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5 Practical Tips – Preparing for Location Headshots

By | Corporate Headshots, For Photographers, General Photography, Location Headshots, Uncategorized | No Comments

I love location headshot jobs because of how much I can accomplish in one day. Typically these clients really value time efficiency which means you often only have one afternoon or a just a few hours to load in, setup, shoot the entire office and load out.  Typically I run into a few similar challenges over and over- so here are some tips that I have come to rely on.

Packed uppacked

Essentially my entire studio brought on location. Packed and unpacked.

1.) Make a gear checklist

This seems obvious but it’s really so critical. Forgetting even a single critical item can be a show stopper on a shoot so I do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen! My list has 32 items on it. Not every job requires every item but having everything down in a checklist ensures that nothing is forgotten. I use a simple checklist app on my iphone- Checklist+.

2.)Pack your gear property

When I started doing corporate headshots on location in Washington DC I didn’t really have the proper gear to transport my studio. Most of my work was in my studio but I didn’t want to turn down location requests so I essentially packed my lights and softboxes into two suitcases and wrapped everything in blankets! Needless to say this solution is less than ideal and let’s be honest- not safe for your gear and doesn’t give a ‘professional’ vibe. I now use a pelican case for my strobes, a Lightware Rolling Stand Bag case that holds my foldable softboxes, light stands, and reflectors and Lowepro Pro Runner 450 AW DSLR Backpack bag for my camera, and lenses. With these cases I can bring all of my equipment up to the ofice myself in two trips. I’m currently looking for a nice folding cart to cut that down to one trip.

Bags on location

These three bags safely hold the majority of what needs to come with me on location.

3.)Bring Backup Gear

Bring backups of ANY critical component. When shooting on location you only have one chance to get it right and if anything fails you need to have a plan b. I always bring a backup camera bodie, additional strobe, multiple lenses, modifiers, additional CF cards, cables, batteries and power cords.

4.)Prepare for less than ideal contingencies

Limited space

I require an unobstructed space of at least 10×20 feet but sometimes the clients either don’t really measure the space, or the meeting room slated for headshots becomes occupied and we have to use a smaller room.  Have a wider lens in your bag for cases like this- you might not have the shooting distance you would ideally like.  The other lifesavers in this situation is the Paul Buff Shovel Reflector. I always bring it but generally only use it when space is tight. This reflector allows you to get a decent gradient or white backdrop with just a few feet of space.

Bad outlet location

Don’t count on abundant outlet locations. I always bring an extension cord and power strip so I can plug into a central location if needed. I also always bring masking tape to tape down any power cables that might be in the path of a client. You definitely don’t want any clients tripping or lights getting pulled to the ground!

5.)Parking and load in

This is important- a bad parking strategy will make you late for the job and cause much unneeded stress! This is especially true in urban areas. In Washington DC it’s common for office buildings to have underground parking. Inquire ahead of time and see what the parking situations is, often you can call the garage directly(google maps is your friend here). Do you need a pass? Is there a service elevator, or elevator that will take you to the floor you need to go to? Is there a loading dock area you need to use? My priority is convenient load in. I want a spot in the most convenient parking lot nearest to the elevator that will take me directly to the floor I’m going to.  As a general rule I don’t park on the street(asking for trouble!) and I don’t charge the client for my parking cost(it’s nickle and dimey and slows down the contracting process)- it’s worth it for me to pay to be as close as possible to ensure a fast load in.

Turn your selfie into a high end headshot?

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Researchers at MIT and Adobe have come up with some pretty neat ‘style transfer’ software that seems to be able to take any cellphone selfie headshot and apply a signature style to it by providing it with a headshot in the style you would like. Simply feed the software an example image by Martin Schoeller or Platon and off it goes- creating a fairly decent copy of that style. While I’m sure there are some limitations that we might not be seeing in these controlled samples- it’s certainly an impressive concept. I could see something like this as a sort of next-gen Instagram, controlling lighting styles instead of just film looks.

Fortune/People Magazine Shoot- Behind the Scenes

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Final-Shot

The Assignment

I was contacted on a Friday for this assignment which was to take place the following Tuesday. The shoot had to take place in the morning and be delivered to the contacts at People and Fortune by 12 noon. To meet the delivery time, I suggested we start shooting at 8am and I made plans to edit and deliver the photos on site. I arrived on site with an assistant an hour and a half early to scout the location and setup lighting. Because time was so tight, my goal was to come up with one pose and lighting setup that could be shot with different lenses to achieve at least two different looks in a short amount of time. I knew I wanted to mix strobes and ambient light, but without knowing the exact setup going in, I brought extra strobes, reflectors and light stands just in case.

This shoot features Arnold Harvey, a driver for Waste Management . In 2007, Arnold founded God’s Transition Connection, a non profit charity that helps over 5000 families a month through food donations. Because of this, Arnold was selected as one of 50 people to be featured in Fortune’s ‘Heroes of the 500” series. His story was also picked up by People Magazine. Arnold was fantastic to work with. Take a look at his features here and here.

Gear List

The gear list is purely for reference. None of this specific gear would absolutely make or break the shoot. Substitutions of similar quality gear of course, will result is a very similar image.

The Setup

My contact at Waste Management requested we use one of their trucks as a backdrop, which I thought was perfect. The magazine requested a landscape portrait and Waste Management wanted their logo in the shot along with possibly some items from Arnold’s charity. Because we were mixing natural and studio lighting, everything needed to be planned around the position of the sun. I had the truck positioned so the sun was backlighting our subject and slightly to Arnold’s left. This would allow the sun to act as a rim light. I set up a 40 inch octobox as a fill light centered in front of the subject. To further fill and enhance the lighting on the subject, I placed a small reflector right under the octobox. Another Strobe with a 12 inch reflector was used to brighten the backdrop and also acted as a secondary rim light coming from the subject’s left side. With the same lighting, I was able to get two different compositions, one fairly standard medium shot with a telephoto(my preferred shot) and another slightly more dramatic wide angle shot from a low camera position that included the entire truck.

Setup-Diagram

This setup was used for all shots. I had an assistant on set to help setup and test poses and exposures.

Setup and testing poses and exposure.

Setup and testing poses and exposure.

 

Exposure and Blending Light Sources

I chose an aperture of 8.0 to separate my subject slightly without blurring the WM logo too much(even shooting at 8.0 with a telephoto lens at close range will allow a good amount of bokeh to separate the subject from the backdrop). I chose my camera exposure based on the ambient light(via setting ISO and shutter speed) with a particular eye to get the rim light at the right levels.  When using strobes outside, the sun is the constant variable. The ambient exposure achieved a good rim and kicker effect on the subject, and the two flashes filled in the rest of the scene. Keep in mind when shooting with flash, you are often limited by your flash sync speed- which in my case maxes out at 200.  I metered the key light to be the same as my aperture(8.0) and adjusted the backdrop light by sight to a level that looked good on my tethered screen.

Camera Settings

  • F8.0
  • 1/200sec
  • ISO 100
  • 90mm

Exposure with and without flash

I took a shot without triggering the flash just for comparison purposes. Take a look at the rim lighting in the first photo- the exposure is essentially built around that and the shadow areas of the subject and backdrop are filled in with strobes and modifier. Getting the balance exactly right keeps things looking natural.

before after

Controlling Perspective

Different focal lengths allow the photographer to control the perspective and what appears in the backdrop.  A telephoto lens has a tighter perspective and will compress what is in the background(showing less of the background) and a wide angle will show more of the background. This remains true even if you change your distance from the subject to make the subject appear the same size via both lenses(ie: walking up close to the subject with a wide angle or shooting from a distance with a telephoto). I used two lenses for this shoot. The canon 70-200 for the medium shots, and Canon 16-35 for the alternate take. In the studio I’m a real fanatic for prime lenses but on location with an environmental backdrop and a tight time schedule, a zoom lens allows you to change perspective very quickly and try a few different options without wasting time changing lenses. I preferred the tighter half length portraits but I wanted some wide shots to offer as an alternate option for the client. Because of the position of the sun, I got a good bit of flair in the wider angle shots- but I like the effect it gives here.

Perspectives

Tight and wide perspectives shot at 90mm and 29mm respectively.

 

Other Details

I always shoot portraits with the camera on tripod. Cameras are heavy- and slightly shifting compositions bug me! For the strobes, I used a wireless trigger and controller to adjust the lighting as needed. I had a battery pack on hand in case we didn’t have access to power for the strobes- luckily we did have convenient access to power. As with every location shoot I do, I was tethered to my Mac Air. Tethering save times and allows me to instantly spot errors as I’m shooting.

Editing and Delivery

Editing on site

Editing on site

Immediately after the shoot I sat down with Arnold and another representative from Waste Management. We selected the 10 best shots out of the 200 or so we shot. After color correction I sent compressed versions of these ten images for approval and final selection by the marketing team(based in Houston). They quickly narrowed this down to their top 3 images and I did some light retouching(removed a few distracting elements and enhanced the contrast on the logo slightly) before delivering the final full resolution images.

Final Usage

Fortune ended up using the tighter image as the cover image for the entire ‘Heroes of the 500’ feature online and the wider shot next to Arnold’s Profile. People used an alternate tighter image.

Final image on the front pages of Fortune.com

Final image on the front pages of Fortune.com

 

Learn More

I’ve finally gotten around to categorizing my blog posts. Click here for more tutorials and general thoughts on photography techniques. Email me if you have any topics that you might want to see covered in the blog!

Thanks Arnold!

IMG_9865

Thanks Arnold!

Matching a Look

By | Corporate Headshots, For Photographers, Uncategorized | No Comments
Headshot Backdrop Matches

Corporate headshots that have been matched to an existing company look.

For corporate headshot clients I’m often required to match a look that’s been established by another photographer. Sometimes I’m provided a detailed PDF of instructions on lighting and posing from the art department but more often than not it’s all about recreating the lighting based on what can been seen on the company website.

For these jobs I have created a quick mental checklist to get as close as possible.

Lighting the subject

  • What direction and angle is the key light coming from?
  • How soft is the light?
  • How much fill light is used?
  • How is the hair light treated? One side only, both sides?

Backdrop

  • How is the backdrop lit? Evenly? With a light gradient?
  • What backdrop is being used and which backdrop in my collection matches it closely?

More on the matching the backdrop

Matching the backdrop is often the trickiest part. I always try to achieve the closest look in camera but to get a perfect match it’s often necessary to take the final image into photoshop. Even with a simple gray backdrop I manipulate it to match the luminosity and light gradient exactly. Often I need to match specific colors that have been achieved with colored backdrop or gels on the lights. I will gel to get as close as possible and then finalize in the retouching phase. For painted studio backdrops there are simply too many color variations to own them all. In this situation I choose the backdrop with the most similar texture and match the colors in post.

Technique- Back Button Focus

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When shooting headshots focusing needs to be incredibly precise. I never use global focus and let the the camera decide what to focus on. Single point focus on the nearest eye to the camera is where I focus every single shot. There is nothing worse than having a great shot slightly out of focus and my miss rate has gone down to close to 0% after switching to back button focus.

Back Button Auto Focus

By default on most cameras the focus is tied to the shutter button. This arrangement works out great for most types of photography(especially snap shots) but it’s not ideal for headshots. When shooting headshots what I generally do is focus and recompose slightly to get the perfect framing. Traditional shutter button focusing would require me to focus and recompose every shot- because each time I press the shutter the camera is going to want to focus on the current single point focus area that I have selected. Back button focus separates the shutter and focus action so I can focus with the back button then recompose and keep shooting(pressing the shutter button) away without fear of refocusing on the wrong area. I now only have to refocus when the subject moves.

Use the focus toggle but don’t rely on it

Why not just use the single focus point and toggle that to achieve the exact framing you need? When shooting headshots I always use single point focus and focus that one the nearest eye to the camera. I do toggle the focus point to be in the right area of the frame but there simply are not enough focus points available to get that single point in EXACTLY the right place. So toggling the focal point to the nearest eye gets me close and focus and recompose gets the framing perfect.

Give this technique a try- you won’t regret it!

Backing Up Data- Part 2

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Backing up Data on Location

This post is more of a best practices of how to deal with data safety when shooting on location. CF or SD card corruption is rare- but when it happens it’s a very scary thing. It’s only happened to me once and luckily I was able to retrieve the data using recovery software. It’s not worth the stress! And it can be avoided- here’s my method.

Create 3 backups instantly

Might sound fancy but it’s really not. Shoot with a camera that has dual card slots. Shoot RAW to both- easy. While you are doing this tether capture everything to a laptop. Three backups with no extra effort! When shooting headshots tethering is already a best practice and helps improve the quality and flow of the session.

Dropbox is Your Friend

One of the first things I do when setting up on location is get onto the guest wifi network. It’s not really reasonable to upload everything from the session to dropbox but I usually am able to do a quick DNG export of all my final ‘keeper’ images to a folder in dropbox. This way if I anything happens to my gear on the way back to the office I’m covered.

Backing up data – Best Practices

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Backing up data is a huge priority for me. At any given moment I have 5 backups of every headshot I’ve ever taken. I’ve never actually had a serious loss of data but I don’t consider this approach overkill. With my backup system I’m trying accomplish a few goals:

  • Quick restore of my entire computer- On site backup
  • Cloud restore options
  • Additional offsite Backup

For onsite backup I use Time Machine. It’s simple and easy. I’ve restored from Time Machine when upgrading computers- no complaints. For cloud backup I use Crash Plan. It backs up everything to the cloud automatically and I can access my file system anywhere- even on my iphone. My additional offsite backup is a simple copy of all my photography work backed up every few months and stored in a safe location away from my office. If I ever lost my data my first choice would be to restore from the cloud but an actual hard disc could come in handy to get back up and running fairly quickly. Lastly I have all final retouched images stored on SmugMug. I use SmugMug for digital file delivery but I also take advantage of the unlimited storage to serve as yet one more backup.

Stayed tuned for another post dealing with safe data storage when shooting off site.

Time Efficient Workflow for Corporate Headshots on Location

By | Corporate Headshots, For Photographers, Location Headshots, Uncategorized | No Comments

More often then not- when shooting corporate headshots on location, time is tight. I’ve developed a workflow that allows me to take and select the best shots in a very short amount of time. Sometimes I will have as little as 5 minutes per person but it’s important that I do everything I can so I’m not fiddling with equipment, the subject is at ease and able to get a great final product.

Know what the client needs and plan the setup in advance

Corporate Headshots on Location

Testing lighting on a corporate location shoot

Planning is key- everything must be setup and working smoothly in advance of the subject stepping into the room. It’s important to know EXACTLY what look your client needs and how to achieve it(lighting, backdrop, pose etc). I always try to setup in such a way that the client has a clear path to his mark(in most cases for me the client is seated) and not tripping over wires or dodging light stands. Bring masking tape if need to both tape down wires and mark exactly where you need the subjects to be. Allow enough time to test lighting and make adjustments if needed. There is almost never time to make adjustments on the fly- so don’t plan on it!

Have a time sheet

When possible have the client prepare a time sheet of when each person will arrive for their headshots. Having a loose time sheet ensures that I know who is walking in the door next but also avoids empty periods where no one is ready to shoot or the opposite- 5 people walk in the room all at once and end up waiting around for their photo. But it’s also important to remain flexible. Inevitably someones schedule might change and it’s important to be able to adapt quickly.

Tether capture

This is a must. I never review images on the back of my camera- it’s just not a good experience for anyone. Tether capture allows you to spot mistakes and areas for improvement and fix them instantly. I typically capture directly into Lightroom during any headshot shoot whether in the studio or on location. Sometimes it makes more sense to use an iPad especially in a fast moving environmental shoot where the client might be moving to a few locations. When tethering to an iPad I have a second wifi enabled SD card that can broadcast directly to the iPad. I almost always try to have the clients select their images on site because it’s easier to compare and select them with the proper software(like Lightroom) and also it cuts down greatly on the back and both emailing and waiting after the session for each subject to make their final pick. Ultimately this allows me to deliver the retouched images much sooner.

Retouching- Removing Glare From Glasses

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Lens Coatings

Removing glare in retouching can be quite difficult but luckily, more and more of my clients with glasses have newer style lenses with anti-glare coatings. I absolutely love this- because it completely eliminates glare. If you are getting new glasses, please spend the extra few bucks to get this coating- you will look great in pictures! But in cases where we don’t have the anti-glare coating we still need to get a great shot.

Angles

The first step I take is to try and eliminate the glare using angles. Either by angling the subject or even the glasses themselves(tipping them slightly up) can take away most or all glare. Alternately we can angle the actual lights and reflectors to minimize glare. In some cases angling doesn’t help much and I need to shoot in such a way that will help me retouch it in the most natural way.

Shooting to Retouch

At regular intervals throughout the shoot I will ask the subject to remove the glasses and we will get a few shots in each pose- without glasses. This gives me some ‘non-glare’ material that I can blend in later in photoshop for the most natural result. The retouched image below is a blend of two such headshots. The final result is completely realistic and probably impossible to retouch any other way.

Before

removing glare before

After

Removing Glare after