I’m starting a snazzy new series on this here blog about creativity in photography–we’ll talk about a grab bag of great things like post-processing, interacting with clients, inspiration vs. perspiration, and more! The ‘more’ part=based on your questions. So leave a comment with what you’d like to talk about and we’ll chat it up.
Today’s topic: maximizing locations.
One of the biggest challenges for photographers, especially wedding photographers, is maximizing locations to create gorgeous photos no matter the setting. Even if you are a portrait photographer or fashion photographer in which you control the location of your sessions pretty much entirely, challenging yourself to shoot at a less-than-ideal location will do wonders for your strength as an artist and help you discover what makes you tick as a photographer.
SO. What do you actually DO when you get to your location? Lots of photographers suggest arriving on location about 20 minutes early to “scout it out.” Except what in the heck does that actually mean. Wandering aimlessly around and finding open shade? Testing your settings, looking busy? I’ll nail it down for you. (And here’s the little part where I disclaim everything I’m about to say because it’s just what I do and not necessarily gospel truth.)
I arrive to locations about 10 minutes early.
20 minutes and I get antsy and waste valuable energy planning/thinking/worrying that should be going to my clients. This was like, a totally revolutionary idea for me–that I should actually cut it closer? Whaaa?
So here’s the lesson for us here: people’s recommendations or even the acclaimed cardinal rules of photography are made to be…
Not broken–because that is plain old arrogance.Try out tips from people whose work you admire. While you’re trying these things, pay attention to yourself. Get mindful and get real: is it really working for you or are their ulterior motives? (Are you trying to impress other photographers, look like a big wig to your clients, convince yourself that you’re worthwhile?) If it didn’t work for you, don’t sweat it–you’re not married to that photographer or his ideas.They key is to pinpoint why x, y, or z didn’t work and find a solution.
When I arrive 10 minutes early, I walk around the location to see what’s there physically as well as lighting conditions. I then make a rough outline in my head of a possible progression for how I’ll move through the location with my clients, but I don’t set it in stone. I leave things open ended depending on how the clients are interacting, if they seem too tired to go farther away, if what they’re wearing limits us, etc. I’ve abandoned most test shots unless it’s a tricky lighting situation–again, I’ve found that this mostly stresses me out for some crazy reason.
So what about when you don’t have time to pre-scout a location?
I’ll tell you.
Last weekend I photographed Brad + Allie’s Open House. We decided to do 30 minutes of shooting with the two of them before the event started and keep the rest of the event pretty photojournalistic. I knew we only had 30 minutes and we were meeting at Brad’s father’s house, so we weren’t going to go far if at all. Since it was 4:30, there wasn’t a whole lot of open shade and there were definite limits to the spots we had to shoot.
Here’s where the lessons come in!
1. It’s not a matter of making lemonade out of a lemon location, but rather finding the lemonade in your location.
Just as I believe there is inherent beauty in every human being, I also believe there is breathtaking beauty in every location. EVERY location. Think about that–do you believe it? If not, why not?
First, I saw the gorgeous front door with the wreath and the shade and knew I could use the steps to work with Brad and Allie. Here’s the result:
After the front step, we went around the back of the house and found a single tree that created a small patch of shade and a neighbor’s house with some great leaves. I made these decisions in the blink of an eye–I don’t waste my time or my clients’ time by hemming and hawing over what we’re gonna do next. Other than being a time waster, it totally kills the energy of the session.
You can see more of the results here.
2. “Maximizing Location” is not code for “experiment.”
30 minutes with a couple and you spend 10 “experimenting”? Experiment on your own time and not on your clients’ dime. Of course all photography is experimentation to a degree, especially in a new location, but save your risky streak for a less consequential time.
3. Change your perspective.
If your current angle/camera settings aren’t working, do something else! I’m amazed at how often I find myself doing the same thing over and over and hoping for different results because I feel stuck. (Not just in photography but in life, yo.) If you’re forced into harsh sunlight, use it to create drama instead of whining in your mind about how terrible it is. (This photographer does it especially beautifully). Whether you’re in your mom’s garage or a swanky hotel, you can create glory! Use angles, noise, focus, and light to get creative–don’t forget the power of other elements to create mood in your photos. Try asking your clients to stay put for a full 3 minutes while you get every possible angle of a moment.
Bottom line: You are in control. Don’t waste your time feeling victimized by your circumstances, be it location, equipment, or anything else.
Your clients didn’t hire you because you have a nice camera (hopefully)!. They hired you for your vision. They hired you for your passion for your art and your voice as an artist.
4. Shoot wide open.
After all that vision talk here’s something practical. Shoot wide open (at F 2.0 or lower) when you want to focus on the subject and really minimize the background. Truth be told I shoot wide open about 90% of the time anyway because I love it, but it’s definitely a tool to use in de-emphasizing a background.
5. Remember who you’re photographing.
You’re not there to photograph the location; you’re there to photograph your clients. Focus in on elements that make your clients unique and showcase their love and emotions. Your clients will always be interesting and beautiful, even if your location is less-than! If your location is totally stumping you, take a series of close-up shots zeroing in on faces, hands, clothing, etc.
So what do you think? How do you maximize locations? What would you like to see in the Creativity Series?