About 2 weeks ago I was asked by Iron Clad Productions out of New York if I would shoot some portraits of the cast and crew of indie film “Petunia” at it’s Debut at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. I happily accepted and upon arriving at the scene, it was packed with reporters. The green room was very small and intimate, with nothing more than a small couch and a coffee table. The director of the film was seated next to Thora Birch (of “American Beauty” and “Ghost World” fame) and was being interviewed by an independent reporter.
When the interview concluded I introduced myself and told them what I was there for, but they of course were very busy talking with other reporters, producers etc. When I had been informed that the theater doors had been opened I was told that I would have one minute with person. That’s it. I had never been in the Castro Theater green room before, was not allowed to bring supplementary lighting and there people and fluorescent lights everywhere. I found a window and plopped everyone down. The director was up first, Ash Christian:
Everyone was very nice, obviously in a hurry but they were sincerely grateful that I had been able to do this for them at such short notice. Thora was cast in her star roles very well – her personality is very similar to her characters, only she seems much nicer.
The whole shoot took less than 10 minutes and the cast was thrilled with their portraits, as was the production company. This just goes to show that you must know your lighting – I was working on very little information and very little time but I still pulled off a successful shoot and the client was very happy. Of course, it’s best to plan as much as possible but sometimes improvisation is the only way to go. So you’ve got to practice improvising, learn what works, know what you like.
So my new website has recently launched and I was very happy with it. The only thing I needed to do was to get an image for the landing page, it allowed for one horizontal photo to the be the main image. I went into my hard drive to search for a recent image that would work. What I found was rather shocking.
I have almost NO horizontal images. I always knew that I liked shooting things vertically, there’s just something very formal about it. But this came as a huge shock to me and I knew I needed to do something about it. I started to set up shoots that were designed to be shot horizontally. I had to completely change the way I think about design, composition and even lighting. At first it was really hard, and I was very frustrated and even bored with shooting in this format. But after the first portrait sitting (Which was the hardest) I started to get a groove on. It felt good, I was mixing things up, changing how I work. Since there was no pressure from a client or a deadline (Besides one set by myself to have images for the new website done) it was very liberating. Keeping things fresh with yourself and your work is very important, it really opened my eyes.
When you’re trying to get work as a freelance or professional photographer, you really need to look at how your photographs look.
I don’t mean simply looking at them, I mean looking at them as a whole. Do they all have a similar “feel” to them? Something that will make people think of you when they look at it?
Photographers are hired based on a certain “look” that their work has. It’s what separates you from the other photographers out there (And there are a LOT of other photographers out there) and it makes your work unique and valuable.
I can’t stress this enough; Your work needs to have a consistent look across the board, they have to scream “I took these,” not “Anybody could have taken these.”
It’s all about practice. You won’t get your signature look over night, it’s something that photographers struggle with every day. Now don’t be dragged down by shooting everything “The same way,” it doesn’t really work like that. It’s about how you approach your subject matter. Take a look at these photos:
I took both of these photos, but stylistically they have almost nothing in common. The first image was taken very recently, after I felt established comfortable shooting things a certain way. The second image is from a long time ago when I was shooting senior portraits in small towns. These days, I couldn’t even imagine shooting something the way I shot this second image, it just wouldn’t feel right to me.
So here is a list of things you can do to help you establish a visual style for yourself:
Copy another photographer’s style.
This may seem like cheating to some, but it really helps. Pick a photographer who’s work you admire and make a list similar to the list you made before, of things that give him or her their visual style. Really analyze their images, what’s consistent? Low contrast? Strong side-lighting? After you have spent a good deal of time analyzing, attempt to copy this style.. You can either copy the visual style, or copy the image directly – either way you will be in for a huge challenge. If you really want to challenge yourself, take your favorite photographer’s style and use it to shoot subject matter that they never shot. If they shoot people, shoot still life or landscapes.
Pick 3 or 4 things you like to see in photography.
No more, no less. These things can be “high contrast” or “Low depth of field” or “Very saturated colors.” Make sure they are all based on photography, nothing general like “People” or “Landscapes” etc.
Then go out and shoot everything you can this way. If you feel you need to give yourself an assignment like “5 portraits in this style” then do so. Be a ruthless editor. Stick to your style like it’s a contract, and throw away any images that deviate (even slightly) from your chosen visual style.
Don’t get too comfortable.
After you have shot a lot of things in the visual style you have chosen, take your style write up and write down the exact opposite of what that style is. If it was high contrast, make it low contrast. If it was low depth of field make it high depth of field. Make sure you make the subject matter the exact opposite as well. Then go and shoot it.
I am writing this after coming off of doing a particularly challenging assignment. Over the weekend I was doing landscape photography of sports fields. It was hugely challenging for me – I had to use wide angle lenses instead of normal or telephoto. I had to shoot in low contrast light instead of medium to high – it was crazy! But overall I think it was good for me, and going out of your comfort zone will be good for you as well. I’ll post the “Recreational Landscape” series later this week.
So for the last month I have been in Auckland doing work for a local orchestra and taking it easy in general. Throughout my stay I got a chance to hang out with some people I knew and some people I did not know as well. I felt as though I should be doing something productive, something for my portfolio on my down time, when I wasn’t doing work for the orchestra or spending time with Alanna, so I approached a number of friends and friends of friends and asked if I could take their portraits. I wanted to take a bit of an editorial approach to them, some of them turned out that way and some of them didn’t. I was not paid for any of these photos, it was something I wanted to do for myself. Some of the people I photographed had never had their picture taken professionally and were thrilled at this. Others were nervous but after we chatted for a bit (or after I bought them a drink) we nabbed some great photos.
We did a shoot in Pacifica on Wednesday on a mountain near Rockaway Beach. We were almost blown away by the winds but everyone (especially the model) was a real trooper. It was cold, and my model was wearing only suspenders and a wife-beater. Did some serious shots and some more silly/goofy ones. Had some good times and got some good photos. There’s a video at the end of the post!
Our job as photographers is take our subject matter and make it as beautiful as possible. Of course it helps if your subjects are already inherently beautiful.
These are photos from my just-for-funsies shoot in Sonoma on Saturday.
Remember to always shoot for yourself. It keeps you happy, healthy and loving what you do.
My neighbor Larry is a disabled veteran with multiple personality disorder. He received an honorable discharge after being injured in a training accident, and he collects war relics, sci-fi movies and action figures.
Larry is one of the most interesting persons I have ever met – and his house is AWESOME. I could spend hours in there photographing the things he has and still find something new the next day.
We’ve been talking for some time now about taking his picture and doing something cool in his place. Today was the day. And all I can say is that I am thoroughly satisfied with the outcome.