Photographers often refer to ‘shoots, photo shoots and shots’, terms that probably have come about because we tend to take aim at our subjects, thankfully not with a Kalashnikov, but simply our SLRs.
Years ago, when we all shot film, each time we pressed the shutter release, it cost us money. Therefore, we tended to think a little more about the process of taking the shot and you could say we were ‘snipers’. These days, with most people shooting digitally, it doesn’t cost anything to fill up a CF card, (except quite a bit of time processing the images), and I do see quite a few ‘machine gunners’ on my travels.
I attended a wedding this year as a guest, and was interested to watch a young female photographer who had been commissioned to take the official wedding photographs. Although, most people know me as a commercial photographer, I once ran my own wedding business, which I ran separately from the commercial studio. These days, it’s great to go to weddings as a guest and watch the young photographers and the different styles they adopt. Returning to my female photographer, I was interested to see that she appeared to be a ‘machine gunner’, simply firing off as many shots in the direction of the bride and groom, in the hope that one of them might find their target. Never mind, if ‘Aunt Flo’ got in the way, during this barrage of digital bullets, she would simply be ‘trashed’ at edit!
So intense was the shooting, that it reminded me of the last war in Libya, when everyone seemed to be pointing their AK47 around a building and then ‘spray and prey’ for a hit.
Photographers from the school of ‘machine gunning’ will often tell you that they are ‘lifestyle’ photographers and this is the modern style that the bride is looking for. While I do agree that the more relaxed approach is certainly better than lots of stiff group shots, I still feel it’s important to slow everything down and carefully ‘take aim’, or as we always say, ‘see the picture before you think about pressing the shutter’.
Back to the world of commercial photography, which I have known for the past 30 years, I was recently asked to take nine photographs for a well-known high street builders’ merchant’s annual report and accounts. Having done the job for a number of years, I met the client and the designer to plan this year’s shoot. Instead of supplying them with a number of alternative images from each branch, this year I would just deliver nine portrait shape photographs. This format would fit the right hand page of the accounts. I was given a list of the nine branches, located around the south of England and was left to make my own plans.
It’s rare these days for a client to trust a photographer to take just one photograph per day. Most would feel cheated if they didn’t receive a disc full of images from a day’s shoot, especially at the rate we photographers charge, but my client recognised that they wanted ‘quality, not quantity,’ something I always find refreshing.
I mentioned earlier that I come from a film background, having converted to digital back in 1996. One of the benefits of taking photographs on film was the lovely ground glass screen that could be found on the back of a large format technical camera, usually in 5 × 4 inches or 10 × 8 inches. Although the image was displayed upside down, the ground glass was a wonderful place to compose a photograph, and we would often use it to overlay a trace of the proposed image as we composed the photograph in the studio. This type of camera is rarely used these, but you only have to see photographs taken on plate cameras to appreciate the superb quality. I believe there is still more detail in a 10 × 8 negative than any digital frame.
Which brings me to the point of this article: the iPad. My previous article detailed my appreciation of a nice little app called Shuttersnitch and how my clients love to walk about with the iPad during a shoot, watching the images appear on the screen. I decided to take my iPad along for my Annual Report & Accounts (AR&A) shoot and I came up with a new digital workflow that I thought I would share with you.
Walking into a builders’ merchant armed with a case of expensive cameras, doesn’t always go down well with a busy branch manager. They have a job to do, and any interruption of their daily routine is often seen as a nuisance, and certainly an inconvenience. It’s therefore really important to be polite and take the time to win over their trust, usually by carefully explaining exactly what you would like to achieve during the day. When discussing AR&A with the staff, I often make reference to the fact that I have been sent by head office and the Chairman will see the photos, hence the importance of a good image! This often works wonders and suddenly our sullen branch manager is full of smiles and helpfulness!
Enter the iPad. Everyone knows how to operate an iPad – pinch, swipe, scroll – these are now all come naturally to anyone handling a tablet device of any kind. Having a full day to take a single photograph provided me with the time to develop (pardon the pun) a new way of working. So here it is:
- Spend an hour walking around observing the working environment, the lighting (or lack of it). Stoop, climb, reach – look for different angles.
- Bring out the iPad and start taking images of your favourite angles. Use the zoom facility to replicate lenses with different focal lengths. Remember, we are not looking for a quality image from the iPad, just a representation.
- Having found the best angle, use a drawing app on the iPad to show how you would improve the final image.
- Perhaps, something needs moving or adding? Do you need people to stand in a particular place? – Draw it. By the way, I use Penultimate but there are loads of alternatives.
Having prepared the combined drawing and iPad image, we now return to our new helpful manager and enlist his/her help. Carefully, explain that you have taken the time to find the best possible angle of their branch and you now need their help to take the perfect photograph to accompany he AR&A. By asking for their help and providing them with the iPad, they now feel fully engaged with your shoot and anxious to direct staff to help prepare the area for photography.
Love it or hate it, Health & Safety rules will always apply to a commercial shoot that involves staff, so I always make a point of ensuring H&S rules are applied and everyone is wearing the correct Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). You can take the the perfect photograph, but if head office spot a photograph that does not comply with the company’s H&S rules, it will be rejected. Again, by delegating this job to the manager, you can leave them to ensure everything is in order, while you concentrate on the photography.
I will also have drawn on the screen to show areas that need things adding or removing. Perhaps, a stack of bricks is needed in the foreground, or a machine needs to be placed in the background with an operator. Again, by showing this clearly on the iPad screen and handing it to the manager, they will happily carry on with this work while you act as director.
We have seen the photograph in our ‘mind’s eye’, captured a low-resolution version on the iPad, so it’s really important that we now direct all the components into position to make the perfect picture.
I spent about six weeks travelling around the country using my new approach to this year’s AR&A photos and I do feel that by adopting this system, we achieved a really good set of photographs that fit my original brief. Due to prior commitments, the agency’s art director was not able to attend this year’s shoot, so I took time to explain my new method of working with the iPad. He was so impressed, that he asked me to provide all the iPad reference images together with the final photographs, in order that he could use them as part of his presentation to the client … which reminds me of my final piece of advice:
"Always make the art director look good and they will come back and use your services again."