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


Brand new to Strobist? Start here | Or jump right to Lighting 101
Connect w/Strobist readers via: Words | Photos

Comments are closed. Question? Hit me on Twitter: @Strobist


Anonymous Jeff said...

Just discovered your lighting blog today, thanks to photoshopTV! You have tons of good ideas here. I'll be checking this often.

January 18, 2007 10:06 PM  
Blogger dan'ism said...

Thanks for the advice Dave!

I have been trying to shoot more detail ever since I saw you make those notes pop off the score sheet! :)

January 18, 2007 10:41 PM  
Blogger Oliver said...

thank you SO MUCH for posting this. As the designer (and bout fifty other jobs) for the newspaper I work at,the need for detail shots, and their ability to make or break a good design is a weekly challenge for me. I'm actually in the middle of writing a set of notes for our photographers and our reporters, who usually send me about fifty shots of people standing and smiling and zero detail shots.
Also, since this is my first time posting...love this site, dangit.

January 18, 2007 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Edo said...

I love the freez motion idea.

January 19, 2007 12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One question, I am starting out in dSLR with D70s ...I'm strained financially and I was only able to get hold of SB-10 for my flash. Is it too outdated to play around with this sort of flash? Should I get started with SB600 instead?

January 19, 2007 12:58 AM  
Anonymous John Dohrn said...

Dave, great advise for all of us (especially those who would love to become PJ's - like me). Also, anonymous, i recommend sb600s whole heartedly. Dave Hobby would say an sb-24 or sb-28, but i personally like the ability to use ttl when needed.

January 19, 2007 2:22 PM  
Anonymous Reza Marvashti said...

As a picture editor, I can not preach this enough. Thanks for showing the ideas as concrete! You are right..... egos sure do get in the way of a good design sometimes!

January 19, 2007 4:45 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

Right on target for me.... my assignment today was to shoot a small outdoor petrified wood park and the gift shop. I found some great detail shots inside the gift shop that will make my editor very very happy.

January 19, 2007 6:15 PM  
Anonymous Justin said...

Shooting video we call them "inserts." I love inserts, a lot of the time they're the most interesting visually.

March 14, 2007 11:04 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home