Sunday, February 27th, I had the pleasure of shooting with six models, a fashion designer, and a fellow photographer—to a killer shoot soundtrack—at Studio on Market in Wilmington, Delaware.
It was my largest self-organized photoshoot to date—and, like my other shoots, this was a TFCD shoot. Everyone pulled together to make it a success. Thanks to everyone that contributed, as without your work, the shoot wouldn’t have been possible.
This shoot started as a request from a workshop attendee, photographer Brian Bailey, who wanted to know significantly more about how to handle lighting. Brian is largely shooting sporting events but had an interest in more technical studio work. (His Website is GetShotByBrian.com.) His request couldn’t be accommodated in a workshop format—the hands-on component of working with lights to get it “just right” was more than that format allows. So I said: “What do you think about splitting the cost of studio space?” He agreed, and then I started to pull everything together.
First, I secured space. Locking in the location first was critical—without a firm location, sending invitations to models would have been impossible. The team at the clean, new Studio On Market, in Wilmington, Delaware, were very helpful and had Sunday, February 27th available. (I’d recommend them.) I booked with them after inspecting the space, which was perfect for the size and nature of the shoot.
Next, I started securing models. I did this by posting a Casting Call on ModelMayhem and then following up with models local to the Wilmington area to see if they had interest. Follow-ups and questions were answered in a timely manner and models were booked.
Then, one week before the shoot, it became apparent that I’d have between 5 and 8 models attending.
After conversation, Wilmington fashion designer and artist T.Saph stepped up to support the event with her fashion line and designs.
As the shoot had developed momentum, I also reached out to Josh Harnois. He is a classically trained musician, producer and DJ currently residing in Washington, D.C. (I shot Josh for his personal marketing material the year before.) I needed a soundtrack for the shoot and I wanted him to do it because he understood all aspects of what was needed: scoring music for film, modeling, appropriate attitude, photoshooting, and the attendee demographic. Of course, Josh nailed the work.
Going into a shoot this large would have been a disaster without planning and goals. Based on the studio space, training I’d need to do with Brian on the lighting, and individual model needs, I decided to focus on beauty/commercial shooting.
Here were the prep items:
- I needed to settle on a range of looks, based on a “commonly accepted” beauty/fashion look. I consulted with a colleague of mine, graphic designer J.C. I posed the question: “In your opinion, what are the top three beauty/fashion magazines read by the 18 to 24 female demographic?” She identified Cosmopoliton, Glamour, and Elle, in that order.
- I purchased a copy of each magazine. Then, I carefully removed any page from each magazine that was shot in-studio. I explicitly did not censor anything out based on my taste. If it was shot in-studio, I pulled the page. This was important so that a full range of looks could be gathered for analysis.
- A stack of loose pages was useless, so I created a modeling analysis book, where I pasted in every page (and double-page spread) that was relevant, leaving a facing page for notes.
- I analyzed each page, determining lighting setups (shadows, level of fill, modeling light, soft/hard, etc.), framing, apparent focal length, f-stop (for DOF), text placement, and intended purpose of the advertisement or photo. For the modeling work, I got a feel for expression, hand placement, dynamic vs. static body positioning, and overall “feel” from each piece. I also identified where the Photoshop work was—to my disappointment, a significant amount of the Photoshop work in ads was readily apparent due to hasty execution. (If you’re going to do it, follow through, please. I shouldn’t see it.) IMO, Elle had the best straight-photography work.
- I circled back around with J.C. and had her take a look at the modeling analysis book. Based on watching her examine the book and verbally confirming conclusions, I got two takeaways: (A) Order of viewing a page’s content is: Clothing, Makeup/Hair, then Model. If close up, Makeup/Hair, then Model. If clothing/makeup/hair are not strong or not of interest, it’s all about the Model. (B) If the ad is about clothing, the clothing must “wear” the model. Or, if the ad is about makeup, the makeup must “wear” the model. The lighting, framing, pose, and facial expression accentuate acceptance of both A and B.
- Working with some past photography as a basis, I laid out mock magazine spreads, including text placement, to better understand the underlying composition and grid structure that was in use. Understanding more about that would help me frame and get what I needed day of shoot.
- I tested lighting setups and positioning to ensure I could get what I needed on set, prior to shooting. I determined that a two-umbrella setup, with a small softbox, would get me where I would need to go.
- Working through the mental geometry of getting models into the setups—based on planning to exploit the studio’s strengths—was the most difficult part. How would I manage eight people in the studio space and lighting setups during the day of shooting? To guarantee I could “get” it? I worked out three or four different workflows, building in failure points, and geared my goals appropriately.
Based on pre-planning, the shooting goals were aggressive:
- Provide a professional tone and good working environment.
- Each model had to take away at least 5 shots from at least two shooting sets that were technically on par with work in Cosmopolitan, Glamour, or Elle from a technical/lighting/framing perspective.
- Each model had to be given time to work and get comfortable so we could “get” it.
- Each model had to work with at least one other model in a shot—a “pair” shot.
- Each model had to have a a range of closeups, two-thirds, and full-body shots.
- Each model would model in at least two outfits.
- Each model would model in at least one outfit provided by T.Saph.
- No model could “sit” idly and un-utilized for any length of time.
- Models would work together—more-experienced models would be encouraged to mentor and work with less-experienced models, providing experience for both of them.
- Lighting would be continually adjusted to capture the framing, then mood, then accentuate the pose and clothing.
- Brian Bailey (photographer) would be briefed on lighting, posing, and other shoot aspects throughout and continuously.
- T.Saph (fashion designer) would be given the opportunity to match her clothing line to the models as she saw fit—to pick up appropriate and useful looks for her needs.
- Keep the shoot to no more than four hours in length—one hour of test shots and two-and-a-half hours of work, once everyone was settled in.
- Not piss anybody off. More important, send everyone home satisfied with the experience and excellent photography.
- Strictly adhere to my 10 Guidelines for Shooting.
Claire Franklin (MM#1403466)
Amanda Whelan (MM#1752316)
Minuette Kalia (MM#1958191)
Lead Photographer – Will Stotler (MM#1338163)
Associate Photographer – Brian Bailey (GetShotByBrian.com)
Clothing Designer – T.Saph (MM#1892259)
Shoot Soundtrack Designer – Joshua Harnois (MM#1500956)
Studio on Market – 219 Market Street, Wilmington, DE 19801
I taught a Photography Workshop on Sunday, November 14, 2010, at Studio 5 for the Tri-State Photography & Arts Meetup group. It was a privilege to work with everyone and I really appreciate that people demonstrated great professionalism and a willingness to learn throughout the event. Special thanks to Albert Heefner, who organized the meetup, provided studio space, and was a great host/troubleshooter throughout.
There were six photographers, three models, and one MUA. Photographers were presented with dedicated coursework. Models were encouraged to work on their craft via examples, during downtime. The MUA just knew what to do when presented with the sets (awesome). In the last 60% of the course both groups were brought together to perform as a team. Photography from the workshop is pending the photographers working through their photos and posting.
Workshop Content – 9/9 – “Very Satisfied”
Instructor Performance – 9/9 – “Very Satisfied”
One-on-One Attention (Photographers) – 5/6 – “Very Satisfied” and 1/6 “Satisfied”
One-on-One Attention (Models) – 1/3 – “Very Satisfied” and 2/3 – “Satisfied”
Workshop Fee – 3/6 – “Inexpensive” and 3/6 – “Appropriate”
“Will you be able to immediately apply techniques you learned today?” – 9/9 -“Yes”
“Would you like to see a continuation of this class offered?” – 9/9 – “Yes”
Overall Workshop Rating – 8/9 “5 Stars” and 1/9 “4 Stars”
“Had a blast! Can’t wait to do it again!” DannieO, Model
“[For future meetups] Stress level of class (i.e, no knowledge, basic, etc.) so not [such] a wide range of experience or [photographers] at least know the basics [before attending].” Jeff Hart, Photographer
“Awesome” Anonymous Photographer
“Very useful!!!” Anonymous Photographer
“Would like to attend a second class.” Theresa Rivers, Photographer
“Thanks Will!!” Kenny K., Photographer
“The class was a great review of basics and gave me an outlook on techniques and methods.” Anonymous Photographer
(1) More time needs to be blocked out for group shooting. We were short by one hour (with only three-and-a-half hours of dedicated shooting) because the presentation of information went fifty minutes longer than I expected and we started fifteen minutes later than expected. Needs to start earlier, cover all learning material, break for lunch, then shoot through the entire afternoon.
(2) Additional pre-planning needs to be invested into the sets. The good news here is that the time investment on my end in the course materials is complete, with perhaps a tad of tweaking. I can focus more energy and attention on this next time to improve the experience and make it less guided ad hoc.
(3) The models were not all “very satisfied” with the level of interaction and instruction. I likely need to work more with the models during the shooting phase to guide and assist them while working with the photographers.
(4) Don’t expect to shoot, Will. You will be way too busy. 😉
This page holds downloads for people who might want to have a digital copy of the instructional materials for their later use.
First, there is the Keynote presentation. It isn’t really prepared for use by third-parties as the whole workshop has a strong hands-on component, but it’s here in PDF format.
In addition to a Keynote presentation, I prepared two handouts to support the workshop.
The first handout is a simple, foldable, EV/ISO vs. Aperture/Speed chart. Workshop participants were given these sheets and then folded them down to reveal the aperture/speed combos they could use when setting their cameras manually before shooting.
The second handout shows all the steps of the High-Speed Post-Processing Workflow that I blogged about earlier.
- Download Photography Workshop Presentation
- Download Exposure Values (EV) Handout
- Download Three-Pass Workflow Handout
Other course presenters are welcome to use these materials, provided they credit me and this blog as the source.
Next weekend, I’m teaching a photography workshop, so I’m thinking quite a bit about training and communication concerns. (Obsessing, actually.) From the logistics through to the message. My goal is to really communicate about photography’s “technical” side while providing a guided environment and structure in which people can successfully use what they’ve learned.
Terence McKenna (writer, ethnobotanist, and psychonaut) said:
“If the truth can be told so as to be understood it will be believed.”
I’m thinking about McKenna’s statement quite a bit because it clearly puts the responsibility and burden of communication on the trainer/storyteller. What I take away from his statement is: “If they didn’t ‘get’ it, you didn’t teach well.” With a caveat or two: The audience must be able to cognitively grasp the concepts—this is assuming the concepts have been reduced to simple, straightforward pieces of information. Additionally, the audience must want to ‘get’ the concepts—so, part of the work is to persuade people about the material’s worth.
Using the word “Truth” to describe training? A bit strong for this context. “Truth” is in practice a localized phenomena and “Truth” (unfortunately) comes burdened with moral connotations. It just doesn’t make sense here.
A little surgery nips and tucks the phrase so it works and reflects my point of view:
“If the facts can be told so as to be understood, they will be believed.”
In the end, one-on-one training is about persuasion. I think that a good trainer is able to persuade about a given topic, while being responsible for understanding and using the facts. I also believe that good training results in people being able to immediately do something with what they’ve just learned—while the new learning becomes self-perpetuating though future use. If it can’t be used right now and also going forward, what’s the point?
Keeping all that in mind, I’m refining my training plan to ensure I’m on target:
- Facts should be communicated clearly and illustrated when possible.
- Facts should be separated from matters of taste and style.
- Facts should be recognized by a learner as useful and useable.
To improve retention, I’m approaching the session with these deliverables:
- Presentation – visual and aural
- Handouts – visual and tactile
- DIY – tactile, visual, and aural
To keep personal accountability, I’m hitting each of these areas:
- Full manual camera operation
- Ability to light a scene
- Ability to recognize light and leverage manual camera operation to shoot it
- Fast and accurate operation of RAW developing software
To ensure some level of immediate success:
- Work with attendees to shoot well-lit, “commercial look” sets
- Process photos on-the-spot to check work and demonstrate results
What I want attendees to take away:
- Real value from the workshop
- Improved future shooting results through application of process/skills
Well, we’ll see how it goes. I have high expectations for what I can communicate effectively. But I’m up for it.
To shift gears, I’d like to take a moment and give credit where credit is due. Photographer and organizer Albert Heefner made this training session possible by listening to what I had to say about training, recognizing that my interests aligned with his interests for adding value to his Meetup group, and then facilitating the session. For this event he offered the studio space, published details I provided, engaged in the fun-fest that is “herding the cats” (getting attendees, models, and the MUA to come), and will be “production-managing” the actual event. This has let me focus on content and approach instead of having to focus on organizing and physical logistics. So, thanks for the work, Albert.