know them. It also makes it hard for them to get to know you. There were quite a few times where my jokes fell flat, or the subject didn’t even realize I was joking, since they weren’t familiar with my personality. I came to realize that I couldn’t be as casual and nonchalant as I might be traditionally, and had to instead really boil down my people skills into the essentials of friendly communication. Doing my best to relax them and get them loosened up while still being mindful of the busy agenda the subject has, and the people waiting in line with equally busy agendas.
All in all I got a lot out of this by just diving head first into the experience. Every challenge I was met with was one that could be overcome, and as the day wore on I was getting noticeably more confident and comfortable in setting up the shots and subjects for quick and acceptable results (My apologies to everyone that arrived in the early morning). It was also a great showcase on the importance of people skills. No matter how well you set up lights or compose your shot, if you can’t also compose the subject, you won’t get the results you wanted.
Of course, every now and then you also get hit with good fortune, and are working with someone that is composed, coordinated, and comfortable (Bam! Alliteration!). That was definitely the case with Hellen, who is featured for my image today. I don’t know if she’s been doing this repeatedly for many years, or is just extremely well rehearsed, but she was super pleasant, got in front of the camera, and then just nailed every shot, methodically changing pose and posture between each one. In the span of 80 seconds I took 9 shots, and 8 of them were 5 stars that make the cut. The one that wasn’t was only due to a focus error on my side of things. If anyone ever had questions or concerns about what to do, I would refer them to her, because by the time it was over, I wasn’t even sure what the hell just happened. I just know that a situation like that makes life a hell of a lot easier on the photographer.
Still, that will never be the norm. Because of that, it’s up to a photographer to make sure they build up their people skills to make sure they are capable of both communicating to the subject what they want them to do, and putting them at ease to keep them comfortable as they are doing it.
From the equipment side of things, I was in pretty good shape. Might have actually over compensated. I had a bundle of spare batteries I never ended up using, I tethered to my laptop so that the clients could review the shots on the spot and decide if they were ok, or wanted to try some more, and I bought an AC-adapter for my camera so I didn’t have to worry about the drain of tethering and heavy use of the commander flash. The only takeaway I got from this was that I need a longer USB cable, as I almost launched my Macbook off the table every time I stood up.
For this shot and the majority I took throughout the day, I used my 85mm f1.8 lens, shooting at 1/160 of a second and f4.5 with an ISO of 100. This killed the natural light coming in from the many windows around us, allowing me to light completely with strobes. I had a softbox to the upper right, an umbrella lower left, and a bare flash at half the power of the mains to light the background. It would have been nice to control 3 groups of flashes so I could change the power ratios of each flash, but not $600 nice, so I just adjusted the fill flash distance as needed.