Podcast 275 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 2

Podcast 275 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 2

On December 17th 2010, I did a portrait shoot at a Xmas party, where I set up my studio in a large room in a restaurant here in Tokyo, and ended up shooting nine groups of people. Last week we looked at the Studio setup and I talked about some of the other considerations and logistics of the shoot.

Today I’m going to take you quickly through the actual portrait sessions, looking at an image from each and anything that comes to mind that might be of use if you do similar shoots yourself.

The Portrait Sessions

Before the Christmas Party at which I was shooting, an email was sent out to all of my old colleagues with an offer to book their slot in advance, so that they knew exactly what time to turn up, making planning their evening easier. Three families took us up on this, so I knew that I would have at least some work during the evening. To be honest though, unless we got a minimum of another three groups, this was not going to pay a whole lot for the amount of work that we put into the shoot.

Now, any work of this kind is helpful in getting my name out there, and also building contacts, as any one of the people that were at the party is a potential future customer, so I don’t want it to sound as though I’m being totally mercenary about making money from this event, but we do also need to keep in mind that this is now my sole source of income, I am being conscious to put my energies into work that will help to forward my business, either right away, or in some way in the future.

I did a little bit of canvasing, walking around the party, saying hello to old friends, and a few of them came to look at the studio we’d set up, and ended up having their portraits shot. I had also created a large banner using Canon’s Vinyl Scrim, which is a very durable poster paper, and that was visible from the main hall where the party was being held, so some people just stuck their heads in the door out of curiosity, and some of them ended up having their portraits shot as well.

 

The MBP Studio Banner (© Jesse Davis)

Number Each Shoot

I've Got Your Number!

I’ve Got Your Number!

A quick logistics tip here is that so we could keep track of each group that had their portraits shot, we had each group hold up a piece of paper with their number on it. This was my place marker in Lightroom, and I used this number while fulfilling print orders etc. It would have been possible without the number, just using the family’s names, but there were order forms and other things to keep track of, so I thought it would be easier to assign a number to each group.

On the order forms for each session I had the clients indicate whether or not they minded me using the resulting photographs in my marketing activities and sign the form if they are OK with it. It’s not quite a model release, but it certainly gives me the ability to publish the photos here and on a new portraiture web site that I will put together very soon. Although we started off a little slow, we ended up doing nine sessions, and eight of the nine groups agreed for me to use their images, so let’s take a quick look at some of these now.

This shot (below, right) is of the first family, and is actually the image that I chose as my favorite from the batch, but was happy when the family also chose this out of a relatively large batch of images that I presented them with, as their A4 Baryta print that I would put into a mounting board for them.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

As I shot, there were times where I would have to raise or lower the Key light, or move it closer to the subjects etc. We also had to reposition the reflector a number of times, but generally apart from these adjustments the lighting is pretty much the same for seven of the eight groups. I would like to have gotten a little more experimental and tried a few more things, but with the subjects generally being at a party, we really only had 10 to 15 minutes with each group, so I just concentrated on getting a handful of nice shots for each group that they would be able to select a photo from that I would print and put into a matte mounting board. The largest challenges came with the larger groups, like this family of five.

It soon became obvious that we were going to need that large reflector, to pop some light into the front of the subjects, and we move that in a little to ensure that the light was nice and soft on everyone. You can see here though that everyone has a nice shadow along the left side of their faces as we view the photo. The Kicker light from the left is ensuring that the side of their faces is highlighted too, giving the look I wanted.

Why White?

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

By the way, I chose a white background for this shoot for a number of reasons. Firstly, most Japanese people have black hair, so I wanted to ensure that didn’t blend into a black background. Also, the images would likely be used on the Year End postcards that the families would send out, so white would probably give more options there too. Although I do like the dramatic look of a black background, I think in this case, the white background gave the images a light and airy feel to them. Black can be a little heavy sometimes, so all in all I was happy with the decision to go with white.

Next up we have a father and daughter shot. We had a lot of fun here too, and when I asked the dad to put his daughter on his shoulders, she promptly mussed his hair up, and having done so gave me this beautiful cheeky “look what I did” smile. This is actually the image that this guy chose for me to do a 13×19″ gallery wrap of, which looks great. We’ll look at that a bit later.

These first two sessions were ones that had been booked, and things had been a little slow between sessions up to that point, but then a bit of canvasing on my part brought in the first impromptu clients that we can see here.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

Now, I know this guy very well, and I have also met his wife before. I went to their wedding party actually. But many Japanese men put on a very serious face when having their photos taken. To get him to lighten up a little, I asked his wife to tickle him a little, and I personally ended up liking this shot the best out of the set, because of that human interaction, not just between the couple, but also between me and them.

On a technical side, also note that I raised the Key light up to about 10′ for this shot to remove the reflection of the light in their glasses. It’s totally important to keep your eye out for small details like this while shooting, because it can be very easy to miss something like light reflecting in spectacles. Keeping your wits about you and remaining flexible throughout the shoot is highly important.

The next image (below, right) is of a family that I photographed in 2009 as I started to prepare for my portrait business. They’re a great looking family, and here I captured a quite personal moment as they got ready for the shoot. We went on to shoot a whole load of frames, but I really liked this image as I was going through the batch, and so I included it in their gallery. I was really pleased when they actually chose this for their mounted print.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

This just goes to show that you need to shoot opportunities like this, not just for yourself, but for the family you’re working with. It also reinforces the theory that I have that people will quite often select the image that you least expect them too, and this helps to keep us, the photographer, open minded when editing the results of our shoots down.

Note too that only the daughter’s eyes are visible in this shot, which is also something that you would not expect of a portrait, but it works, again, because of the human connection element. You can almost sense the affection for the young daughter in the parents, and also the patience of the older brother who is used to his kid sister getting all the attention.  🙂

The next family (below) was great too. Note that before I created the galleries for people to select their images from, I created a Silver Efex Pro preset that worked well with the lighting and created a Photoshop Action that applied that preset to the images, then I ran that action in batch against all of the images I had selected to show the clients. This makes it easy to present them with both a color and black and white version of each shot. Around half of them selected the black and white version for their mounted print.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

A hint on posing that I recalled from this shot is that exaggerated positions usually look better in the photo. I usually have to ask people to get closer together, and then closer still. The reason that I recalled this on this particular photo is because again there is so much motherly love in this family I didn’t have to direct them at all. The mum just pulled in her two daughters and we grabbed a whole bunch of images in which I think they all look great.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

This next image was also a pleasure to shoot. The little boy has a great little smile, and he uses it a lot. He seems very happy and content, which is hardly surprising because again, I know his dad well, and he’s an amazing person. There are fewer people that can think through situations and do exactly the right thing every time, as well as this guy. I have known him since before he met his wife and of course before they had their little boy, so again, it was a pleasure to make their photographs. This was another couple that I brought in following a bit of a walk around the party, and I’m happy I did. I love this photo, and again, this is the one that they chose for their mounted print.

By the time I photographed this next group (below, right) it was after 9PM, and we’d been at it quite a while. This was probably the most challenging group to shoot though, just because of the number of subjects. Again we had eye glasses to watch out for reflection in, so the Key light went high again. Also though, there was not enough light making it into the center of the group, so I had Jesse hand-hold a third Canon Speedlite shooting it into a 45″ shoot through umbrella, and we popped that into the middle of the group at 1/8 power, just to fill in the shadows a little.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

The other thing that was a problem now was keeping the white backdrop clean and uncreased under the subjects. In fact, as you can see it wasn’t really possible, but it’s going to stay that way. I removed most of the small black specs that had gathered in Lightroom, but apart from that it’s staying like this. There’s also a bit more room to the right of the group than the left, but I’ll shift the image over to the right a bit when I mount it, so that won’t be a problem, at least for now. I could have reduced the right side a little of course, but I figured I’d show you my mistakes as well as what I really like.

There was one couple that I have skipped because they didn’t want me to use their photos. Although we as the photographer own the copyright to our images, I think it’s still a common courtesy to at least ask your clients if they mind you using their images in your marketing. When possible, a signature somewhere, is nice too, or even a full blown model release when possible. Of course, if you intend to make images you shoot available for purchase from a stock site then a model release is essential, but that’s a whole other subject.

These next two photos are from the last session of the evening. It was 9:35 by this time, and we were certainly starting to flag, which is probably why I ended up standing on the USB cable tethering the camera to my laptop and pulling it out, but I made sure I didn’t panic in front of the client, and calmly worked around the problems.

The little boy here was really tired at this point, so it was a concerted effort from my wife and Jesse, my assistant for the evening, to keep him smiling, as of course I was trying to do as well. He’s a great little lad though, and we managed to get some nice shots.

The shot to the right below of just the Dad and Son is one of my favorites too. This was something that I shot after we’d called it a wrap, but I couldn’t resist shooting just dad and son as we relaxed after the shoot.

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

Xmas Party Portraits

 

I’m not sure if the families that were kind enough to have me photograph them will listen to this Podcast episode or look at this blog post, but I did just want to say publicly that it was a pleasure to photograph each of them, and I really hope that they enjoyed the experience even half as much as I did.

Mounted Prints

As I mentioned, eight of the nine families photographed opted for the package that included one A4 print created on Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta paper. I snapped a few of the prints in the mounts that I used, as we can see here. For each family I created a Web gallery for them to look at and select the image that I would print for this.

4 Mounted Portrait Prints

4 Mounted Portrait Prints

No Full Resolution Images for Clients

As a general policy I do not provide my clients with full resolution images without adding a significant cost for that service. The reason for this is because I don’t want people making crappy prints of my work, and then showing them to other people. When someone sees a Martin Bailey portrait print I want them to say “wow!” and I have no control over that if I allow people to print their own images.

As a special service for this particular shoot though, I created a medium size image that could be printed at 300dpi on the New Year postcards that are customary to send in Japan. Now, the problem with this is that the client can, and probably will actually print these out pretty large, which of course will look worse than something they could have printed had I given them the full size data. This is a problem in and of itself, but still, in general I am going to try to stick to my policy of not giving full res images to my clients.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The only way I am going to be able to convince people though that my prints are beautiful and worth the additional cost, is by providing one, so usually, all portrait work that I do includes at least one A4 Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta print in a mount like this. This way even if people don’t understand about the quality based on looking at samples or just my explanation, hopefully once they see a print of the quality that I produce, they will order more prints, which of course will increase the overall profitability of the shoot. I’m taking these mounted prints to my clients tomorrow, so I’ll see if my theory works, and I have only done a few other shoots other than the one we’re looking at today, so I’m still testing this strategy, but  time will tell as I do more of this sort of work if my strategy is working or not.

Of course, I can’t pretend that my entire reason for not wanting to give the full resolution images up is based totally on quality. The other reason I don’t want people making their own prints is because I want to be paid for doing so. I enjoy printing and making gallery wraps now, and because of the equipment I now own, and my skill as a printer, which I believe is now pretty good, I know that I can provide a quality service, but I also want to charge as a quality service. If people want average prints of their precious new portraits, or they absolutely definitely require the full sized image data, but they aren’t prepared to pay extra for that, then they will have to find a different photographer. It’s my plan to continue to build my brand of quality to the point where people will come to me for their portraits, even if it costs a little more than the next guy. If they don’t understand my quality proposition, sure, I won’t win the job, but it’s their loss too. Plus, I’ll have more time to concentrate on working with the clients that get it.

13x19" Gallery Wrap

13×19″ Gallery Wrap

Gallery Wraps

As I mentioned earlier, one of the clients ordered  a 13×19″ Gallery Wrap of one of the photos from his session, in addition to the A4 mounted print. This is the first gallery wrap of a portrait that I’ve done for a client, and this was very satisfying for me too. It makes me incredibly proud to know that now that, in addition to my nature fine art work, my portrait work is also now being displayed on peoples’ walls. There have been people that have told me that I’m making a mistake trying to make a living from two totally different photographic genres, but in the coming years, I think I’ll be able to prove them wrong. It takes more than one revenue stream to make it these days, and I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have no intension of becoming a poor photographer, complaining “how difficult it is to make a living these days”.

So, before I totally jump on my soap-box, let me finish there. I hope you’ve enjoyed this two part series, and found some of the tips that I interwove in here of use.


Podcast show-notes:

Studio Diagram: https://mbp.ac/studio

Product Links:

Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S 2 Monolight Studio Kit

Profoto Air Remote Transceiver

Profoto Air Sync Transceivers

Westcott Illuminator Collapsible 52″ Reflector 4-in-1

Music created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.


Podcast 274 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 1

Podcast 274 : Xmas Party Portrait Shoot – Part 1

On December 17th 2010, I did a portrait shoot at a Xmas party, where I set up my studio in a large room in a restaurant here in Tokyo, and ended up shooting nine groups of people. Today I’m going to take you through the idea behind all of this, and some of the logistics, and then next week in Part 2 we’ll take a look at some of the resulting images along with a few tips that might help you in similar circumstances.

During the Shoot (© Jesse Davis)

During the Shoot (© Jesse Davis)

Firstly, in the spirit of keeping you fully informed in the background of what I’m up to, the company that allowed me to do this portrait shoot is the company that I left in September last year. It’s my old day-job employer, which felt a little bit strange in some ways, but it was also great to see many of my old colleagues again.

So, as we will see, this is actually a pretty good model for a portrait shoot, but I can’t take credit for the original idea, as my old employer contacted me to do this. At first, I was concerned that my old colleagues would think that I hadn’t fully cut the cord, and I discussed the opportunity with the people in charge at length before agreeing to do it. I am so pleased that I did agree to do it though, as we had a lot of fun, and it turned out to be quite a well-paid gig in the end.

The plan was that I would set up my studio in a space in the corner of a restaurant that they were chartering for the entire evening, for their Christmas party. I would then charge people a minimal fee for a 10 to 15 minute portrait shoot. The cost varied depending on the number of people in the group, and I also added an option for them to pay a little extra and get an A4 sized Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta print of their favorite resulting image, and I would put that into a matte board. I also provided a price list for additional prints that people can order, and I did receive a few orders from that too, increasing the overall profitability of the evening.

This was quite a big job, and just setting up the studio was going to take some time, so I asked a friend of mine from the MBP community Jesse Davis, to come along as an assistant. Jesse had actually asked me to let him know when he could be of help, and he sure was, so it was great to have him on board. I’d also like to let you know that some of the behind the scenes photographs that we’ll use in today’s Podcast were shot by Jesse, so thanks not only for helping during the shoot, but also for helping to document it for us Jesse. I really appreciate it.

The Studio Setup

Let’s start by taking a look at the studio itself. I threw a quick diagram together on a great new web site, just for creating studio diagrams, called sylights.com. I created a short link to my diagram which is https://mbp.ac/studio if you want to take a look, but you are also able to export the diagrams as PNG files, so I’ve done that, and embedded the diagram into the Enhanced Podcast and my blog, so you can take a look there too.

MBP Studio Setup Diagram

MBP Studio Setup Diagram

I used two Canon 580EX Speedlites, and two Profoto D1 500 Air Monolights for most of the shoots, though there was one large group shot towards the end for which we had to use a third Speedlite to pop some light into a dark area of the shot, simply because of the large number of subjects. The standard setup though, as you can see in the diagram was two Canon Speedlites firing into a reflective 45″ umbrellas pointing across the white backdrop, to keep that nice and bright, and to stop the background from doing dark.

Profoto D1 500W/S Monolight (© Jesse Davis)

Profoto D1 500W/S Monolight (© Jesse Davis)

In the front right, I had one of my Profoto Monolights firing into a 60″ shoot through umbrella, that would act as the main or key light. Then I had the second Profoto Monolight firing into a Bruce Dorn 18×42″ softbox from Westcott as the Kicker or hair-light.

I don’t think I’ve spoken about these Profoto lights yet, so I’ll just give you a bit of background on why I chose them. I initially wanted to get a set of Pocket Wizards, but unfortunately they use a radio wavelength that does not conform to Japanese radio regulations, so I can’t use them here. Pocket Wizard did create a Japan compliant version of one of their older generation units, but they had to cripple them so badly to comply that they weren’t much more use than a long sync cord.

So, I started to look into other options. I was looking on and off for quite some time actually, but finally came across the Profoto system. The Profoto D1 Air Monolights have Profoto Air wireless functionality built in, which means that I can fire them wirelessly using a Profoto Air Remote unit plugged into the hotshoe on my camera, for a range of up to 300m. The Air Remote also allows me to turn the Monolights on or off, increase or decrease the power, turn on the modeling lights and change the modeling light power too, among other things.

The other important factor for me was that I can also use the Profoto Air Sync units to fire my Canon 580EX II Speedlites. They can’t be controlled like the Profoto Monolights, and you have to shoot in full manual mode, but that’s the way I like to work anyway, so that certainly isn’t a deal clincher for me. You can also plug the Air Sync units into the camera’s sync cord, and use them as a remote switch to fire the camera at up to 300m too, which I’m sure will come in handy at some point.

By the way, here’s a photo of the Pelican Case that I customized to fit my three Profoto Air Sync and two Profoto Air Remote units. I also pinched out a space to put two full sets of Eneloop rechargeable batteries in and the sync cords that I need to connect the Air Sync units to my Canon Speedlites.

Profoto Air System in Pelican Case

Profoto Air System in Pelican Case

I bought the two Profoto D1 Monolights as a kit that came with a case, two light stands and two 45 inch umbrellas, and one Air Remote that you use to control and fire the Monolights. If you are thinking of buying into the Profoto system this kit is certainly the way to go. It costs around twice as much to buy all of the individual components separately, and it’s even cheaper to buy this kit than just one standalone D1 500 Monolight here in Japan. I’ll put links to B&H in the show-notes if you are interested, and they are also affiliate links, so you’d be helping to support me and the Podcast if you buy using these links.

One last thing to note is that there are 1000W/S, 500W/S and 250W/S versions of these heads, and I went with the 500W/S as I thought at just over $2,300 they were a good balance between the cost and power. So far I’ve been very happy with them. They are incredibly powerful, and can keep up with a pretty fast pace shooting.

Obviously my Speedlites don’t recharge as fast, even with external power-packs attached, so there were a number of shots where the background fell dark, or just one Speedlite fired, which results in some nasty shadows caused by the creases in the backdrop, as you can see in this image. This helps to show the importance of lighting the background as well. If I was to not light the background at all by the way, it goes very dark, so you can actually use a white background as a grey one, if you have enough distance between the subject and the background.

Example of Right Speedlite Not Firing

Example of Right Speedlite Not Firing

Also note that we had a large reflector in front of the setup, bouncing some of the light from the Key light back at the subjects, so kill any harsh shadows under their chins etc. You can see the main elements of the setup in this photo of me messing around in the set. You’ll also note that I’m wearing my OneLight Workshop t-shirt, so I have to publically apologize to Zach Arias here for using up to five lights on this shoot. I haven’t actually attended this workshop, but I did buy the OneLight Workshop DVD, which I can’t recommend highly enough. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they pack the DVD with the T-Shirt, and I have hardly been able to take it off since it arrived.

Me Having Big Fun!

Me Having Big Fun!

Anyway, the reflector is one of two reflectors that come in the Westcott Illuminator Collapsible Reflector 4-in-1 reflector kit. These are 52″ Square reflectors, one being silver on one side and gold on the other, and the second that we see in this photo is basically a 52″ diffuser, but if you position it like this, it reflects enough light to be a normal white reflector, hence the 4-in-1 name.

So, I spoke about why I positioned the two speedlites in the back there to light up the backdrop, but let’s talk a little about the positioning of the two Profoto Monolights here too. The main or Key light that we see to the right in this photo is to throw a nice soft light across the face of the subjects. I use the 60″ umbrella here and get it nice and close to the subjects to get a very soft wrap-around light. If you aren’t into this sort of photography it’s kind of counter intuitive but basically the closer to you place your light source to your subject, the softer the light gets. Of course, it does also get brighter as you move it closer, but you manage that with the power of your lights and the aperture that you shoot at. The shutter speed only controls the exposure of the ambient light with flash photography.

I would like a large softbox or and octobox to use instead of this 60″ umbrella sometimes, but they are quite expensive, and I really need to make a bit more money from my current setup before I pull the trigger on that purchase. Plus, as I hope you’ll agree when we take a look at the resulting images next week, this setup does produce quite nice results.

I generally set my Key light about a stop brighter than the Kicker light, which is the strip softbox that you can see to the left in this shot. You can go lower, and play with the balance of these lights of course, depending on the look you are trying to get. If you want a more dramatic look you can move the lights further away and maybe also turn up the power, or take the difference between the light’s power further away from each other etc. For this kind of shoot though, I was looking for nice light, but somewhat orthodox.

Shooting Tethered

As you can also see in the photo of me in the set, I had a cable running from the camera to a laptop, as I was actually shooting tethered, with the images going directly into Lightroom. This had its advantages, but it there were some critical issues that I still need to work out.

The advantages are that you can create a preset, including a profile created with the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, and then apply that preset as you import the images, so you know you have color correct images right there on the laptop as they come in.

Tethered Laptop and Projector

Tethered Laptop and Projector

Another thing I did was create a 20×30″ gallery wrap that was just plain canvas, with nothing printed on it, and I projected the screen of the laptop to that as a screen, to allow the subjects to see their images as they came in. Now, this was great for the adults, because they were able to see how well the shoot was going, and get a feel for what we were doing. The downside that I hadn’t expected was that the kids would become fixated on the screen, and I couldn’t get them to look at the camera. To stop this, I actually had to turn the projector off while shooting groups with children, and then only turn it on when I wanted to show them the photos. Overall I thought the advantages outweighed the disadvantages, so I’ll continue to do this, but there was a lesson learned here.

Major Problems with Tethering

There were a few major issues with tethering though, that made me think twice about doing this again, at least until I’ve had a chance to retest and overcome this issue. The first problem was self-induced, though a problem all the same. While shooting the last group, I stood on the USB cable pulling it out of the camera. After I plugged it back in again, I had to restart Lightroom because it had frozen on the last image that was transferred, but then from that point on, for around thirty frames, the Monolights didn’t fire. I of course was looking through the viewfinder, so I can’t see if they are firing or not, and I only realized when I chimped at the LCD. Some of the best expressions on the family I was shooting last were lost, which gutted me, but it really drove home the need to listen out for those audible beeps that the monolights give out when they are ready to fire. I don’t recall if they were beeping or not, but I’m sure they weren’t, so I really need to train myself to listen for this while shooting in a studio setup.

The second problem though is a total showstopper until I can figure out what happened. While trying to salvage some of the images that I shot just before I pulled the USB cable out of the camera, I imported the images from the CF card that was in the camera into Lightroom. There were a few frames that I was able to pull from the card, but as I went through the images, I realized that some photos that I remember shooting were missing. This got me curious of course, so I compared the two sets of imported files and it turns out there were 105 images from throughout the evening that simply did not make it to the camera’s CF card. They only existed on the laptop’s hard drive. It happened so often throughout the evening that I’m pretty sure it will be reproducible once I get time to test it, but it’s very disturbing to think that the two batches of images didn’t match. I did find that there are some cameras that don’t support writing to both Lightroom and the CF card, but I shot most of the evening with the 1Ds Mark III by the way, with the 5D Mark II as a second body and both of these should write to both.

Anyway, that’s just something to watch out for yourself if you shoot tethered, and I’ll be sure to report back if I find the reason for this happening. Luckily though, apart from the images that were too dark because the Monolights hadn’t fired after I pulled the USB cable out, all of the other images from the shoot were on my laptop, so all was not lost.

So, let’s finish here for today, but remember, in part two next week we’ll talk about how the actual portrait shoots themselves went and take a look at a photo or two from each session, as well as touching on a few of the techniques used that were specific to some of the sessions.


Podcast show-notes:

Studio Diagram on Sylights.com: https://mbp.ac/studio

Product Links:

Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S 2 Monolight Studio Kit

Profoto Air Remote Transceiver

Profoto Air Sync Transceivers

Westcott Illuminator Collapsible 52″ Reflector 4-in-1

Music created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.