THE SAME STORY, ALL OVER AGAIN
“Okay so I’ve got the new camera or the new lens. I know how to use it (mostly) and ready to work. Wait, I’ve got that new light too and that new modifier that I am sort of sure that I don’t know how to use, but how hard can it be, right? Plus that new clothing piece that I found at the thrift store that would be so cool to use in a shoot. Not sure what kind of shoot – maybe fashion, maybe boudoir – maybe just, well, whatever – I want to use it in a shoot. Oh there was that tutorial I saw on YouTube from some middle aged white guy that talked about storytelling – yeah, I want to do that too! But I need to remember to shoot for the IPS session, so I can make the all the money. Did I ever get that sample ordered from H&H Photo Lab? Did I pay my taxes yet? Well whatever, I’m here at the location for the shoot, time to setup and get to snappin’!”
And then my favorite part:
“Okay so um model/subject, um you know – just do your thing and look cool and I’ll take some pictures!”
How many of us are very familiar with this typical scene in our photography travels. We spend the time before the session thinking of all the “stuff” we can shove into the shoot. We greet the client and while they suit up we adjust the lights and the camera for that new lighting pattern that we want to do. We spend valuable, crucial, creative time focusing on the technical giving no care to the art. Then it’s time to create the art and we fall back on basic poses and other tropes that get the shoot moving, but really isn’t innovating the experience and adding a new layer to what you offer you clients.
I know that sometimes this “auto-pilot” feels necessary, depending on how much time you have for the shoot or how busy your studio is at the time. However, this is where a philosophy comes into play that we often reject and for understandable reasons. Do you value quantity over quality? We all intellectually think we value quality, for sure. But when we are standing in the photography bay, subject waiting and all that technical garbage is running through our brain, suddenly quantity becomes the driving force to the shoot – for at least the first half. Then suddenly we remember we are artists and quality is key to our IPS session/brand experience and we suddenly reinvent the wheel. If that effort is successful, then rad and I bet some of the images you sell are from that quality part of the shoot. If it isn’t, we finish the shoot and get frustrated because we had all these plans and they all were tossed out, without realizing it.
Speaking of plans, that’s how I got past that issue in my work – most of the time.
CREATE A SYSTEMIC APPROACH TO THE SHOOT
When I approach most of my sessions, I begin the plan with Microsoft OneNote. It’s a wonderful resource to use, for all types of note-keeping and planning. I love it because it syncs to all of my devices and is always at my fingertips when some rando idea runs through my mind.
I start a page labeled as the session/client name and immediately write down three emotions that I want to capture with this subject. Now for my upcoming boudoir line, part of this decision will be focused on what type of style the client has selected. If they want natural light and soft, simple lingerie, then chances are we aren’t going to explore the more intense emotions. If the client wants strobes and dramatic style, then one of the three emotions I choose can be in that arena.
Those three emotions become the entire foundation to the session. I know what lighting patterns to choose. I know what poses will help to communicate those feelings. I even know what compositions to make, to potentially help tell that story. While I do this, I listen to my Boudoir playlist on Spotify – it’s filled with music that I have curated that entice that part of my imagination where stories can be born for this type of shoot. I’m an artist – why not stimulate my senses while I make a creative plan for a systemic photography session? I’ve even opened a bottle of pinot noir and let my mind wonder a bit while I draft the plan.
The next step is to source some spec images that you can put into the OneNote page, that align to the emotions you’ve selected. I often will go back to my previous work and find images that visually have an impact and I will analyze why. Is it the lighting, the pose – was the session “successful” and did it represent quality over quantity? I drag those images from Adobe Bridge, into the OneNote and put tem below the emotion they represent. Then I write notes underneath the image that identify what I like about that piece.
While holding my favorite wine glass and sniffing the notes, I suddenly am reminded of props and then I go on a creative hunt for more images that can help suggest a pattern of the story I want to tell. If my portfolio doesn’t have what I seek, then I turn to the bottomless pit of spending all my money: Pinterest.
Pinterest is wonderful to use, but can be the bane of a professional photographer’s existence (hello wedding photographers who get the 17 boards from the bride) so tread lightly as you navigate this space. This effort is truly the first test of quality over quantity – is it not? We see so many ideas laid out before us and our mind can race. Train yourself to focus on seeing past the images to those that leap out and speak to the emotion you are trying to represent.
Each image you add to the OneNote, write down notes beneath it as to what drew you into it and how it can fit into your style, your session. I strongly encourage you though, to innovate on the image and make it your own. Do not just carbon copy the entire thing and call it your art – because it isn’t, in my humble opinion. Dare to be different and add something new atop the foundation of what you see in another person’s work.
Once the images have been curated (generally four to six images per emotion) I then spend some time reflecting on what images will fit best into the products that I offer my clients. Shoot for the cover of the album, knowing it’s shape and size. Shoot for the spread in the album or the right framing on images that go into the image box. What’s a good teaser image for this session that you can show the client in an email? What image can be the the thumbnail for the app you provide to them for their devices? Is that image a candidate for a wall portrait – what size do you want to sell – remember that when you shoot it, by writing down notes in the plan to tell yourself that at the shoot.
CONFIDENCE IS NOT BEING AFRAID TO SAY “I DON’T KNOW.”
My father told me long ago “never be afraid as a leader to look someone in the eye and tell them you don’t know the answer to their question or problem. Then tell them that you both can find out the answer, together.” He was a great man and a great leader in corporate Amercia – wisdom for the ages that I’ve held onto all of my life.
And just like quality over quantity, I abandoned that beautiful wisdom the moment I started photographing clients for money. They are giving me money; I have to know everything and look like it’s all under control. I can’t look like the light isn’t working or spend a minute moving it around and fixing it – if that new lighting idea doesn’t work in ten seconds, then screw it and go back to boring flat lighting and make them do the Captain Morgan pose with the chair.
Then one day I decided to tell the truth to my client: “I’m trying this new idea with my lights that I’ve never done before. I think it’s going to be really beautiful and I just need a minute to dial it in.” The client looked at me with excitement because I just told them that they are going to be the first to do something special – no one else has an image like this yet. After that minute, I was ready to go and captured a few frames and ran to show the client, because I still was not confident that my lame ass excuse was believed. They loved the image and said to me “this is beautiful artwork!”
That’s the key, right there. You have an opportunity to capture artwork and when you take the time on set to adjust your lights, to fiddle with your camera – to look at your OneNote to remind yourself of where the adventure is going next, you are curating artwork. Never apologize for that, never feel insecure about that. Rise in the confidence that you are taking the time to provide your client with the art they deserve – quality over quantity.