Thursday, August 09, 2012

On Photographing People: Pt. 1

Sara Lando is an occasional contributor to Strobist, but is also a commercial photographer based in Milan, Italy. Today, I am very pleased to present the first in her three-part series on photographing people.

Let me back up. A few months ago, I met with all of the Strobist's correspondents in Los Angeles. We were brainstorming to fill the knowledge gaps in the site's content. Suddenly Sara started off on this tangent on all of the things that get lost in the shuffle when thinking about lighting and lenses and cameras, etc. Picture a tiny Italian woman gesturing continuously as she uncorks a full brain dump (from a very, very creative mind) on all of the little things that many people never think of when photographing others.

As I was listening I kept thinking, "Someone should be writing this stuff down RIGHT NOW."

English is Sara's second language, and I normally smooth it out a little when editing her pieces. Not today. I am sending this through largely untouched. Should you come across an unusual way to express something, just imagine the Italian accent behind it.
__________


On Photographing People, Pt. 1: Before the Shooting

By Sara Lando -- So you know your f-stops, you can balance speedlights with ambient, you can overpower the sun and color correct light to the point you can walk into a room and guesstimate the Kelvins like a boss... and yet all you get are sharp images of really uncomfortable people?

Can you be a people photographer if you’re not a people person?

My best asset, according to clients and subjects, is the fact that I can make people enjoy having their picture taken and, as a result, I can ask them to do almost anything and they’ll be happy to oblige.





It hasn’t always been like this, though: the first time I had to photograph someone that wasn’t myself, I spent the night before puking, and it was half a disaster. Ten years later, these are the things I wish someone had told me back then.
__________


Before you can even think about what to do when you’re photographing someone you have to convince them to be in front of your camera. And a lot of people find this to be really hard (after all a camera is one of the best ways to avoid talking to other human beings...).

There are basically two possibilities: hiring a professional model vs asking someone, be it a loved one or a stranger (I’m intentionally not going to cover how to steal portraits from unaware passers by with very long lenses). If you’re really uncomfortable with asking people you know, I highly recommend avoiding paying for a professional model. Yet, it is often harder to take a good portrait of a model because they have enough experience to save your pictures when you don’t know what you’re doing. So you end up mistaking a photo of a beautiful girl for a beautiful photo. You learn very little and waste lots of money.

Also, models won’t tell you what you did wrong (but they’ll tell the next female photographer they work with, aka: me), while a wife is probably making a list the moment you unzip the camera bag. Suck it up and go for it!

I very rarely meet someone who doesn’t hate to have their picture taken though, so we meet our very first obstacle:


How to convince people to be photographed by you

Truth is, people don’t hate having their picture taken. People hate being tagged on Facebook in awful photos that everyone will see.

My advice is to start with friends and loved ones, people you feel comfortable with and can easily speak to. If you already know your friend Bob is a Star Wars fan, he will not pass on the opportunity of posing for a portrait with a full Darth Vader costume. And if you’ve been married for years to a woman who hates the shape of her ears, you won’t make the rookie mistake of having her hair up for the pictures (ending up with her forbidding you to EVER show them to anyone).

Volunteer as the official photographer at your nana’s 90th birthday. Bribe your kids. Do it again and again.

I was incredibly shy when I started photography so I decided to take a bazillion self portraits instead. Whatever you decide to do, the main goal is to build a very small portfolio of decent pictures you can show to potential victims subjects. I have a couple of ongoing projects that are great for contacting potential subjects. Both are really easy setups and it takes me just a few minutes to get the shot, leaving me plenty of time to do something else. And most of all it shows potential subjects the kind of image they would be getting from me.




This is important because it takes an incredible amount of trust to let someone take you picture and you have to reassure people you actually DO know how to operate a camera. The only way to do so is by having work to show.

This alone isn’t going to be enough. Most of the time, people will still be wary. Why would you want to take their picture? Why them?

Spot the difference between “Can I take your picture? I asked everyone else and they said no,” and “Can I take your picture? I have this image in mind for a personal project and you would be the perfect fit for that. You can say no, of course, but can I show you my moodboard first?”

The second sentence works best for several reasons:

• you don’t sound like an a-hole
• you are making them feel worthy of being photographed
• you imply you have an actual project in mind
• you are giving them the chance to say no

If you don’t have a picture to show what you have in mind, this is where moodboards come in really handy. I can use less words and be more effective. I’m sure you can perfectly understand what I’m going after if I say: “Botticelli’s Spring, Vivaldi, champagne colored tulle, and really soft hand gestures” rather than “Biker gang in a smokey bar, runaway girl, smeared mascara and a missing tooth."

Even a quick sketch can be helpful when you’re trying to explain a concept. Here’s an example of a concept sketch and the resulting image (takes a good leap of imagination, but it still works better than “I want to paint your face.”)



Of course you need to make sure you’re picking the right idea for the right subject. Don’t be the one who sidelights the girl with bad skin using hard light or tries to force the shy girl into a skimpy bikini; if the picture comes out awful it’s not because they’re bad models, it’s just that you’re a jerk.

The same approach is valid even if you are contacting potential subjects on Facebook or on websites for test shootings. Have pictures in your portfolio, approach people with a project that is designed around them and be professional about it.

If you’re working with a creative team everyone needs to receive the same reference material. You’re the director of the whole thing. If it comes together, it’s thanks to the team. If it fails, it’s your fault.


THEY SAID YES: NOW WHAT?

Once you start planning a shooting, the first thing you might want to do is to gather all the data you will need: contact info, location availability, measurements, details that might ruin the photo shoot (e.g. a long haired model who just cut her hair really short, or has a big tattoo you weren’t aware of). You can send a questionnaire to fill out, you can talk to people over the phone.

I’d rather invite them for a coffee. This is great for several reasons:

• you get to see them in person and you can start figuring out their best angles
• you get to see how they move
• you can start building a relationship with them, making them excited about the shooting
• you can answer any question or address any concern they might have and see if some of your suggestions rub them the wrong way

There’s a bunch of questions first time subjects always ask me:


1) what clothes do I bring?

Unless the concept is very specific or I have a stylist involved, I usually ask them to bring something really basic, preferably in plain color. A black top, a white top, something they are very comfortable in, and a bunch of their favourite clothes. I want them to feel beautiful. Everyone has that pair of pants they wear when they want to impress. It might not be what you end up using for “The Picture," but it’s a great starting point.

One piece of advice I always give: do not wear stuff your kids might mock you for, 20 years from now.


2) What about makeup?

Having a makeup artist can be great (it makes people feel pampered and special and really cuts the time you spend post producing skin.) But I often like to work without one and for a first timer I’d rather have no other people on the set.

Usually women can take care of their own makeup, but I still ask them to keep it natural. A nice base and some mascara will be enough not to make them feel “naked” and a bad makeup can really ruin a good photo.

This is also when I reassure them about skin imperfections: I will take care of them. The lights I use will make their skin beautiful and if there is a pimple, I will get rid of it in 2 seconds in Photoshop. I also send them this rollover image.

Why would I do that? Because people will obsess about a single zit and they will try to cover it with their hand, hair or hiding it away from the camera. I want them to completely forget about it when we are working. Photoshopping away an imperfection takes less than 2 seconds, but I cannot photoshop away a scared expression.



3) can I bring someone?

I don’t mind people watching me work now, but it used to make me really nervous. I’ve always been honest about it, and I still prefer not to have people sitting around just watching.

Some may get very self-conscious while others are watching them—even more when it’s loved ones—because they are afraid of being judged as “vain”. My policy now is that if someone is on set, they work. I have them hold reflectors or strobes, I ask them to throw rose petals in the background. Wind machine? Pppft. I’d rather use a big piece of cardboard and someone’s escort.

There are things subjects usually don’t ask, but I tell them anyway:

a) bring your own music.

I like people to bring their i-Pods or burn CDs of music they love. It’s something familiar in a very unfamiliar situation and can be the difference between getting to the shot in 10 minutes or 2 hours. I ask for something specific according to the mood I’m going for: bring music that makes you feel powerful. Bring the kind of music you’d listen to on a rainy day. Bring music that makes you wanna dance. If they have the reference images and I have asked them to pick songs, I can be pretty sure they will be rehearsing in front of a mirror.

One of my best purchases has been the Jambox by Jawbone. It's a small, powerful wireless bluetooth boombox you can take with you on location.

b) What I will do with your photos and what I won’t do with them.

You have to have this conversation before people step into your studio. They need to know they’ll be asked to sign a release and they need to be comfortable with it. I take the time to explain that the release also prevents me from using their pictures for commercial uses without their consent and that I will never publish something they haven’t approved first.

c) I give them my contact informations and collect theirs.

Not only I will need this information for the model release, but I will definitely need to get hold of people if something happens and there’s a change of plan and I need to make sure they can contact me if they have any problem.

My advice for dealing with “models” who don’t want to give you their phone numbers or at least an email? Don’t bother booking shootings with them. The pizza delivery place asks for my phone number when I place an order: it’s part of what they do. No number, no pizza.


THE DAY BEFORE THE SHOOTING:

Make sure the studio (or location) you’ll be shooting in is going to be clean, comfortable, with the right temperature for the clothes your subject is going to wear and a separate place for changing into them. If you don’t have a changing room, a screen or a sheet stretched between two light stands will do just fine. If you’re going to be outdoors, invest in a small popup tent.

Get food and water for the shooting. This might be obvious to some of you, but I assure you most photographer don’t even offer their subjects a glass of tap water.
I usually go for tea and cake, but also have bottled water and fresh fruit available. I’d recommend avoiding stuff that stains teeth (no cranberry juice) and keep disposable toothbrushes and dental floss available: you don’t want to photoshop speck of food out of people’s smiles.

Have a list of shots you want to do and figure out in which order you are going to shoot them: you’ll want to keep the time you spend building sets while your subject is standing there to a minimum. But you also might want to think about makeup and props: go from simple to most messy. If you have several steps of makeup, remember that building up is easier than taking away.



Build the first set and test your lights. Mark the spot in which you want your subject to stand. I usually ask my husband to stand in (after all that’s part of his marital duties), take a bunch of self-portraits or use my pig mask impaled on a light stand, which works just as well. (You don’t need to be fancy: I have used upside-down mops duct taped on chairs for quite a while and it works like a charm.)






I check my gear: batteries must be loaded, cards must be formatted, lens must be clean.

I make a call sheet and send it to everyone involved in the project: location address should be written on it, as well as everyone’s contact info and a list of things they are supposed to bring and a rough schedule of the shooting. It might sound something really silly to do if it’s not a big production, just like you might feel uncomfortable asking your friends to sign a model release because, after all, they’re your friends, right? To answer your question: my mum signed a model release when I took her portrait.

This might make me look a bit of a nutjob, but the night before the shooting I mentally go over the whole process: I lay in bed staring at the ceiling and imagine every step of the shooting; me taking out the camera and choosing a lens, me moving lights, etc. if I get stuck at some point, I know I have a problem to solve, then I figure out a way to do that and I come up with a plan B. This is particularly helpful when you have to transition between several sets. Your model will need to wash her face from glitter before wearing a white dress and you’ll be outdoor: did you get wipes?

It’s not going to be like this each and every time, of course. And experience is going to play a great part in being able to get a good portrait even if my hair is on fire and my subject hates me. But being prepared gives me the luxury to make the most of the time I will have with them. If I get the picture I want in 15 minutes and the model is there for a whole hour, I now have at least 55 minutes to experiment and that is exactly what I want (I’m not great at math, but I’m quite good at pushing time limits).
__________


Coming next: Part 2: During the Shooting


__________

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70 Comments:

Blogger Howard Haby said...

Excellent Post! I'm just embarking on a portrait project, and there is a lot of good information here.Thanks!

August 09, 2012 8:21 AM  
Blogger JWphotography said...

Ok you have this freaky knack of writing posts that are ridiculously topical for the assignments that we have been given at the same time.

Will share this with the class for sure!

August 09, 2012 8:34 AM  
Blogger Glenn Harris said...

Great article to start the day with. looking forward to the parts to follow.

August 09, 2012 8:51 AM  
OpenID elabua said...

Wow this is a great article that needs to be read by every portrait photographer before start on taking pro jobs.

August 09, 2012 9:13 AM  
Blogger MikeScottPhoto said...

If I get the picture I want in 15 minutes and the model is there for a whole hour, I now have at least 55 minutes to experiment and that is exactly what I want

That line alone illustrates how awesome Sara is.. great post. Can't wait for part 2.

August 09, 2012 9:15 AM  
Blogger John said...

Awesome post! Looking forward to the next part!

LOL... you made your mom sign a release? ...and I thought I was overly cautious. ;)

August 09, 2012 9:30 AM  
Blogger DArt said...

What a great post, and it's also little pride that's been written by an italian mind.

I've worked for months in a holiday camp, and I usually shot portrait the rest of the year, so I already feel comfortable with my work, but to put everything on how it works into words is another story.

August 09, 2012 9:33 AM  
Blogger AndrewKrajnik said...

Excellent post! Chock-full of great insights.

I expecially liked:
"So you end up mistaking a photo of a beautiful girl for a beautiful photo."

August 09, 2012 9:37 AM  
Blogger Stuart Mackenzie said...

Awesome post. Can't wait for part 2 :D

August 09, 2012 9:39 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

English is her second language? Could have fooled me!

Regardless, there's so much information here! So much to absorb! I'll have to read this over a couple times. Great post!

August 09, 2012 9:43 AM  
Blogger Glenn Kujansuu said...

Great ideas in this post. I can hardly wait for part 2.

August 09, 2012 10:07 AM  
Blogger Vladimir Yusseem said...

Thank you very much for this great post!

August 09, 2012 10:11 AM  
Blogger hotshoeless said...

Brava! This article is going to take a few readings and some thought to fully sink in but I can already tell that this series is going to be some of the best articles published on Strobist to date.

(No pressure, Mrs. Lando.)

August 09, 2012 10:13 AM  
Blogger JP Manninen said...

An excellent beginning in what looks to be a highly interesting series. This is the stuff that's really challenging about photography (at least for me--lighting takes a lot of figuring out but once that's done and locked down, that's when you really go to work.)

These types of posts are totally Next Level Strobist. There's going to be tons of value in putting a package (for lack of a better word) together: Lighting 101, Lighting 102, Photographing People etc. I can totally see this being continued with architecture, conceptual, sports, fine art and so on. Good job, Sara!

August 09, 2012 10:29 AM  
Blogger ken said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

August 09, 2012 10:30 AM  
Blogger Debbi_in_California said...

in entstnt
OHMYGOSH! Bookmarked and copy pasted! I loved this article!! Cant wait for 2 and 3!
Thanks!

August 09, 2012 10:43 AM  
Blogger Paul Hodgson said...

A magnificent post.

August 09, 2012 10:52 AM  
Blogger Simon said...

Maybe I suggest breaking everything down to smaller parts? It's a rather long read! ;)

But keep her writting on here! Love it!

August 09, 2012 10:57 AM  
Blogger Heather Nilson said...

Holy wow, what a great post. I'm having a great time putting myself through your lighting 101 course. But I'm far more comfortable with technical stuff than with people. This post is saturated with common sense and humor, and will be a great help when I am finally ready to try getting someone besides my dog in front of my lens.

August 09, 2012 11:02 AM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

Thank you all for the nice word!

@ John. Yup. Mum signed a release. It makes sense to me for several reasons:
1. because sometimes I need to be able to quickly send proof of model releases for publications.
So I use Easy Release, send a .pdf to myself and store it in my dropbox folder and I can have access to those documents at all times, even if I'm thousands of miles away from my mum.
2. because always doing this takes care of those people who are friends but not so close... and you know you should cover your ass and ask for a signature, but if you don't usually do that with your friends it would be like admitting you think they are not going to be part of your life in the future. Slippery grounds.
3. it's part of my workflow and doing it all the times makes it a habit, which means I am less likely to forget to make a model sign a release when it counts.

August 09, 2012 11:37 AM  
OpenID fb8f0be4-e241-11e1-bc26-000f20980440 said...

This piece was awesome! I love how she moved through each step, sharing with us the thought process and reasoning behind everything.

I also like that she called us out on being jerks.

August 09, 2012 12:48 PM  
Blogger ken said...

Sara-
Thank you, thank you, thank you! So excited to see more.

David-
I saw you mention this on twitter the other day... and searched... and searched... Thank you for being brave enough to allow other voices on your platform.

August 09, 2012 12:53 PM  
Blogger Lisa Dierolf said...

Two things:

1) This is the post I have been waiting for because I feel like I'm still slightly awkward with my subjects. I'm printing this post.
2) I want that pig mask.

August 09, 2012 12:55 PM  
Blogger Setcamper said...

I liked this line the best, and it seems applicable to a lot of the shots I see around flickr:

"Yet, it is often harder to take a good portrait of a model because they have enough experience to save your pictures when you don’t know what you’re doing. So you end up mistaking a photo of a beautiful girl for a beautiful photo. You learn very little and waste lots of money."

August 09, 2012 1:32 PM  
Blogger Kathryn Gaiennie said...

Oh my... this was absolutely lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I am looking forward to the next post too.

Isn't Strobist just the best site ever?

August 09, 2012 1:56 PM  
Blogger John Redford said...

I am impressed at the authors command of the "people" side of the business

August 09, 2012 2:04 PM  
Blogger lkeeney said...

Great post!

I believe the most important point of the post is to meet with your model prior to the shoot.

I schedule a meeting with every model I shoot about a week prior to the shoot. At the meeting, we exchange viewing each others portfolios, I give the model a business card, a copy of the model release form I use, and driving directions to my studio.

We discuss the shoot, and what the model is going to wear, what I want to get out of the shoot, and what the model wants to get out of the shoot.

Our meeting lasts about 30 minutes, and is held in a coffee shop.

The results of this meeting can not be overstated. When the model comes to the shoot, it is more like meeting an old friend rather than that awkward first time meeting. The model is very relaxed, and it really shows in the images we get.

August 09, 2012 2:12 PM  
Blogger Fonk said...

Great insight. Thanks for the post!

August 09, 2012 2:22 PM  
Blogger Mike Howard said...

Thanks - I can really relate to the puking part.

August 09, 2012 3:07 PM  
Blogger Nicholas Caldwell said...

I loved the "mistake the beautiful girl" line, too. But this line -- "if the picture comes out awful it’s not because they’re bad models, it’s just that you’re a jerk" -- made me laugh out loud.

That pig mask is going to give me nightmares.

Excellent post - thank you, Sara! Can't wait for the next installment.

August 09, 2012 3:46 PM  
Blogger SubliminalSeedoocer said...

Excellent and down to it analysis. I am venturing into being a "people" photographer and many of my concerns were addressed here, I look forward to this article's continuation.

August 09, 2012 3:56 PM  
Blogger SubliminalSeedoocer said...

Down to earth and to the point.

August 09, 2012 3:58 PM  
Blogger Dream Boy Martin Kimeldorf said...

Good stuff, I use these techniques all the time. I began with a list of introductory comments and am willing to share if you like....

I also prefer a meeting first, and a lot of conversation before I ever pick up a camera.

Works for me. Glad you are exploring this topic.

August 09, 2012 4:32 PM  
Blogger Gianluca said...

Wow, this is absolutely great Sara!!!

Love to see Italians are ruling the Strobist... hey David, this is really interesting content, we want more ;)

August 09, 2012 5:36 PM  
Blogger Davant said...

Great information! Thank you so much for sharing.
I'm looking forward to part 2.

August 09, 2012 6:20 PM  
Blogger Michael R pdx said...

You filled a hole and formed a mountain. So complete, so helpful.

August 09, 2012 6:39 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Ng said...

Incredibly useful article! Thank you for this post.

August 09, 2012 6:57 PM  
Blogger jlmiller said...

It's good to see that someone else uses tried and tested techniques in setting up a shoot. I hear from so many models about other photographers not being prepared or "shooting from the hip". The biggest tips are:
pre-shoot meetings with the model to explain what the shoot is about.
Sending a shoot sheetto everyone involved..
Signing a model release

Hope every beginner out there reads this.


These are priceless.

August 09, 2012 8:01 PM  
Blogger OzBob said...

Many thanks once again.

What a great article.

I was pleased with myself that I already do many of these things (like thinking of refreshments for longer shoots). But as always, there are those extras that I never thought of. My daughter is an elite athlete and many of Sara's ideas equate directly to how an athlete needs to think to go the extra mile. Visualising the shoot and having a plan 'B' is fantastic advice.

Looking forward to Part 2.

August 09, 2012 8:16 PM  
Blogger Marvin Dimal said...

Great and timely post! I am scheduled to have my first studio shoot and the insight you shared couldn't have been more helpful! Thanks!

Can't wait for Part 2. :)

August 09, 2012 9:50 PM  
Blogger Lazlo said...

Really good stuff. Some are things you're probably already doing but it's good to have it affirmed in print, especially by someone so talented.

August 09, 2012 10:02 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

Can anyone point me to the type of release one might use when doing personal projects?

I do most of my work for my employer and we have a standard release that deals with use of images for marketing purposes, etc, but I'm about to start some personal portrait work and hadn't really considered what kind of release I should be using.

August 09, 2012 11:29 PM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

@drew: I use a standard model release modified for my purposes.
I suggest googling "model release form" and starting from there.
There are many forms that look like contracts and those are the ones I would use for a commercial job but usually not for a personal project.
For that, I keep it very simple: I need name, address, contact info, date of birth and I ask the model to give me permission to use the photos in print and web form for my portfolio, publications, print sales and exhibitions.
I also grant him/her permission to use the photos to promote his/her image on websites and publication, to use the pictures in his/her portfolio and comp cards and to print copies for personal use (my business model has nothing to to with selling prints to people, yours might be different).
They can't sell the photos without my permission and I won't sell the rights for any commercial use without their permission.

Keep it very simple, short and clear. No fine print. No weird lawyerese language.
I don't ask to be attributed with name and link to website each time they post the picture, I don't forbid people to modify my images. It's something they might do out of common courtesy, but over the years I found out that treating your models like you expect them to rip you off isn't a great starting point.
But again, that's just what works for me.

August 10, 2012 3:35 AM  
Blogger Carassius Productions said...

Got to agree, great post, and I to love my Jambox from Jawbone!

August 10, 2012 3:42 AM  
Blogger dwbell said...

Awesome post.

August 10, 2012 4:17 AM  
Blogger Redskull said...

Great post, I learn a little and it's improve my english to read you :-)
Do you have an example of release to share ?
Ps : like your mask :-)

August 10, 2012 5:37 AM  
Blogger Dave6163 said...

Wonderful post. I liked reading about the personal progress and growth. Looking forward to part due.

August 10, 2012 7:26 AM  
Blogger CBPA-MMBA said...

This is truly an inspiring article. I can't wait for the next part.

August 10, 2012 8:31 AM  
Blogger Michael Murphy said...

awesome post. quite a useful resource.

as for release forms and contracts, i'm all for it. i've kicked myself, shooting a family portrait, without a contract. the family is friend of my wife. i explained the shoot and what they will get in return (number of shots, edits, etc.). the woman soon became a nightmare, ignoring every detail i explained to her. she wanted every single frame and asked that i didn't edit any!!! needless to say, with the 80/20 (pareto principle) in mind, i decided it would be best cut from my client list.

August 10, 2012 9:03 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

You had me at 'invite them for coffee'. Great writeup and priceless information. Thanks.

August 10, 2012 3:09 PM  
Blogger dwayne fortier said...

One word. Awesome!

August 10, 2012 7:24 PM  
Blogger dwayne fortier said...

Awesome post.

August 10, 2012 7:25 PM  
Blogger Ranger 9 said...

There needs to be a "Part 1-1/2": Having recruited your subject, made your plans, discussed same with him/her, followed up with details, etc...

... how do you get him/her actually to show up?

This may sound frivolous, but it's not. How it usually goes for me: I recruit people who know me, know my work, are interested in participating, are excited about being photographed doing something they enjoy. We agree on time, place, and details. I do my preparation, arrange for a location and support, get everything ready, and then:

-- "I can't make it, I've had some friends come in from out of town."

-- "My boss asked me to come in and work."

-- "I wrecked my car and don't have any way to get there."

-- Or the most popular: Nothing. They just don't materialize.

These are not made-up excuses -- I've actually heard all of them within this past month.

Maybe someone who is Italian, charming and articulate doesn't have a problem with "no-shows", but I'll bet a lot of people besides me do!

August 10, 2012 8:23 PM  
Blogger Bob's blog said...

I see what you mean about Italian jargon. Puking..., a-hole..., I guess that I'll have to get an Italian Dictionary.
Bob
http://www.deinfaces.com/

August 10, 2012 8:25 PM  
Blogger Sara Lando said...

Ranger 9: if it happens once or twice, it's just how life goes, sometimes.
If it happens often (4 in a month IS often)... then there is something you are doing or not doing which makes people uneasy.
Or at least uninterested.

When you "follow up with details" what is their reaction? Are they enthusiastic about it or is there something that can be compared to an awkward silence? This might mean you get so focused on the prep-part and your side of the deal that you forget to listen to them and include them in the process.
I have people e-mailing cellphone pictures of their clothes to make sure they are bringing the right stuff, and I react with enthusiasm to match their feeling.
Are you flooding them with e-mails, details they don't need to know and weird requests?
If you are too pushy it can get uncomfortable for them pretty fast. They feel like too much responsibility is on them and well... wasn't this supposed to be fun?
Or are you arranging your shoot too far in the future? Other things will come up and ooops, it's easier to rebook the photographer than mum coming to visit from another state.
Or may you be one of those people who subconsciously uses a language packed with negatives rather than positives (e.g. "I hope tomorrow it's not going to suck", rather than "I hope it's going to be great!")? Or may you be one of those who always hints at how much he has to do and how many important things he'sdoing, etc...

The thing is, taking pictures with you should be fun and special. YOU should make them feel special.
If I book an appointment to have my hair cut really short (not just the usual trim) I want to feel like the person doing it is going to care about me looking great. If I have the feeling he or she is having a bad day, is more interested in talking to someone else, is not in total control... I will chicken out and say "you know? Just trim it a little bit".
I won't think twice about rescheduling a lunch with someone who is taking me out to try to sell me something, but lunch with a friend who is organizing something special on my birthday? I schedule AROUND that.

Instead of packing many shoots in a month, you might want to build your relationship with one subject and after you get what you need, you move to the next one.
When you have enough experience in dealing with people, then you can juggle several at once.
Just a few suggestions...

August 11, 2012 2:58 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Any chance you would ever consider switching to dark type on a white background for your blog? With all due respect there are times to obey the rules and times to break the rules, and white text on black background is not one of those times. Centuries of human experience and untold readership studies will back me up. Just a thought. Love your blog, but find it very difficult to read. Very.

August 11, 2012 6:44 AM  
Blogger marco said...

Ciao Sara,

great progress you've made from the ghetto photography and the pippo shoots uh? :)

Congrats, and great post of course.
/marco

August 11, 2012 9:00 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

@Doug-

Centuries of human experience notwithstanding, wrapping your argument in dogma is probably not the best way to try to convince a preacher's kid to do ANYTHING.

Command P (as in prepping it to print) will format it in a way you might like better. Long-time readers have known about this for a while.

And feel free to format your own blog in any way you choose. ;)

August 11, 2012 10:37 AM  
Blogger myCADsite.com said...

Thank you for this article. Lots of common sense and procedure.

I'm looking forward to Part 2.

August 11, 2012 4:24 PM  
Blogger James said...

Thank you for "writing this stuff down". Exelent post.

August 12, 2012 12:06 AM  
Blogger Josh Larkin said...

I've read this a couple times now and I'm sure I'll keep pulling out nuggets of insight with as I go over it a few more times. Great post for a beginner such as myself. So many things I've never even thought to think through. Thanks Sara and David!

August 12, 2012 6:37 AM  
OpenID kenkyee said...

Thanks! That is indeed what I have been struggling w/ over the past year and a half. Got the lighting down a while back...it's the interpersonal skills and planning that have been the lessons for me now...

August 12, 2012 4:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

That was just pure gold. Thank you, Sara.

That was dense, packed with nuggets of information, that would take me forever to learn on my own. Sometimes the things that are obvious to you are things we have not figured out yet. Some of us breeze right through the technical stuff but stumble with the inter-personal skills and the fine details.

And thanks to David, for recognizing the value of Sara's perspective. Personally, I learned a LOT. When it comes to providing value, strobist is my benchmark. So far, nobody else comes close.

I think "Michael R pdx" said the same thing (above), only more concise.

August 13, 2012 2:02 AM  
Blogger Rico Domonkos said...

Great reading, as always! One can learn a lot from it. If you don't have it yet, make sure to have a look on Peter Hurley's The Art Behind The Head Shot DVD. A whole different aspect to portrait photography, far from f-stops, shutter speeds. Cheers, keep up this fantastic good work.

August 13, 2012 4:10 AM  
Blogger deedee_photog said...

This and part 2 are two of the best.posts.ever on this blog! Please keep Sara as a regular contributor! Great info and sense of humor! Love her!

August 13, 2012 2:29 PM  
Blogger Agro Rachmatullah said...

Greetings! I'm a photographer based in Japan and do lots of portrait/model photography which you can see at:
http://www.facebook.com/meibi.shashin

There are many parts that I still do differently from you. For example, I tell my models that I'll publish the works but I still don't use signed contracts. Also, rather than having a specific shot in mind, I pick a new location and then explore it together with the model which is always a friend. I think the adventure part is very fun.

It has been a wonderful reading, looking forward for the next part!

August 15, 2012 5:08 AM  
Blogger roberto ricca said...

Brava Sara! Great post, useful and full of great sense of humour

August 24, 2012 11:00 AM  
Blogger ariful islam said...

its really one of the great post. thanks for sharing.

November 12, 2012 11:05 AM  
Blogger shadowlight said...

This is a very helpfull shares thanks so much.

December 29, 2012 1:36 AM  
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April 16, 2013 4:28 AM  

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