2 Ways to Quickly Grow Your Client Base with Laurin Thienes

October 3rd, 2016


2 Ways to Quickly Grow Your Client Base with Laurin Thienes


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When you are getting started, growing your client base is the most challenging and important task. If you’re a portrait photographer, you’re probably focusing on one or all of the following areas: families, seniors, children, babies. Reaching these different demographics can be difficult if you don’t have a big network of friends or associations through another job or an organization. Experts say to advertise, use social media and spend tons of time networking to get your name out.


These are good ideas. But what about low-cost revenue-generating ways to grow your client list?


Sports Action


While I was building my first post-production business, I used senior photography as a means to support my entrepreneurial goals. But living away from all connections I had to my previous high school made it difficult to reach an audience that would generate the leads I needed to photograph seniors. As I struggled to do much more than get referral business, I seemingly struck gold: A senior I had worked with wanted me to come photograph one of his varsity football games so he would have pictures of himself in action.


As I photographed his game that evening, I not only captured him but many of his teammates as well. The next day, after I had culled the images, I posted the keepers online and enlisted my client to get the word out. I immediately started getting orders for prints and digital downloads, followed by inquiries from other families about pricing for senior sessions. I was pumped—my client list had grown overnight.


I planned to attend other games where I would capture more action images. For each game, I printed a handful of cards with the website link where people could view the images. Everyone loves looking at sports action of themselves, so I figured at worst, I was driving traffic to my site. But it wasn’t just traffic. It was revenue from the orders of digital downloads, images that took very little time to produce. After a few weeks, my client list had grown significantly. I immediately had recognition from parents and students as the dude with the big lens at the games. Life was good.


Keys to Executing


  • Size matters—the size of your lens, that is. Today, everyone has a 70–200. Rent something that helps you stand out, like a 300 mm 2.8 or 400 mm 2.8, depending on the sport.
  • Online gallery. Today’s online galleries are much more eye-catching than they were 10-plus years ago. Think about your audience.
  • Post a few teaser images to Facebook, but not too many. You want to drive them to your site.
  • Sports action photography is not easy. It’s hard to watch a game through the lens, but if you’re not watching through the lens, you will not get the hero shots. It takes practice. Lots of practice. Get out there and shoot.


Small-School Portraits


If you want to reach multiple families spanning multiple age groups, do school photos. I am not talking about your run-of-the-mill public school with a bazillion kids—don’t waste your time unless you are calling in a major favor. Most of the time, those schools are locked up in multischool contracts anyway. But what about those small private or charter schools? These usually need just a little coaxing—especially when your pitch includes a mini senior portrait session for each kid. This offering is so different from the boring blue background that many independent schools will jump at the opportunity.


To an extent, this is run-and-gun shooting, but outdoor portraits at the school are a game changer from what everyone is programmed to expect. Choose a spot where you have two or three different scenes within a few feet from each other—school steps, a trailing brick wall, a tree. These are all cliché, but remember that parents have been programed to expect boring backdrop images with nothing to choose from. When they see that they get to choose from multiple poses, they are ecstatic. Colleagues of mine have turned this model into a six-figure business line, directly from the school portraits, all generated within the first couple months of the year. Just remember that you’re reaching an audience that you’ve never had access to before, an audience to which you can market full-fledged portrait sessions.


Keys to Executing


  • The quickest way to run screaming to the nuthouse is to show up disorganized. Have your folders printed with all necessary info—how you’re going to keep track of each kid, tracking deliverables, and anything else that requires OCD-level organization.
  • Enlist a friend (or two) to help keep people in check, feed students to you, write details on order envelopes or just be there for moral support.
  • If photographing younger children is not your strong suit, do a run-through or two before you show up on picture day. Remember, the quality and experience of working with you will help sell you down the road.


The two main ideas here are tied to working with students, but the difference in demographics can help you narrow your focus to a specific line of portrait photography. While these ideas can be great for someone looking to increase their client base from zero, it is also a great way for established photographers to keep fresh new faces in front of the lens, especially given the new crop of students at the different grade levels every year. This gives you access to grow your client base at a significant rate.


Additional Tips


  • Don’t be a creeper. Whether you are working with high school or elementary kids, running around with a huge lens on your camera can weird out some people. Reach out to the appropriate people—coaches, athletic directors and the like. If a parent asks you not to photograph (or post) their child, whether or not you have carte blanche access, oblige them. You never know a family’s backstory.
  • Donate photos. Schools always need photographers for school pictures, games, dances and other events. If they ask you to cover something and you can do it, do it. Don’t send them an invoice, just do it. The school administrators will become your best friend or worst nightmare depending on how you treat them.
  • Collect data. If you drive everyone to your site (especially to view images you shot on your own time), get passengers’ information. You want to be able to market to these individuals. Use this contact info to advertise holiday pictures, mini-sessions, senior specials, wedding photography—whatever you want. Your mailing list is key to having repeat access to everyone who comes to view your work.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

3 Tips for Building Your First Portfolio with Jeff Rojas

October 3rd, 2016


3 Tips for Building Your First Portfolio with Jeff Rojas


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Putting together your first portfolio can be intimidating. What photographs should I choose? What type of paper should I use? Should I bind my portfolio? Should I stick to digital instead of print? Things will start to feel a bit overwhelming. I encourage you to stop, breathe and think, because it’s really not as complicated as it seems. In fact, there’s a really practical way to think about building your first portfolio.


1.     Research Your Market & Photograph What You Want to Be Hired For


Your portfolio is like an artist’s résumé. It’s a visual representation of your work, your experience and the services you provide. When you think about it that way, you should start constructing a portfolio that fits your ideal “job.” Doing the opposite is like heading into a job interview for a marketing position and presenting the interviewer with a résumé that outlines your qualifications as a chef. It just doesn’t make sense.


Remember that your potential client is deciding whether or not they’re going to hire you based on whether your work fulfills their needs. Photographers have a mindset that they should “shoot the work that they want to be hired for.” More often than not, photographers misunderstand that statement and fail to land assignments. So, let me be extremely clear: Figure out what genre of photography you love (and one that has a market), and shoot content that a client expects to see in that marketplace.


Think about it this way. If you love fine art photography but you live in Amboy, Indiana (Population 378), you could have the greatest fine art portfolio in the world and not land a single client. Maybe you could sell prints online or move to a bigger city, but chances are that creating a portfolio in that city isn’t the wisest decision. Think about what you like to shoot, and research to see if there’s a market for it long before you start to put your first portfolio together.


Get to know what that market expects from a photographer. You may be interested in photographing stylized portrait sessions, but maybe there’s simply not a market for that in your area. Maybe your market is slightly more traditional and prefers classically styled portraits. If that is the case, you’re going to have to spend more time trying to convince potential clients to take up your idea. Focus on creating work that gets your foot in the door.


2.     Showcase Your Best Work


Nothing is more enticing for a client to see than a portfolio of draw-dropping images. The easiest way to make that happen is to showcase only your best work. Remember that you have only one chance to make a first impression. Showcasing only your best work shows consistency in your portfolio. The client feels that it reflects your capabilities. They’ll assume you are the best at what you do.


On a professional résumé, you leave out irrelevant work experience. In photography, you leave out less than subpar work. No one cares about your summer job in college as the school mascot, and no one wants to see your crappy work. You could have had a blast doing it, but no one cares, and it looks terrible in your portfolio. Always show your best work and update your portfolio consistently to reflect that. Include a variety of different images. You won’t show off your versatility by showing multiple photos from the same shoot.


3.     Digital or Physical Print?


Digital portfolios can be easily updated to reflect your best work, but physical prints reflect your work in a tangible way. Think about it this way: You’re out at a restaurant you found online. You’re greeted by the hostess, who walks you to your table. The waiter hands you a couple of iPads to order with. Or worse, the server advises you to check on your own personal phone to access their menu. Where’s the magic? Where’s the romance? It’s gone.


If you would never go to a job interview without a physical résumé, don’t greet a client without a physical portfolio, especially if you specialize in print work. A physical portfolio allows your client to see your final product. You’re not at the mercy of an electronic device. You can manage the final output and quality of your print, from paper type to luster and exposure, things you can’t always control with a digital portfolio.


Don’t misunderstand my point. I love my digital portfolio. With great SEO and branding, your digital portfolio can quickly turn into a great source of lead generation, but it should not be the only way you showcase your work.


Size, style and design are subjective among photographers and industries. As a rule of thumb, I recommend that photographers stay between 8×10 and 11×14. Your work should be large enough so that your audience can appreciate your work, but not so big that it’s too cumbersome to travel with. My personal custom-bound portfolio by The House of Portfolios, seen in Figure 1.6, holds 11×14 prints.


Portfolios can get expensive. Mine was around $600. They can run twice that much for a similar bind. Of course, you don’t need to spend that much. You can easily pick up a print portfolio book for under $100 online.


Size, design and style depend on your industry. In commercial photography, most creative directors expect you to have a portfolio with printed images. Plastic sleeves are viewed as cheap, and most commercial photographers stray away from them. Buy what fits your budget, and know the pros and cons for each option. Plastic sleeves are less expensive, but they’re also more fragile, retain dirt, leave fingerprints and can harden due to temperature changes, but the prints can be easily interchanged. On the other hand, on-demand printed portfolios are more forgiving, but the prints are bound within the portfolio and can’t be removed. Another option is a screwpost book, which can be slightly easier to change, but you have to spend the time to score and punch the pages.


Whichever route you decide should ultimately reflect how you want to be perceived by your client, but you should always keep your budget in mind.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

What’s in Your Bag of Tricks for the Holiday Season? with Skip Cohen

October 3rd, 2016


What’s in Your Bag of Tricks for the Holiday Season? with Skip Cohen


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


The two major holiday seasons for photographers in the United States are the November-December holidays and, in the spring, Mother’s Day, graduations and Father’s Day. While there are a few isolated blips around Valentine’s Day, Easter, etc., it’s these two major periods that account for your greatest potential sales.


Here are the big questions of the day: What are you doing to create excitement and get your target audience thinking about professional photography? What are you going to offer them that’s different from what your competitors offer?


Creating Buzz


I want to get you thinking about creating a little buzz first. So many of you run your business as if people magically appear on your doorstep. The truth is, with all the noise in our lives, it’s harder than ever to reach our audience. That means you’ve got to consistently be out there with interesting content on your blog, posting on social media and sending out a press release at least once a month.


What Are You Offering That’s Different?


Everything should start with a call to your lab and album company. It’s an easy question to ask: “What’s new this year?” Every lab has a constantly growing list of new products. They’re printing on just about everything, and they’re printing in different sizes, with and without frames. They’re creating image boxes and every album size imaginable.


Next, presentation products. I’ve got two personal favorites: slideshows from Photodex, and physical storage and presentation products from PhotoFlashDrive.com. They’re two completely different products that offer you the ability to create some serious excitement.


Photodex is all about slideshow presentations. There’s not very much that can top a consumer’s excitement more than a 30- to 90-second hybrid video holiday card, especially if you’ve surprised them with it. It all starts with the portrait session, followed by a combination of still images, a short video clip or two from the shoot, and great music.


Need some examples? Wander over to YouTube and find Suzette Allen’s channel. You’ll have no problem envisioning a client’s excitement over a family holiday card that wishes friends, “Happy holidays!”


If you were at ShutterFest or any other major convention this past year, you hopefully met Brian Campbell and the crew from PhotoFlashDrive.com. One of my favorite of his packages was a rustic box that holds a bottle of wine or champagne along with a flash drive and prints. They also have a stunning lacquered box with a lock—the perfect gift to enhance a boudoir session. It holds a flash drive and a small stack of prints. Your clients haven’t seen anything like them.


Gift Card Presentation


With just a little effort, you can jazz that boring old gift card or certificate.


What companies come to mind when you think high-end products? Tiffany’s? Godiva Chocolates? Dom Perignon? Even though Dom Perignon isn’t considered as top shelf as it once was, it still comes in a heavyweight dark green box with the gold label on the top. Tiffany’s has its turquoise bags and boxes, and Godiva’s packaging is equally as slick.


Have a gift card custom-designed and printed on quality material. Next, package it in a classy gift box with your logo on the top. Your goal is to give it a level of upscale value—it’s not a certificate for a sitting, but a ticket to creating a stunning fine-art heirloom.


Use Your Blog


Your website is about what you sell, and your blog is about what’s in your heart. Creating buzz starts with great blogging. Just like publicity helps legitimize advertising, your blog posts help clarify the products and services you sell.


This is where you get to shine with great content for your readers. Remember, in the portrait social categories, women make 98 percent of purchase decisions. In most cases, that means Mom. While brides obviously make up a big part of your target audience, because we’re talking about after-event marketing, this is mostly Mom’s turf.


Write posts that get your clients thinking about photography. Here are some ideas.


  • Blog about the importance of printed images. Michele Celentano wrote an amazing piece several years ago titled “I Believe.” She gave photographers the right to reprint it and use it for their marketing.
  • Give your clients ideas for things to do with images. This is where you can show some great ideas from that call you made to your lab or album company. Show images in their final presentation, be it canvas, metal, etc.
  • Don’t forget frames! I’m a huge fan of custom framing with a nicely matted print. The education process starts with you planting the seed with your target audience.
  • Blog about great gift ideas. Again, you have to get your clients thinking about new ideas. While canvas prints might be old to you, they might be new to your clients.
  • Create a marketing hybrid video of still images together with video clips and music. Get your audience thinking about a video holiday card this season.
  • Write a post about your gift cards. Title it something like, “What Do You Get That Special Person Who Has Everything?”
  • Blog about the importance of capturing memories. This is why I always suggest using the “Throwback Thursday” theme on your blog. Old photographs, especially professional ones, demonstrate the value of photography. Share your images with a regular reminder of how fast kids grow up. Great moments become cherished memories.
  • Blog about storytelling. You might take it for granted how you cover an event with scene-setter images, details and a mix of more formal portraiture together with a photojournalistic series of images. Share the key elements you look for when telling a story. This reinforces your skill set.


Over the years, I’ve heard so many photographers blame the decline in business on everything from the “Uncle Harrys” of the world, to the economy, to consumers’ “that’s good enough” cell phone photography.


Stop believing people who say, “Consumers don’t know the difference!” The truth is, they might not initially, but that’s where you have to start the education process. When you put an outstanding image next to a mediocre one, they do see a difference. And if you bring creative ideas to their attention, you can build a stronger business.


Whenever somebody tells me they’re having a great year, they always add, “But I’ve never worked so hard in my life!” Business is out there, but it’s up to you to find it and remind people what makes your work different.


As Seth Godin wrote, “People don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.” So, there it is: The hardest part of marketing is educating your customers and creating things they want.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Building a Mobile Portrait Studio with Miguel Quiles

October 3rd, 2016


Building a Mobile Portrait Studio with Miguel Quiles


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


If you have a studio portrait business, you’ve probably had potential clients who wanted to do business with you but couldn’t make it to your studio. I decided to maximize my sales opportunities by creating our Studio-to-You package: I literally take my studio to them.

In the beginning, I brought all of my studio equipment, which was exhausting and ineffective. With experience and research, I found an awesome combination of studio gear that I can transport easily, and set up and tear down without breaking a sweat.

Here’s what I have in my mobile portrait studio.


I use a variety of backgrounds in my studio, but most of them aren’t meant to be portable, and take some time to set up. To be as light and nimble as possible, I use the Savage black/white collapsible backdrop. Unlike traditional seamless paper backgrounds, these open and close just like a reflector. They come in a zippered case and weigh just a few pounds. They are double-sided, so you have two options that can be quickly and easily switched out.

Along with the solid white-and-black collapsible backdrop, I use Savage’s textured backgrounds for my Dramatic Portrait series. These backdrops come in two sizes that can be used for both individual and group portraits. They come with a light stand and take seconds to set up. These have been essential to my mobile portrait studio.


You’re going to need quality stands to hold your backdrops, lights and reflectors. Get stands that are not only sturdy but also light. I recently started using Kupo Click Stands. These click into one another, which makes them easy to carry around. You can even connect a strap for added portability. At a minimum, you’ll need one for your lights and one for your background. If you want maximum versatility, consider a reflector holder as well.

Lighting & Modifiers

The majority of my portfolio images were shot using a studio strobe. Strobes are my preferred lighting because they are very powerful and allow me to use any of my favorite light modifiers. For portrait work, I use the Phottix Indra500 paired with the Phottix Luna Octa. The Indra500 is a studio strobe that offers high-speed sync (HSS) and through-the-lens metering (TTL). It works off a portable battery pack, which is great for using it in the studio or outdoors. If you’re planning to shoot thousands of images or for several hours in a day, get the optional AC adapter.

Another lighting option is to bring a hot shoe flash instead of the strobe. I have a set of Phottix Mitros+ flashes that I use in combination with the Speed Mount II. With that combination, I can use all of my modifiers with my flash, just as I would with my strobes. The only downside is that they run on AA batteries and don’t have a modeling light, which can come in handy. The upside is that you can pack them in your bag without much hassle.

For modifiers, my go-to pick is the Phottix Luna Octa. For portraiture, it gives you a beautiful, soft light that flatters your subject’s skin. The main reason I choose it for my mobile setup is that it opens and closes quickly and easily, in less than two minutes. The entire Phottix Luna line of modifiers set up in the same manner, so if standard softboxes are more your style, they have options for you. Pair these items with triggers, such as the Phottix Odin II, and you’re all kitted up and ready to shoot no matter what the lighting situation.


A good versatile reflector is an essential part of a mobile portrait studio. You can use it in place of an additional light anytime you need some fill. Get something like a 5-in-1 (or 7-in-1 if the budget allows) reflector that has at least a white and silver side. Some fancier reflectors have silver stitched with white, which gives you a nice in-between option if you need more light bounce than the white side or less than the silver side can provide. One of my favorites is the Phottix Premium Triangle Reflector. It has handles, making it easy to hold with one hand when I’m using it for portrait work. I don’t always use one for my portraits, but I never leave home without it. Find a quality reflector that works for you, and bring it with you every time.


Shooting portraits and headshots at a client’s location requires me to have all of my gear easily accessible and protected. The ability to be able to take all of your studio gear on location in one trip is vitally important. Time is money. If you have to take multiple trips back and forth to your vehicle, it cuts into your setup time, which cuts into the time you have to work with your clients.

For years, I’ve been transporting my camera equipment inside the Tenba Roadie Large. It has plenty of space for all your lenses, several camera bodies, as well as batteries and any other accessories. It also has space for my laptop and tethering gear, which I set up to allow my clients to preview their images after the shoot. The front of the roller has a pocket that is great for storing light stands and small reflectors.

If you happen to have more gear than you can fit in one case, pair the roller with a messenger bag, such as the Tenba Cooper 15. For a long day of shooting, I bring a messenger bag filled with snacks and drinks, plus my keys, wallet and phone.

The Mobile Studio Completed

This has been my mobile setup for the last four years. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Everything packs up easily so you can carry everything in and out of your shooting location in a single trip. With a little time and practice, you can arrive on location and be ready to take your first shot in 10 minutes or less.

If you want to explore new opportunities for portrait clients, incorporate these mobile studio tips and take your portrait business to new levels.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Take a Step Back: A Personal Approach to Portrait Photography with Melanie Anderson

October 3rd, 2016



Take a Step Back: A Personal Approach to Portrait Photography with Melanie Anderson


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.


For this month’s theme of families and portraits, I want to share some new ideas for how to capture images of your family. Whether traveling or enjoying a day out, document your favorite times with your family—but take a step back, and capture from behind.


While traveling in Paris and Italy recently with my oldest daughter, Sarah, I took tons of photos with my iPhone, using filters to create cool effects and appeasing my ADD by being able to upload instantly to Instagram and Facebook. I wanted to share this experience with everyone. This was my first time in Europe, and I was blown away by the culture, landscapes and architecture. Breathtaking.


There were moments when I would take a step back and watch as my daughter took in the sights. I came up with a new idea: Showcase her within the sites we were visiting. Document our time seeing these locations through her eyes, all from behind.


The images in this article are very personal to me. They are intimate, creative, artistic. They remind me of our time together. These photos take me back to this time in a way that other vacation photos I have taken do not.




Family portraits are meant to be personal, to reflect the family bonds that tie us together. I have taken hundreds of family portraits for clients, and dozens with my family and extended family—in studio, on location, urban and traditional. Every aspect of the shoot—clothing, posing, groupings, locations—were either discussed prior to a session, or devised in the moment.


Most of the family portraits I have taken are more thought out—I spaced and posed family members, ensuring hands, chins and smiles were all as they should be. The approach I took with Sarah was about taking a step back and seeing her within the scenery, making these some of my most treasured images. These are the types of images I want on my walls.


Capturing the Moment


Whether you are on vacation, taking a walk or enjoying a day trip, take a step back. Watch the interaction. Capture a moment with your child in her favorite places—strolling through the city, interacting with a sibling, taking time to smell the roses. Whatever it may be, take a step back and soak it all in. Document this moment. Create with this moment. Celebrate this moment.


More Candid


Family portraits tend to seem very posed. Let’s step out of this style and create differently. This trip with my daughter gave me a new idea for documenting the moment—breathing the air, capturing her from within, allowing me to enjoy these moments over and over again. If I’d had my DSLR with my many lenses, not only would I have been burdened with the weight of all the gear, but I think my mindset would have been more about documenting the beauty I was seeing, as opposed to being “within” the beauty. Without all my equipment, we were able to travel much lighter, walk faster, be more intentional about the locations we were visiting, all while living in the moment. Sure, there were many times that I stopped to capture a doorway, some scenery, a sunset, but I was able to do so quickly and artfully.




Would you consider these images to be portraiture? To me, many of these images represent a subject, my daughter, in a moment that captures the essence of so many things. They stir emotion and a beauty that I would not have captured if she’d been posed facing my camera. Notice that not one of them is of her looking at me, no smiles, no controlled emotion in her face. The emotion I captured was told in the creation of the final image. The story and how I want you to feel about each image were determined by the processing of each one. I was able to blend landscape, architecture, art, creativity and a person, all in one image. Many of these images are worthy of being enlarged and placed on my wall, in a blending of art and family.




My favorite iPhone photo app is Snapseed. It allows me to create art with the click of a few buttons. Most of the images here were created with Snapseed. The filters I used were a combination of HDR Scape, Drama, Black & White, Vintage, Retrolux and Lens Blur. Another photo app I like is Mextures. Even the Instagram filters are great. Play around till you find the look and feel you are after.


Instant Sharing


In a world of instant gratification, iPhone pictures and apps are wonderful tools for capturing a moment in time that you can jazz up and then upload immediately. I love creating this way. I don’t always have the time to download images and fiddle with them in Lightroom or Photoshop. But by the time you begin that process, the moment and inspiration have often passed. IPhones shouldn’t replace DSLRs or film cameras, but a camera phone offers an ideal way to capture and share life moments.


When I look back at these pictures, although I now call them portraits, I think about how special this time was with my 20-year-old daughter. I can’t help but relive the day, the experience and how grateful I am that I took a step back. We only get one chance at this life—experience and document it to the fullest.



Action Plans


  • Take your family for a walk, take a step back and watch your children interact. Document the bonds they have created with each other.
  • Next time you take a day trip or a vacation, document from behind. Travel light, and create instantly with filters.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.

Lighting Male Portraits with Michael Corsentino

October 3rd, 2016



Lighting Male Portraits with Michael Corsentino


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Men and women are lit in very different ways. With men, there is more flexibility with hard light, deep shadows, a harder look overall. The goal with women is to portray them beautifully and softly. A stronger, more masculine, powerful portrayal is more applicable to men. But as roles shift and blur on both sides of the gender divide, there are no hard and fast rules.


There are women with bone structure and bodies that can handle even the harshest light and still look beautiful and strong—think Helmut Newton. But a pretty look wins the day with women and a strong look with men.


These are a few of the basic considerations in my thought process when I’m working with the genders. The previsualized lighting and styling for a set of portrait images is always dictated by subjects and their environment. We’re talking strictly about light and style, while an environmental portrait takes this approach one step further, capturing the subject in his or her typical environment. The overall concept is the same: The image should help tell the subject’s story or convey a message about them to the viewer.


When shooting a portrait for a young up-and-coming male actor and model, my mission was clear: Create iconic portraits that deliver drama, show off his strength and intensity, and showcase his star-worthy good looks. My initial concept was for black-and-white images with strong dimensional light, a high degree of contrast, deep shadows and a modern twist on the classic Hollywood portrait style. My goal with the lighting was to sculpt the face, accentuate bone structure and create drama. Along with a more contemporary, edgy lighting plan and a solid idea of what was to come in post, I decided to give the classic Hollywood portrait a modern twist by adding color with gels.


When I shoot, I’m thinking editorially, working with a layout in mind. This helps me create a flow and a narrative with the images. I do this by shooting a variety of poses—both tight and loose, three-quarter length, full length, seated and standing, and perhaps some detail images. I also try different lighting arrangements to create a variety of looks that work well when paired together. In addition to the dimension light planned for this shoot, I had a flat light setup in mind that I knew would be easy to quickly transition into using the same tools I already had on set.


Strip Boxes


Designing the look for portraits is always my first step. This happens before the subject ever steps foot in the studio. I always request sample images so I know what they look like, what kind of bone structure they have. Take the time to incorporate this step into your work. When you work this way, your images will always be better than when you simply wing it. Never be afraid to deviate, but having a solid plan and lighting look will help you be more deliberate and thoughtful, and provide a roadmap that dictates the tools and methods needed to reach your destination.


When I designed this portrait, I knew I wanted dimensional light with a lot of deep shadows and quick fall-off. I also knew I wanted the face divided in two, with tightly controlled vertical slashes of light on either side of the face. Again, the goal was to sculpt the face, accentuate bone structure and create drama. I wanted a specular (high contrast) look that worked well for black and white, but also translated well for the color gel version. Having a clear concept made it easy for me to pick the tools and map out the techniques I’d be using.


For the second look, I decided to go in a completely different direction and create a flat-light look that resembled a ring flash effect but that would require no additional tools or setup to pull off. Pairing images together with opposing lighting styles creates variety and counterpoint. My weapons of choice for both looks were two Elinchrom 14×35 strip boxes. These would deliver the side-to-side vertical slashes of light I needed for the first look and the right amount of top-to-bottom illumination needed for the second three-quarter-length look.




I outfitted both strip boxes with Lighttools 30-degree ez[POP] Soft Egg Crate Grids for both the black-and-white and color headshots. These allowed me to constrain and precisely control where the slashes of light created by the strip boxes fell. This kind of control just isn’t possible with grids. For the second flat light look, I removed the grids, which weren’t necessary. The strip boxes alone, placed equidistant left and right from the subject, were all I needed to create a punchy overall wash of light without any shadows.


Modifying the Quality of Light


I wanted a punchy, specular light for the images. It would be easy to assume that softboxes would be the wrong tool for this. Remember, though, that softboxes are versatile tools with exterior diffusion and internal baffle material, and, in the case of Elinchrom, numerous plastic deflectors that can be placed over the flash head to further modify the quality of light. So even though I was using two strip boxes, I was able to coax the punchy light I wanted from them by simply removing the interior baffle material. This gave me the look I wanted. I could have gone even further if I wanted to by also removing the exterior diffusion panel.


My Ghetto Gel Technique


Adding color by gelling your lights is a great way to bring additional emotion and mood to your portraits. That said, gels are tricky. The first step is to find the right mixture of colors—primary, secondary, etc.—and making sure they convey the mood you’re after. Think about it: What do these colors mean in real life? Where do they exist?


The next and most challenging step is to find the right balance of color and white light. This is one of those Goldilocks propositions, looking for what’s “just right.” This means experimenting with strobe power, distance and the amount of gel covering your strobes. These factors contribute to the amount and intensity of color produced.


Completely gelled strobes can create too much color and look intrusive and unnatural. I prefer some of the white light from the strobes to mix with the colors from the gels, creating a softer effect. Since I use Rosco 12×12 Gel Kits instead of their larger rolls of individual gels (which could easily be tapped to the front of my softboxes), I’ve developed what I call my “ghetto gel technique.” I gaff-tape the gels inside the softbox, partially covering the flash head. I adjust the amount of color and white light until I get the desired effect. If you opt for this method, do not use your modeling lights, or you’ll melt your gels in the blink of an eye.


Keep in mind that gels may reduce the amount of light delivered by your strobes. You’ll need to account for this by adjusting strobe power, moving your strobes closer or adjusting your aperture. When I added the gels for these portraits, they cut a full stop of light, requiring me to open my aperture from f/16 to f/11.


Dimensional Light vs. Flat Light


Lighting that has direction relative to the subject creates shadows, and shadows create a three-dimensional sense of volume and shape, hence the term dimensional light. The black-and-white and color headshot portraits get their drama and intensity from this style of lighting. As you can see from the BTS images—and, to lesser extent, from the lighting diagram—this was essentially a modified cross-light arrangement. Call it cross light 2.0. The strobe in front of the subject and camera left was placed at approximately 45 degrees to the side and angled down, while the strobe on the right was placed lower, with little to no angle.


You’ll need to experiment with the angle of both lights to dial in this look. Work with one light at a time to see the individual contributions being made. It’s much easier to see exactly what’s going on with each light this way.


Flat light, on the other hand, is dead simple and something I knew I could easily knock out with the two strip boxes I was already using. I simply removed the grids, moved one strip box to the left of my subject and one to the right, angled both toward the center of the background where my subject was standing, took a new meter reading, dialed in the desired power, metered again and started shooting. I always use a handheld light meter: a Sekonic L-478. Nothing can get you shooting faster, more accurately or more consistently then a handheld flash meter. I’m assured a perfect exposure the first time I click the shutter, no chimping, no guesswork.


Try both of these setups. They’re easy and fairly light on gear, plus they’re fun and deliver the goods.


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1,776 Headshots in 16 Hours with Vanessa Joy

October 3rd, 2016


1,776 Headshots in 16 Hours with Vanessa Joy


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As a wedding photographer, I envy portrait shooters who work inside a studio and not on location. They get as much time as they need to set up the perfect lighting and settings, and do everything else that goes into a studio photograph.


But when I shoot weddings, I usually have to figure everything out on the fly, factor in a hundred different variables and take the picture within seconds.


So, how do you shoot so many people consistently and quickly, keeping everything in order and moving along smoothly? For starters, you need the right tools. Here’s our gear list:

  • Profoto D1 1,000-watt strobe
  • Profoto umbrella with diffuser light shaper
  • Profoto Canon wireless transmitter
  • Tether Tools JerkStopper camera support
  • Tether Tools JerkStopper “A” clamp 1″ black
  • Tether Tools USA 3.0 SuperSpeed Micro-B cable
  • 15″ MacBook Pro
  • Canon EOS tether
  • Lightroom
  • Canon 5DS
  • Canon EF 70–200mm f/2.8L (set around 90–100mm)
  • Manfrotto 548B Neotec tripod with Manfrotto MA468MGRC2 ballhead
  • 6′ white paper backdrop on stands


Thankfully, it was all fairly portable equipment (other than the backdrop, which we borrowed from a photographer there), which was good because the conference was a flight away from Moshe’s studio.


How to Shoot Portraits On Location

First, set up and break down everything. The entire area that you can see pictured below took about six minutes for three people to set up and another six minutes for three people to break down when they were done.


Our exposure settings were ISO 100, 1/160th at f/5.0, with a white balance of 5100K. Moshe wanted to shoot at a high enough aperture that everything was easily in focus, and at a lower ISO so that the quality of the image was as good as it could be. Once he had those settings, he turned on the Profoto light and set it to 6.2 to start. He took test shots and adjusted it manually, going to 6.5 power, which was the sweet spot.


We marked an “X” on the floor with gaffer tape where we wanted everyone to stand. Slowly but surely, as people saw that we were setting up, a line started to form. There’s no pressure like tons of people watching you work and waiting for you to open so they can rush in and get their picture taken.


Another challenge was that because it was a Snap-on convention, we weren’t photographing guys in business suits. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we weren’t going to require anyone to take off their hats, and couldn’t request they wear something a little less busy—those things you would normally do for a portrait session. It was also challenging having to shoot people with caps on because they cast a shadow. We asked people with glasses to tilt their faces down a bit so we didn’t get the glare of the umbrella in the glasses. There was a whole bunch of little things that we had to think about very quickly on the fly that became a part of the process of photographing everyone.


We asked each attendee to take off his name badge, place it on the table and then put his left foot on the black X and smile. That sounds nice and easy, but after you’ve said, “Please take off your name badge, walk around the table and put your left foot on the black X” over seventeen hundred times, it starts to wear on you. I started losing my voice, and had to drink honey to coat my throat so I was able to speak without coughing on everyone.


We told tell them to look at us and smile, though not everyone listened or wanted to smile or had the same definition of smile that we did. We took their picture, and if they blinked, we’d take one more. Then they would walk over to me and take their badge. As soon as their picture popped up, I changed the file name to the name that was on their badge, thanked them and sent them on their way.


And on and on and on.


Two Stations


We had two stations set up. Moshe took the photos while I tethered to Lightroom and renamed the files. We always had at least four people at a time put their name badges on the table so the second that one person was done, he could come over to me while the next person got their picture taken, and I was renaming the file of the person who just finished. This way, both stations were running simultaneously and efficiently.


I’m known as a gearhead, and I want to have the best of everything. Is it necessary to have the top-of-the-line lens, camera and strobe all the time? No, but this is one of those cases where we needed to have the best in order to make everything run seamlessly. When you’re taking 1,774 headshots, the last thing you want is lighting inconsistency or strobe misfires. Thankfully, because we were using the Profoto D1 to light these portraits, there were zero misfires. That’s incredible. Then, to top it off, the consistency in the color and light output from one picture to the next was flawless. This eliminated almost all post-production work.


Another key component was having a simple lighting setup that Moshe knew could work for everyone. Light is everything, and when deciding on light shapers for strobes, we are usually looking at subjects’ facial structure and skin tones. At this shoot, we did not have the time to change modifiers or lighting positions depending on subjects’ facial features, so we had to go with something that would be even and soft and flattering for most everyone. To do this, we had the light set up with the umbrella and diffuser so that it would cast very soft light onto the subject. We had it fairly close to them, 3 or 4 feet away from their faces. It was about 20 degrees off to camera left, where it wouldn’t cast any harsh shadows as the light wrapped around the face.


The final ingredient was fun. Whenever someone with a fun personality came over, we let them play it up and took a few fun shots. Or, if a franchisee with young kids came by, even though it wasn’t required, we had them take a few daddy shots. It helped keep everything fun and energetic through a long two days of standing in one place.


I’m happy to say that this was a great learning experience. I have a newfound respect for any photographer who works intense volume jobs like these. I’m not going to compare it to weddings because it’s a completely different beast, but I can say that after the two days and 16 hours’ total shooting time, I was wiped out even though I was mostly only typing, talking and smiling.


Check out the video to see some of the shots.


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3 Steps to Perfect Headshots with Moshe Zusman

October 3rd, 2016



3 Steps to Perfect Headshots with Moshe Zusman


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Lighting, Posing and Reading Faces


When I moved from photographing mostly weddings to doing what I do now—mainly headshots, portraits and fashion—I hit a learning curve. Trying to figure out on my own how to control light in a studio was very different from shooting on location. I learned from as many people as I could, gathering inspiration from photographers like Peter Hurley. I looked to fashion magazines, and experimented on my own.


Headshots are basically about lighting and posing, but we’re photographing people, not things, and what works with one person may not work for another. That’s where reading faces comes into play.


My average client is not a model. In my workshops, including Headshot Bootcamp (www.headshot-bootcamp.com), I train photographers to shoot the everyday people who will ultimately be their clients. I want them to be more ready than I was to do a great job for any face that walks through their door.


Reading Faces


When a new client comes into my studio, I welcome her in, offer a drink and start small talk to loosen her up. At the same time, I’m reading her face. I’m looking at her eyes, nose and mouth to find her better side and the one that I’ll likely photograph.


I have the client look at me, and then look to the left and to the right. I’m looking mainly at her eyes and nose to see how they line up over each other, which tells me which side of their face is more open. Whichever side is more open or shows less of an imperfection, like a crooked nose or blemishes, is the side I photograph.


The rest of reading faces comes a bit more easily, and comes into play when we start talking about lighting and posing. I make a mental note about whether the client has wrinkles or a double chin that will either be accentuated or minimized by the lighting and posing I choose.


One-Light Setup (With Secondary Light)


After having experimented with multiple lighting techniques, from one to four lights, I’ve arrived at a one-light setup with a backup light source. This setup includes a Profoto D1 Air 500 and a 3×4 softbox. I use a D1 Air 250 with a zoom reflector to brighten the background if needed. My fill light source is a Profoto D1 500 with a 2×3 softbox attached, not turned on, with the main light reflecting off the baffle (the white front of the 2×3 softbox). I could easily use a reflector, but if I want a little fill, I can just turn on the light since it’s already in place.


True One-Light Setup


My one-light setup is similar to what you’ll see in Vanessa Joy’s article this month, on the 1,774 headshots she photographed recently. I use one Profoto D1 with an umbrella (with or without a baffle), and use it for the main light and to light the background. You have to play with the distance between your light to the subject, and then to the background, keeping the light falloff in mind and rationing your light where you want it. This is a great setup for on-location shoots when you’re looking to bring minimal equipment.


Broad and Short Light


I light my subject exactly how I want the photo to look. There are pros and cons to broad- and short-lighting a client, so I take that into consideration. If I short-light them (photograph the shadow side), it’s slimming, but it accentuates wrinkles. If I broad-light them (photograph them on the light side), it smooths the wrinkles but isn’t as slimming. Photography is about choices and making them with your client’s best interests in mind.


Occasionally, the client likes something different than I do, and I don’t have a problem catering to their desires over my own. After all, they’re paying me to work for them, so I’m happy to go with what they want.




You have to gain your client’s trust to get good poses. Everything I tell clients to do feels awkward and unattractive to them, so trust is key.


The first thing I do is literally put myself in their position. I stand where they’re going to stand, and show them how I’m going to ask them to pose. Once they’re in place, I mirror them behind the camera and instruct them how to pose.


In a nutshell, I tell them this:


“Stand in a skateboard position, with your feet pointed 20 to 30 degrees away from the camera. Feel comfortable in your pose. If your feet feel awkwardly placed, chances are you’ll look awkward.”


“Hold your shoulders back, head and chin pushed out toward the camera. The idea is to extend the distance from the chin to the chest, elongating your neck but not posing it too far up or down.”


Once my clients start doing what I ask, they all say the same thing: “It feels awkward!” I actually like this because it gives me the chance to show them why it’s better. I have them take one picture standing normally, and then another listening to what I tell them to do. Then I have them come over to my tethering station, where I show them the before and after images. Once they see the difference, they’re all mine and trust me 100 percent.


From there, I tell them to look at me like I am at 12 o’clock. Then I have them turn their shoulders to 1:30 and their head to 1 o’clock. As I start shooting, I have them turn their head in small increments, left and right, to get a variety of angles and find their perfect pose.


Lighting, posing and reading faces all work together much like the exposure triangle. What you do with one affects the other, and they can’t really be altered independently from one another.


Being a photographer is about making choices and decisions to achieve the outcome that both you and your client are looking for. Check out the video to see these three easy steps come to life.


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Shooting Family Portraits for Large Prints with Blair Phillips

October 3rd, 2016


Shooting Family Portraits for Large Prints with Blair Phillips


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It’s easy for families to become disconnected and completely lose the importance of family portraits. Your sell can be greatly impacted by the relationship they have within the home. There are tons of families living under one roof that just can’t seem to get along very well. This is where the photographer plays the biggest role in creating an environment that will help sell larger wall portraits.


I always help build the relationships within a family during the session. I tell them it is okay to get close to one another, to hug or to simply put their arms around each other. With the continued subtle encouragement of this behavior, it will at least look like they still love and like each other.


One must be careful not to force those relationships if there is any sense of resistance or discomfort. For this reason, I find it imperative to allow time before the session to casually hang out for a short time with the family. We sit in the lobby, where I get to know the dynamic between the family members. There will be one person you feel you can joke with, followed by someone more on the shy side. You will gravitate toward the person who matches your personality the closest. Getting to know the family and creating a comfort zone allows you to sell larger family portraits.


Some families come in already knowing exactly what they want. Other families come in with no idea what they are looking for. I like to get an idea of what their print objectives are. It’s good to know what sizes and quantities they are looking for before you just start blindly shooting. If clients provide you with that information, you have already sold at least that quantity before you ever take the first image.


From there, it is your job to be creative and motivated enough to create images they cannot leave on the table. I sell more wall portraits by photographing the family, then combinations that complement the family portrait. Photograph siblings individually, together, and then Mom and Dad together. This leaves clients little to no choice: They’ll want multiple wall portraits to create a sequence in storytelling. Little things you suggest while shooting can help build your sell on the backend. I give constant encouragement: how well they look together, how beautiful the family is, how great the portraits are going to look on the wall. Creating a positive environment is a big piece of the puzzle.


There seems to be a huge disconnect with some photographers who can’t sell their work very well. The one thing I hear the most is that people feel they want to just give everything away. Another popular comment is that clients just don’t buy portraits. Those are excuses that allow you to escape the reality that you should be paid well for your hard work and creative vision.


Many clients look only at the price and are never able to focus on anything else. This is where you should never be afraid to validate yourself or your pricing. In my case, we have a large, very nice studio full of an amazing variety of set options and equipment. I constantly remind clients of just that. They are constantly reminded of all the variety they have access to. We educate them that there is a whole lot more work involved than just pressing the shutter button, like the constant expensive education we undertake. This shows clients how complex our job is, and hopefully earns us a little more respect.


How you have your sales area set up can make or break you. We have 30×40’s hanging everywhere in the studio and sales room. I figure that if I can get them used to looking at the really large prints, they will not be happy with anything smaller. We used to have the same print in all different sizes lined up along the wall. For some reason, most clients gravitated toward the middle. So we sold much smaller wall portraits, and our bottom line suffered. ProSelect’s Room View is selling software designed for photographers. One of my most favorite features allows clients to see the images to scale on their wall before they even make the purchase. This tool has helped us sell larger family portraits.


Most families do not update their wall portraits each year. One of the biggest reasons is that the experience can be excruciating. Constantly remind the family just how important it is to update. I thank them several times throughout their session for allowing me to create such amazing images for them. I remind them how important my family is to me. I always ask them to share their experience with any friends they think would love to have images created. If you have the audience before you, do not let them escape without the tools they need to help find new clients.


Making the parents feel special is a huge step in selling large wall portraits. It’s rare for parents to even remember that last time they were photographed together. I take a few moments with Mom and Dad alone. I build up their relationship with one another and create an environment they will remember for a long time to come.


When I am working with siblings, I encourage Mom and Dad to leave the room. Children change the moment their parents are not around. You can get them to loosen up by directing all of your focus on them.


I encourage Mom to come alone to the sales appointment. This allows her sole focus, and keeps Dad out of the loop on how much this costs. If there are small kids running around during the sales appointment, you can cut your order in half. Parents shut down and are ready to leave if the sales environment is the least bit chaotic.


Simply arranging a convenient time for a family to assemble for a session can be daunting. Work schedules, school schedules and naps are enough to put off the dreaded family session for one more year.


You will find that most families want an appointment in the late evening. They do not want to disrupt their workday. This leaves you abandoning your family for work. We began opening up on Saturday for families that couldn’t seem to get to us during the week. We offered outdoor mini sessions that were 15 minutes long. This works out perfectly for families that have limited time and patience. Families dread having pictures made, but a session lasting just 15 minutes makes it a lot more bearable.


We shoot every session in the same outdoor location all day long. It makes for a long day, but we are able to service a ton of families that would not make it to us otherwise. I don’t like working Saturdays, but I am willing to sacrifice for financial gains that help my family.


Selling large wall portraits to families involves great photography and great personality. If you can get clients to genuinely like you, they will be a lot more willing to spend more. Their budget plays a large part in the sale, but you can take the focus off the money and put it on which images speak to their heart.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the October issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.