Wednesday, September 21, 2011

5 Strategies For Shooting In Less Than Beautiful Locations?

Good Morning Everybody,

Social Media WebcastJust a quick reminder – we still have a few seats left for tomorrow’s webcast, Social Media Marketing – Do It Or Die!”  A.J. Wood is a true master on the topic.  He presented earlier this summer at our PhotoPro Summer School and was the hit of the party. 

And now with Google + making such a big impact on the marketplace in just the last few months, it’s an ever changing playing field. Whether you’re a seasoned expert in social media or struggling to figure it out like so many others, this webcast is not to be missed.  

I have to admit I was a bit frazzled yesterday and really had no idea what was going to write about today. But then I decided to go back to my DPT suggestion box and see what some of our Digital ProTalk readers have been requesting. I only had to review a couple of the suggestions when I found the perfect topic for today's post.

For the last eight Wednesdays [link] I've been blogging about how you always need to come back with the photographs regardless of bad weather, lousy lighting, or any other excuse one might come up with. You know, as professionals it's our job to make things happen and come back with the photograph.

That brings me to today's post. It was a simple question.

What's Your Strategy For Shooting In Less Than Beautiful Locations?

If you've been following my blog for the last week or so you know that I've been working in some really beautiful locations. That included the beautiful temple I photographed in last week and also the beautiful reception venue this past Saturday. Not all of us are lucky to be working in some of these gorgeous locations – heck, I'm not always that lucky either.

Earlier this year I was teaching a class at Texas School in Dallas, Texas. I always request a church location so I can show the students how I photograph the formal bridal portraits in a typical wedding situation. Now let me say I've have never been surprised when I walked into a church before. That is until this year - 2011! This seemed to be the year for disastrous locations. I'm sitting here smiling because this year I encountered near disasters on three separate occasions!

I remember walking into the first church in Dallas, Texas thinking to myself, “How in the world am I going to pull off any descent/cool/dramatic/even acceptable photographs in this location?” The next day at the second church location actually turned out to be even a worst situation. And then just a week ago with Photoshop World it happened again when 45 photographers and I walked into the chapel of the Church of the Redeemer in Las Vegas and found that it only seated 25 people. YIKES!

Bad Location 8I was quite surprised but, put yourself in my shoes, in all three instances people paid money to see me produce images in a church location, in fact, most of the time they want to see if I can pull it off in a really less-than-perfect situation. It’s the same thing with your clients too – they paid you to do your job regardless of the challenge involved.

Now I have to admit, that when you're the instructor, “life” sure is easier when you walk into a beautiful location – you think, “Wow, no problem.”  But, the fact of the matter is you still have to come back with the photograph regardless of the location – beautiful or not.

So how do I handle situations when I'm faced with shooting in less than beautiful locations? The answer is quite easy - get creative. Let me explain how I handled these three situations.

1 – The Little Church In Dallas:

I knew when I walked in the back door I was faced with a very challenging situation. The church was very small and the center aisle was not very long. Whenever I'm in these kinds of situations the absolute first thing I make myself do is relax! I have to admit that I also enjoy the challenge too, but relaxing is of the utmost importance whenever you need to think through a problem. I looked around at this location and looked for the good points. The architecture seem quite interesting with the interior’s round design and soaring ceiling supports.

After a minute or two the solution seemed obvious. How do you make a small space appear large? You grab the widest angle optic you have in your gear bag, and that's exactly what I did. When I put the wide-angle lens on my camera look through the viewfinder I was seeing a brand new location. And, this location looked spectacular!

I had solved the problem, it was time to go to work. Take a look at the images accompanying this post.  In figure 1, you can see the normal perspective most of us saw as we got our first glance at the interior of this church.

Bad Location 0

In figure 2 you see the interior of the church as recorded with my wide-angle lens.

Bad Location 4

The wide-angle lens made an enormous difference to the perspective in which I can now shoot.

Check out the next two photographs and you will obtain a better understanding and see what I'm talking about.

Bad Locations 1

I was thrilled with the results. You can catch the entire post I did about my shoot in this location right here.

Bad Locations 2

2 – From Bad To Worse:

The next day we were scheduled to shoot at yet another church and I was sure that after are first day’s experience the second church was going to be a far better – NOT!  What can I say another big surprise! The second church wasn't even as good as the first church we visited the day before. It was going to be even a more challenging location.

Another solution I’ll turn to when working in less than beautiful locations is to scout the surrounding areas outdoors to see if I can put together some beautiful images in the natural surrounds. Take a look at figure 5. This shows the overall view of the location in which I had to work – nothing or at least not much going on.

Bad Location 3

Once again, what you need to do is get relaxed, smile, and accept the challenge. I knew I could “cheat” my way to a decent photograph even in this very plain location. One of my strategies under these circumstances is to shoot low with the sky and clouds behind the bride and simply crop the subject around the knees. This accomplishes a couple of things for me. First, it gives me a nice background for the photograph and I can control the density of that background with my flash and my exposure settings.

I decided to use the fastest shutter speed I could use and the smallest aperture I could get away with using my 150 w.s. Quantum flash. That would really give me a very dramatic sky with it underexposed a stop or two.

If I cropped the bride for a full-length photograph, I would've picked up the parking lot in the background. That really wasn't an option unless I really wanted to be facing a lot of Photoshop work later.

Bad Locations 9

I chose instead to crop my beautiful subject at about the knees and, with me literally lying on the ground I was able to crop out the cars and the building in the background quite effectively. What we end up with in Figure 6 is a really exciting photograph of my bride in our less than pleasing outdoor location.

3 – Shooting In The Las Vegas Chapel:

Although I just blogged about this in depth last week [link], let me  refer to it one more time. Once again, as in the first situation, I was faced with very, very tight quarters. My preferred manner of solving the problem is nearly always the use of a wide-angle lens. In this situation I was shooting my Canon 5D Mark II and I chose the Sigma 12–24mm lens at it’s widest setting to really open up the cramped space of this very small, little chapel. You can see in the photograph below and the article I linked to above that we really captured some nice images in these extremely cramped surrounds.

Bad Locations 6

I could go on at length solving problem after problem but let me  leave you with my five favorite problem-solving strategies when I'm shooting in less than beautiful locations.

5 Problem Solving Shooting Strategies You Can Use

1.  Make a small space larger with a wide-angle lens.

2.  Use long focal lengths at wide apertures.

When working outdoors in a less than satisfactory location use the longest focal length you can add to a wide aperture, at least F4. That will put the background well out of focus. The secret, by the way, is to keep the subject well in front of whatever you want to throw out of focus.

3. Use the sky as your background.

When shooting outdoors with not much happening in the background, I will many times get my camera as close to the ground as possible shooting up on the subject with the sky and clouds in the background. I then use my off-camera flash to control the density and dramatic affect of the sky as in the example above.

4.  Overexpose the background like crazy.

I can remember photographing a beautiful wedding in downtown Cincinnati a few years ago. The bride was amazing, the lighting was gorgeous on her face, but the background was a street in downtown Cincinnati with cars, parking meters, poles and electrical wires.

Bad Locations 11

By purposely overexposing a background while still maintaining detail in the bride's facial features I was able to create beautiful high key images of the bride. This image eventually became one of her favorite images in her wedding album.

5.  Make Photoshop Your Friend.

You might be able to guess what I'm going to say here. If you find yourself working in the less than beautiful location then don't forget the Photoshop option. That's right, after shooting digital for nearly 12 years I've learned that many times software can be my friend. It opens up lots of problem-solving possibilities when faced with less than ideal locations.

A perfect example happened a few years ago when I was shooting another Bat Mitzvah. The parents wanted me to create a beautiful sign up board of their daughter for the weekend event. It had been pouring down rain for a number of days, everything was gray and very soggy wet at the location we were shooting. Everyone was very disappointed. There was simply no way I could capture an outdoor portrait of our young 13-year-old in the natural surrounds. I ended up photographing her against a beige colored wall which I blasted white with my flash. I knew software was going to be the solution.

After the shoot at the Temple I came home that rainy afternoon and walked around our home looking for a pleasing green foliage background. I eventually found the background I was looking for, I attached my 70-200mm IS lens on my camera, threw the background well out of focus with a large aperture, and took a couple photographs.

Bad Locations 10

These photographs would be used as the background for the portrait I had taken of my young subject just hours before. A little Photoshop saved the day, produced a nice, pleasing but more importantly an image to surprise and negate any earlier disappointment from my clients.

So there you have it. All is not lost when you're faced with shooting in the less than beautiful locations. Just try a couple of the suggestions outlined above and I think you'll see most your problems evaporate. I said at the beginning of this post – the secret to success is to stay calm and relaxed. The secret is to know that the challenge is fun. The secret is to know that you're going to pull it off regardless. With a positive assumptive attitude, I promise, you’ll find a solution to your next difficult shooting situation. Welcome the challenges and the solutions will easily follow.
Hey gang, that's it for me today. I hope you enjoy the images and the solutions in today's post and I’ll see you again tomorrow for another episode of Business Day Thursday.

I’ve got clients coming shortly so I’ve got to run.

Adios, David

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, David, for this very comprehensive post. I was the one asking this question, but I missed your post when it first ran. I appreciate the time and thought you devoted to addressing my question.