What goes into a shoot?

Today I photographed a birthday party, in a Toronto park, outdoors under cover. “Simple”, you might think; “everyone can do this, with a point-and-shoot”  – but not so. Simple results need real skills. That’s why you hire a pro. Let me explain.

Take a picture like this, for instance:

That simple-looking snap needs considerable technical skills:

  • Choosing the right lens! 24mm on a full frame gives you this “wrap-around” 3D-type feeling. You need to know what lenses give you what results. I used a 24-70 zoom lens on a full frame camera (the Canon 1Dx) for best results, but I thought carefully about what lens focal length to use for any shot.
  • Then, to take care of the background exposure. The camera was on manual (M), and I chose f/4, at 1/40th second, using 640 ISO. That gave me a good, slightly dark background. f/4 gave me enough depth of field with that lens width. 1/40th froze enough motion with that angle.  (TIP: a good starting point for indoors is the Willems 400-40-4 rule: 400 ISO, 1/40th sec, f/4. Then adjust as needed).
  • Of course I was changing parameters all the time, since the sun went from totally gone (thunderstorms) to full bright – many stops difference between shots. Be ready for this!
  • I bounced the flash and knew exactly where to bounce it – an essential part of bouncing. I have eyes in the back of my head while bouncing, and you should develop the same. Where is the virtual umbrella?
  • I also knew how to set aperture and ISO to get enough available flash power!

It needs creative skills also:

  • I needed to see the bubbles and positioned myself accordingly. I also waited for the right arrangement of bubbles. I ensured my bounce angle lit enough of the bubbles.
  • I needed to get the right angle: I got down to child level.
  • The Rule of Thirds gave me a pleasing composition.
  • I did the necessary to get the child to look at me – not at all a given (and please parents, do not say “SMILE”).

Or take a shot like this:

All personality, with the same compositional and technical rules as before. In a shot like this, it is all about the moment, and the technical details should be a given. You snooze, you lose.

Then consider this:

Here, it’s the same tech skills and compositional skills, but we add storytelling as the necessary skill. Great photographers are great storytellers.

How about this?

Well, all the above is needed, but here there’s personality and communication mixed in. What’s the little girl thinking? Why the serious expression? Raising questions is an important part of artistic expression. And let’s face it, photography is an artistic endeavour.

The above shot is about the performance, a simple shot of record – but everything has to be perfect for it to work. You cannot miss!

Here it’s about using studio lights powered by a lead-acid battery pack to “nuke the sun” – you have read here about this technique many times (and if not, get the flash book and learn flash!). It’s also about that great proud smile. Really, isn’t that photo just “life in a nutshell”?

Another example of the same: how you can make direct sunlight go away and by using flash, override whatever bad light happens to be available, so that horrible direct sunshine can instead end up looking like this:

I hope these sames from a simple two-hour shoot show you that there is mileage in learning pro skills, or hiring a pro. It’s not at all “tech stuff for the sake of tech stuff”, or “pretentious art talk”. There really is an enormous benefit to these skills. Having great images of your event is time travel, is life committed to eternity. Cliché? I don’t think so – I prefer to think “truth”. I have only one image of myself as a child, and I wish I had many, and that they were all professional images.

OK… one more.

The family was incredibly hospitable and kind – as I find most people are! – and grandma made the fried snacks and the hummus, both pictured.  Please photograph the food, especially when it is made by the people you are working for – love and soul went into it, and the photos will make it last forever.

iPhone snaps just won’t do it. Please make a record of your life events. Hire a pro, or if you are one of my student readers, learn the pro skills. It costs money – yes, but not doing it wastes life!


2 thoughts on “What goes into a shoot?

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