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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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