Photoshoot reflections: #1

So I got the idea to make a blog post about my photo shoots. In these I will write down what the goal of the shoot was, what I did to get my results (even if there was nothing special in my preparations or setup), any problems I encountered, and some thoughts and/or ideas I got after the shoot. This is the first post of many to come.


Beth giving a charming smile

I asked around on Facebook for people who wouldn’t mind helping me out as models for different photo projects I’ve been wanting to do. I was lucky enough to get an overwhelming response and I had more volunteers than I knew what to do with. This of course was a huge motivator to me and I immediately started plotting different projects. The lovely Beth was one of the people who posted a reply. She distinguished herself from the rest in her reply however. She didn’t tell me she was interested in helping out, but instead directly challenged me to get a good portrait shot of her. She claimed it was near impossible to get a picture of her that she liked. I immediately accepted the challenge as this was both a good project to get things started with, as well as me feeling confident that I was going to prove her wrong.

As a part of planning everything, I asked Beth to bring along a selection of clothes she liked and felt comfortable in. I prefer to shoot people wearing a more or less single-colored item as a clutter of patterns and colors usually draws attention away from the face. I also asked her to bring along any makeup she felt like she wanted to wear, just in case she would feel it necessary to put on more than usual for the sake of a shot.

As a setup I chose to use the basic setup I usually go for when shooting portraiture:
– An umbrella with key flash (Canon 580EX II) in front of her, pointing a little bit downwards on her face. The umbrella was placed as close to the cameras line of sight as possible without getting in on the pictures.
– A fill light (Canon 420EX II) pretty high above and behind her to light up the back of her hair and shoulders.
– A standard black fabric measuring 1.40m x 4m as a backdrop. (I still haven’t been able to afford a pro backdrop, neither do I have the space for it).

We started off by simply talking a bit while I rigged the studio setup. We talked about casual stuff, but also about what she felt like when standing in front of a camera. She was already clearly not comfortable and even said out loud that she almost regretted her challenge. We started off easy by having her wear a large sweater that she felt cozy and comfortable in. I also told her that we would start shooting pictures without any smiles and just go for the more mysterious and serious look. I also had her try to just simply do stuff with her hands. Things like running her fingers through her hair, fiddling with her hands and so on. I also instructed her to avoiding looking directly into the camera. This gives the subject something to do besides “just standing there” and can often help in taking the edge off a bit.


Beth fiddling with her hands while trying to ignore the camera.

It became clear that one of the things she enjoyed was feeling snug. She also had a great woolen cap in bright colors that could also look nice and fresh in a shot, so I had her don this. I also gave her a cup of tea that I wanted to take a few shots of her simply enjoying. We took several shots of this, and it worked pretty well in my opinion.


Beth enjoying a cup of tea while we shoot.

Since she seemed to be rather comfortable in large clothes, I suggested she borrowed one of my shirts. There isn’t a girl out there who doesn’t look super cute in a hugely oversized shirt. She liked this idea and we simply played around with some poses. I suggested that she tried some extravagant model poses and try to ignore the feeling of “overdoing it”. Most people may try to strike a stereotypical model pose and believe that they’re overdoing it and therefore contain themselves to some extend. Usually when seeing the pictures later they realise they weren’t even close to overdoing it. This of course made Beth somewhat uncomfortable again, which also showed a bit, but we did get some good shots still. I’m glad we tried it out.


A shot I took while Beth was still getting ready for the actual shots. You’d be surprised how often surprise shots like this actually really works.


A dramatic, stereotypical model-like pose that worked really well for this shot.

Towards the end of the shoot, I felt confident we had several pictures in which she looked fantastic. I still wanted to do a bit more and suggested we just have a bit fun with props and what not. The result of which was a picture with sunglasses she immediately became very fond of, as well as a gas mask and a Totoro plushie. Just for the sake of fun and randomness really.


Beth wearing a gas mask and her woolen cap, giving Totoro a hug

All in all the shoot went very well. In the end she was happy with the shots I sent back. In other words, I feel I won the challenge! There isn’t much I feel like I should have done differently for this project and was basically just one of those shoots that went rather problem free.

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