Sunday, 12 June 2011

Photography tips 1: Preparation

Although I don’t consider myself any more than an amateur photographer, I’ve been around for quite some time now and had my fair share of experience. I have made many mistakes and I have learnt from them, experimented different things with various degrees of success and tried different approaches to the work depending on what I wanted to achieve in the end. I thought it might be nice to share with my readers what I’ve learnt so far. Perhaps some of my tips may sound too obvious, but you never know.
I’m going to write three posts of advice: preparation, shooting and postproduction. As I’m primarly a portrait photographer, most of my advice will take for granted that you’ll be dealing with models, but I think some parts may apply to other branches of photography too. Most obviously, the first entry will be about preparing of a photo.

So, what do I mean by “preparing a photo”? Quite simply, it means some brainstorming and gathering of ideas about what you want to represent and choosing a model to portray. Of course, there is not a fixed order to do these two things: you can develop an idea and then look for a fitting model, or you can have a model you’d like to shoot and build an idea around him or her. It depends on the current situation and is an extremely flexible process. I’ve worked in both ways, and with the right organization both led to satisfying results.
Also, coming up with the idea for a photo can work in two different ways: you can either work on a concept you already had, or get sudden inspiration while shooting and looking at your models, the surroundings and so on. As for me, although I’ve got a slight preference for the former, I work in both ways, and usually get different, albeit equally satisfying, results.
So, here we go with the tips:

1. Write down your ideas.
Always write down whenever an idea for a photo comes to your mind. I use an easy scheme to be sure not to forget anything, and print the sheet before going for a photoshoot. It’s annoying when you have this wonerful idea, then meet the model, start shooting, laugh, have fun, and when you’re on your train back - oh noes! - you remember this idea which would have been brilliant and worked out perfectly. I’ll put the scheme at the bottom of this post, in case you want to use it.

2. Make a list of what you need.
Some photos may require particular accessories in order to work. If this is the case, make a list and be sure to have everything. This way, not only will you not be missing anything, but by reading through the list several times you might also notice there’s something you haven’t thought of yet and add it.

3. Know your models as much as you can.
It would be the best if you could actually meet your models personally before shooting, so that, while talking about the following points, you can observe them, their features, their bodies and think in advance of the best way to portray them. Since this can’t always be possible (it rarely is), try to keep some correspondence with them and find out something about them as persons: I’ve noticed it’s easier to work with people I already know and have some degree of affinity with. Browse their portfolios and don’t be shy to ask them for more photos if you feel you need them, so that you can be sure they’re what you’re looking for (in general or for some particular concept). All of the above, though, without stalking them: remember they’re people and need their own privacy. And if it is the model who approaches you, just remember you can always say “no”: don’t force yourself to shoot anybody, the work wouldn’t be as brilliant as both you and they expect. Of course, forget about this last part if you’re getting paid, unless you find out you just can’t bear that person.

4. Make clear everything about the compensation.
Discuss clearly since the very beginning everything about the compensation, both your own and the models’. If you only work on a Tf* basis, say it immediately, so that if the models expect to be paid, they’ll give up, and vice versa. Also, decide immediately if travel expenses should be refunded. In this case, it would be fair that the one who required the meeting pay for the travel. So, if the model asked you to shoot, he/she should either travel to you or pay for your travel; vice versa if it’s you who approached the model.

5. Tell your models what you want them to do.
This is easy for me, as I usually work with people I trust; anyway, always tell your models what you expect them to do. If you’re afraid they’ll steal your ideas and shoot them their own way with other photographers before you do, just don’t be very specific, but say what you have in mind at least generically. If you want your models to pose naked in the middle of a crowded square, bath in muddy waters or lie with a thin silk nightgown in the snow, they have all rights to get prepared. Or even refuse: in this case, it’s better to know it in advance, so that the refusal won’t spoil the chemestry while shooting.

6. Discuss your models’ ideas.
Be open to your models’ suggestions. If they have their own ideas, listen to them carefully, choose which ones you want to do and tell them. Models can either have a very clear idea of what they want you to shoot, or just tell you they’d like to do something about this or that and leave it up to you. In both cases, knowing it in advance will help you get familiar with their ideas and come up with solutions about how to do them. Obviously, write down all of this too. Again, don’t forget you’re able to say “no”: if you don’t like the idea, just don’t shoot it, the results wouldn’t be the best.

7. Discuss your models’ outfit.
What your models will be wearing plays an important part in how the photo will look. If you cannot provide the clothes but have a specific outfit in mind, tell them and ask them if they have something that matches it. Otherwise, just give them some clue (dark, light, elegant, casual) and ask them to tell you about their clothes which could work. Ask them for photos of the clothes if you want. Same goes for their hairstyle and make up. And remember to discuss the outfit also if it’s the model who proposes the idea: your opinion might be helpful anyway.

8. Visit your set before you shoot.
If you’re shooting outdoors, try to visit the place before shooting. I know this is not always possible, but it will help you save time and get a clearer idea of what you can do (besides, you’ll look more professional knowing where to go rather than walking pointlessly around looking for God knows what in some unknown place). If it’s you who travels to the models’, ask them in advance for advice about the location, and eventually for a description and/or possibly some photos or Google Maps shoots of it, so that you can get an idea of what you will find. And don’t forget to get at least a clue of its geografic position, so that you’ll know how the sun (and thus the light) will turn.

9. Keep an eye on the meteo.
Do this for at least a whole week before the photoshoot. Not only to be sure that a sudden downpour won’t ruin your photoshoot, but also to have a clue of what kind of light you’ll find: working with sharp or diffuse light is a totally different business, and it might not suit your photos.

10. Double check you have packed everything.
You can’t possibly know how embarrassing it is to get off the train, greet you model, open your suitcase and find out that you forgot an essential part of the outfit that you had suggested. The one time this happened I wanted to die. So, be sure to pack your baggage the day before, check it carefully the night before, and do it again right before leaving. This way, you’ll immediately find out that - oh gosh! - that freaking veil is still on the bed!

And this is all for the first part. Here is the scheme I use to write down my ideas. I’ll paste the one I used for Evelyn, so you will also see how it works.

Title: Evelyn
Basic idea: Luisa in a penitent pose - head bowed and praying hands - with a bluish light surrounding her.
Quote: Evelyn - Hurts
Type: Colours, vertical
Notes: Tungsten white balance, beware the lighting!

No comments:

Post a Comment