On Assignment: Theresa Daytner, Pt. 1

For a long time, business portraits have been my bread and butter. Specifically, run-and-gun, no-assistant, modest-amount-of-gear biz portraits.

The editorial clients I have do not have a ton of budget. Thus, my goal is to work efficiently and still produce something that works well for the publication.

A good recent example was an assignment to photograph Theresa Daytner, a local entrepreneur who is a national rising star in the field of construction. It's a typical enough job to where I thought it would make a good example for a 360-degree look at the process.

This was shot for Maryland Entrepreneur Quarterly, which is pretty consistent about the way that it uses feature photos -- one out, one in. The "outside," is really what they call an inside cover, sort of a section front. It's very vertical, and will have a headline and some copy embedded in the photo.

Twenty years ago I would have bitched and moaned about that last part. But at 46, You finally realize that's just the way they are gonna do it, and my job is to help facilitate that flawed process.

So I generally hand in a vertical photo which has wiggle room on the side and top, leaving the designer at least some amount of flexibility in the otherwise rigid process. Which should explain the crop on the photo above.

First Things First

After getting the time and place for the shoot, the first thing I do is to head is to Google Maps. This is not just to pull driving directions (although I do that, too) but more important to scout for outdoor locations nearby. Google Street View is fantastic for that -- just don't forget to consider time of day and allow for where the sun will be during your shoot.

And Street View told me something very good to know -- that I would me shooting inside this time. Nothing much to work outdoors with in late morning light at this location. Better to know in advance, at least.

I plan to arrive a little early, to scout inside and set up lights.

Before the Shoot

Arriving at a nondescript (on the inside, at least) office building, I introduce myself to Theresa and try to learn things about her my quick research had not uncovered. She has a very interesting background, great sense of humor, is curious about social media for her business -- in short, we'll have no shortage of mutually interesting stuff to talk about while shooting.

This initial meet is perhaps the most important part to me. It allows us to get to know each other a little, and generally makes for better interaction/cooperation when we shoot later.

After a couple of minutes, she gets back to work and I take a quick scout around the office for places to shoot. I settle on a table in a cubicle cluster area for the inside shot, and the elevator lobby for the outside shot.

Nothing to knock my socks off, but this will at least look different than the inside location, which is blue. The good news is the building is pretty quiet. So I won't have to deal with much if any elevator traffic.

So this is a normal, daylight WB exposure, which shows me the color of the light. (And in this case, it shows me that I have to get rid of the crappy light.)

So close down the shutter first (that does not cost me any flash power) and then the aperture until I lose the ambient:

That's better. Now at least whatever I do will be all flash. There is a tad of ambient left. If it is bothersome, I'll drop the ambient exposure further later. So, lessee. Maybe we can use the potted plant. Wonder what a flash will look like through there?

Alrighty then. Kinda like a low-rent haunted house. So, ixnay on the plant. But I am just fine with plain walls -- especially corners, which allow you to play with light on two planes.

So I stick my SB-800 in a cheap eBay gridded beauty dish on a C-stand for a key, and it splashes a pool of light into the corner to make it more interesting. (By the way, I have modded the crap out of that dish and am using it a lot more as a result. I'll revisit that in an upcoming post.)

That's pretty contrasty though. So another SB in a shoot-through umbrella near the camera is used as on-axis fill to take the edge off:

This is a little flat, but all I have to do to amp the contrast is to back off the power on the fill umbrella. I will wait until she is in place to judge that.

This BTS shot, with Theresa in position, shows the third SB, used with a grid to splash a little light below her waist. This is something I completely stole from Nick Turpin after seeing how he dropped pools of light into his Mystery writer portraits. I love the way it adds a layer of interest/detail into shots with two-dimensional backgrounds, too.

You can also see how the key is warmer than the splash light. That's because it has a Rosco 1/4 CTO warming gel on it.

Note that she does not have to be interacting with me here. I tell her to feel free to make use of the next couple of minutes. And like anyone else, she whips out a phone and starts gettin' stuff done.

Two advantages: I am not wasting her time/attention until I need it, plus I can grab a few shots as she talks for something different than a camera-aware straight portrait. I also tell people to feel free to bring their phone because it gives them something natural to do with their hands.

So, here is the final edit from this situation again. I left it pretty contrasty because this will go on newsprint and it need a little pop. Phone in hand, we avoid the awkward "what do I do with my hands" thing in the 3/4 length portrait.

So far, so good. I tell her to feel free to get some work done while I spend a few mins walking the gear inside the office and setting up for the second shot. No need to waste her time while I swap out, and if she is able to get some work done in the interim that's a bonus for her.

Next: Theresa Daytner Pt. 1


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Blogger Pete Tsai said...

LoL, Guess I'm in photographer mode a bit too much. I read your line "she has an interesting background"... and kept thinking, that wall you shot her against isn't all that interesting David.

October 10, 2011 4:42 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

That's an excellent walk through, David. Thank you for the setup shots too - they're worth at least 1000 words each.

October 10, 2011 4:51 PM  
Blogger nate geslin said...

Wow, what a difference that 3rd light makes! Just that little "splash of light" totally makes this shot pop.

Im going to have to steal this technique, too. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

October 10, 2011 6:52 PM  
Blogger Tom Nutter said...

Cool shot..worked out well.. I look forward to your inside shot. The fact that you had time for two scenarios is a luxury all its own!

October 10, 2011 7:17 PM  
Blogger Srivatsa said...

Thank you David for posting this. This gives anyone an insight of what they should be doing when out on an assignment. This particularly is a great example of working with the space available and lighting it very well.

October 10, 2011 9:47 PM  
Blogger rit said...

When you say that you close the shutter down first, then the aperture, how slow of a shutter speed do you go down to? 1/60?

October 10, 2011 9:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

it's the other way around rit. he went for a FASTER shutter speed to kill the ambient light, say 1/250th and closing the aperture then worked the flash to illuminate the subject. :D

October 11, 2011 3:26 AM  
Blogger Luca said...

David, why there's no photo of her (or anyone else) on the 'planted' background? It looks kinda cool ...

October 11, 2011 3:44 AM  
Blogger Armando Ello Photography said...

"Kinda like a low-rent haunted house" Still it this is interesting shadow which you could lightn up :) So you make it less haunting.

October 11, 2011 6:50 AM  
OpenID fauxtow said...

@rit ... When david says "close the stutter down " he in effect means speed it up so that no ambient light is visible, I estimate he might of been using nearer 1/200 to kill that much ambient.

October 11, 2011 9:03 AM  
Blogger Sid said...

The third light was well worth going through the entire post. Thanks for the post and the setup shots. Inspiring as always.

October 11, 2011 10:36 AM  
Blogger J. Tillman said...

Been trying to teach myself to "see the light" using your btw shots and info. Maybe I am a little too proud of myself, but I was able to guess all 3 lights and relative locations. Thanks for all your great info.

October 11, 2011 10:41 AM  
Blogger Fred LePiere said...

First, I'm gonna say that the set up shots are worth 10 times their weight in words. Thanks for posting them. My only negative comment is that the hottest spot in the photo is on her left thigh and especially the wall behind that leg. Wouldn't you want the brightest spot in the image to be locked on her face and torso? By my lights (pun intended), that strobe should be backed off 1/2 stop or so, no?
- Fred LePiere

October 11, 2011 2:18 PM  
Blogger John said...

Fabulous tutorial. Step-by-step, exactly what I need. You are the best teacher, thank you.

October 11, 2011 3:17 PM  
Blogger DVD Steve said...

I'm sorry but she totally looks like she has a moustache with this lighting.

October 11, 2011 5:28 PM  
Blogger Perretti Photography said...

Great post! Every time I read your lighting tips I get more and more engaged and educated! :)

If you come out with a book that has all your strobist entries I'll be first in line with a sharpie

Your Philadelphia photographer fan-

Felicia Perretti

October 11, 2011 6:52 PM  
Blogger 2Max said...

Thank you very much for your mind to share. Indeed this post and all your other posts are a big help to amateurs like me. Please continue doing this. May god bless you.

October 11, 2011 9:31 PM  
Blogger 2Max said...

Thank you very much for you heart to share. For amateurs like me, your posts are a wonderful source of information. Please continue the good work, may god bless you.

October 11, 2011 9:33 PM  
Blogger wonderlens said...

One thing I am confused about: how come the shoot-through on camera axis doesn't leave any catchlights in her eyes?

October 11, 2011 11:46 PM  
Blogger Cireg said...

In this image the ala of the nose shadow is a real no go for me. Hands and belly looks a little bright too but this is just an issue of PP. But nevertheless thank you David, for posting patiently your experience over the years.

October 12, 2011 7:03 AM  
Blogger Neal said...

@Fred LePiere ..remember David is shooting this for a print publication and he knows how it has to look on paper and so lights accordingly, the same way he frames the shot with negative space for text.

October 12, 2011 2:39 PM  
Blogger anon said...

"Twenty years ago I would have bitched and moaned about that last part."

You were paid to make a front cover image. So that image needs space for banner, headline, logo, price, QR or barcode and all the other gubbins that goes into print that pays for professional photography.

It's not an 'art' photograph, it's a business shot, and you got a great shot for the magazine. If you have cropped tight the business would have had to pay retouch to add more background. If you'd have cropped into her head, they wouldn't have been able to use the shot at all.

Please don't belittle supplying photography for the purposes it should be used for.

What's more valuable (OK, in business not in artistic value) a photo that looks great in a certain crop to the photographers ideal composition. Or a photo that can be used in print, outdoor, web, video? With headlines, logos, price points, partner logos!

October 12, 2011 4:19 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

Lighten up, Francis. I wasn't belittling photography. I was belittling a poor, locked in design choice. And I have told them as much, too.

October 12, 2011 4:58 PM  
OpenID jkim6 said...

Definitely gonna keep this bookmarked for a future shoot. I shoot a lot of "boring" subjects as a photographer for the University of Maryland's Diamondback Student Newspaper, and this blog motivates me to shoot something more than just a straight on headshot. Shooting for a daily with my cobbled together strobist gear is definitely forcing me to learn a lot. I still use a lot of luck, but hopefully someday I'll have an inkling of what I'm doing.

October 12, 2011 8:23 PM  
Blogger David Hobby said...

The Diamondback is a great student paper. Lots of friends who worked there back in the day. I even married a former Diamondback staffer. :)

October 13, 2011 3:38 AM  
OpenID jkim6 said...

Haha, that's awesome. I returned to the University last spring as a Post-Bac student, having already graduated in 2008, and I'm pre-med, but I wanted to do something fun while I was here. I've only started incorporating a lot more off camera flash this semester, and I'm really the only photographer on staff who uses any, but I'm learning a lot from you. I've been reading your blog for years, but nothing beats hands on practice. I still see a lot I could have done better when I get to the editing process, and I always feel extremely rushed, but hopefully it'll start getting easier with time. Thanks for providing such a great resource.

October 13, 2011 11:21 AM  
Blogger George Aubrey said...

David, I like the way you took a pretty non-descript background and made a "wow" portrait through selective lighting. Thanks for sharing.

October 16, 2011 10:10 AM  
Blogger Baz said...

Hi Dave, you mentioned that you like to use google maps street view to check out your locations and possible sun position for your shoots. Not sure if you know about this program but I find it very helpful in determining the position of the sun at any time of the day of the year anywhere on the planet.
The Photographer's Ephemeris (http://photoephemeris.com/)is a fantastic tool for any photog. It is also available in an app for your iphone/ipad. Check it out if you haven't already.

October 18, 2011 4:28 PM  

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