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On Assignment: Always Look for a Detail

I have written before about finding (and lighting) details in the Lighting 101 section before, and it bears repeating.

A decent detail shot can elevate a decent shoot into a very good one. Or raise a D+ shoot up to a B- one. It can also give the designer the ability to turn a boring lede picture into a nice, graphic package.

You freelancers would do especially well to follow this line of thought. Many times, how many photos get used from your shoot has a direct effect on your check. So you want the designer to use as many photos as possible.

And designers love details.

Which begs the question of "Why in the Sam Hill would you ever not give them a detail to use?"

Lots of reasons. Sloppiness. Forgetfulness. Cockiness (all my other stuff is better!)

Well, consider this. In a typical environmental portrait, you can turn in three killer shots of a guy (or gal) but all three of those shots are pretty much competing with each other.

But a detail just begs to be slipped into the type under a main photo. Designers do it so often, you'd think they have a "detail function key" in their layout program. It spices up a page, and adds balance to the main photo.

But the better designers will frequently grab a well-done detail shot and blow it up as the main art. That kills that one-environmental-portrait-after-another rut that so many publications fall into.

So the idea is to give them a good detail on each assignment. Good news is, they are not that complex to do. You can usually bang one out in five extra minutes.

And on a typical magazine or corporate shoot, you might get $50 or $100 extra (each) for those extra photos which are used. You do the math as far as the time spent and the money earned.

But it just gets better. Because if you consistently turn in graphic details in addition to your main shots, your photos will be used more often as packages, Which means you get better overall play. Which means you get called back for more assignments.

In Lighting 101, we talked about how to make a two-dimensional item into a nice detail. Here, I am using a transparent object as an example.

The assignment was to shoot the administrator of an organization that helps to plan our battle against food-borne illnesses. He is a scientist, but his role in this fight is mostly big-picture now.

I only had him for a few minutes, and made what is admittedly a series of mundane pictures of him in a lab. This photo is typical of the lot. Blech. Not terrible, but not very much going for it, either.

So, before I left I made a detail shot of the e. coli itself, which is seen at the top of this post. It was a graphic image of what was really at the center of the story, if you think about it.

The lighting for this really could not be simpler. Rather than light the test tubes (which might be a little complex and time-consuming) I just lit the wall behind them.

The fall-off was controlled by how tightly I set the beam spread on the flash. I wanted the edges to seal themselves, so I set the flash at 85mm beam spread. Easy-greasy. Just use manual mode for repeatability and dial in your best exposure on the aperture.

Now, if you are the designer, suddenly you have options. You can just use the mediocre portrait. Or you can use it and then stick in the detail as, well, a detail.

Or you can use the "detail" as main art and shrink the guy. That's what I would have done.

That third choice is the only one that could have actually yielded a good-looking page if this story had to carry a section front, IMO. Alas, the story got bumped from metro front main art to A-1 below the fold.

Which is where photos go to die a tiny, cropped death. But the detail made decent jump art for the inside of the section, so it still helped.

You cannot always find a decent detail shot. But you can always spend five minutes looking for one.

It can be the difference between "good" and "great." Or, it can be the difference between "sucks canal water," and "doesn't."

Next: Book Club Pt. 1


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