Never Give Up: The Art of Pushing Through When You Feel Like Giving Up

January 1st, 2017


Never Give Up: The Art of Pushing Through When You Feel Like Giving Up with Alissa Zimmerman


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This time of year has represented an incredible struggle for me for as long as I can remember. The days are shorter, the temperature is colder, motivation is often nonexistent and hibernation mode is on full power. This is the time of year when you’re stuck behind a computer screen day in and day out instead of being outside on photo shoots. It’s mentally exhausting, and very easy to let yourself fall into a funk.


This dark time of year, it’s easy to want to give up. Here are some tips to help you push through the mundane days spent in front of your computer when you feel like throwing your hands in the air.


Take Time to Understand Yourself


Losing perspective is usually the catalyst for the seemingly never-ending thoughts of, “I can’t do this anymore.” That lack of perspective is an interesting beast to learn to control. Learning to control your mind and negative thoughts is one of the most powerful things you can do as you grow within your business.


The most valuable skill I have learned in business is the ability to acknowledge when I am in a dark place and talk myself back into the right perspective. That doesn’t mean things don’t get tough for me on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with perspective. It just means I have trained myself to become more self-aware, and to understand that in these dark times, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s all about whether you choose to see it.


Remember Your ‘Why’


Think about why you started down the path you’re on. Reflect on the decisions and sacrifices you have made over the course of your journey to get you to where you are. Why do you continue to fight for your business every day? Why do you wake up every morning and hustle until you close your eyes at night?


For me, it’s the satisfaction of knowing that I am an integral part of building something bigger than myself. I am a 29-year-old successful woman working my ass off every day to build a career and a life for myself. It’s about waking up in the morning, going into the studio and having the luxury of creating with my closest friends, people I consider family. No longer do I dread the thought of having to go to work every morning. It is something I fight for every day because I never want to take these opportunities for granted or lose sight of the fortunate life I have worked so hard to build.


There is freedom that comes with reflecting on your “why” anytime you’re feeling disconnected. Write your why’s down and keep them in an easy-to-access place for the times in life when you need some clarity.


Set Daily Goals


When you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with work and your personal life, make a short, realistic list of tasks to accomplish each day. This can lighten the weight on your shoulders.


I keep a master task list that I pull from to create my daily to-do list. During those times when I feel the weight of the world on my back, it’s difficult to focus. My master list only perpetuates the situation. So in this scenario, I start fresh with a piece of paper (there’s something therapeutic about handwriting tasks when I feel I’m in over my head). Write down everything that needs to get done in the upcoming seven-day window, no matter how mindless or strategic that task may be. Go through that list and decide which, if any, tasks can be delegated. Determine the urgency for each task that is still on your list. Assign tasks to each day of the upcoming week, along with an estimated length of time per task. That gives you an idea of how many hours of work are needed from you per day.


This allows me to get a grasp on what’s overwhelming me. It could be as simple as a client order that is late and keeps getting pushed back on your to-do list. Until you lay everything out, you won’t be able to put together a plan of attack to get over the mountain of stress you’ve created for yourself.


Reach Out to People Around You


It’s easy to let yourself spiral out of control when you feel like you’re stuck in a dark place. The worst thing you can do at this time is isolate yourself from your team, family or friends. Whenever you feel like giving up, there is always someone in your life who has been in a similar situation and can relate.


I find it beneficial to have my “person”—that one friend I know I can reach out to when I need advice or simply just need to get something off my chest. Sometimes all I need is a quick venting session—10 minutes to spill everything that’s bothering me, and my person simply listens and doesn’t give any advice unless I ask for it. Be careful with this person in your life, however, as these types of relationships can start out with healthy venting sessions and lead to negative complaining and cancerous mindsets and/or behaviors. It’s important for that person to be your voice of reason when you’re going down a wrong path in your thoughts.


Cut Out the Cancer


The phrase misery loves company could not be more accurate. Surrounding yourself with cancerous people only leads to you giving up on yourself. A sense of entitlement can form over time as you spend your days whining about your problems without ever coming to any kind of solution. You will find yourself quitting, which you will justify with any excuse you can come up with. All because you’ve surrounded yourself with people who have positioned themselves as your support team when, in reality, they are just negative influences looking to bring down everyone else around them and form a union of misery.


It’s just not worth it. Cut the cancer out of your life as soon as you feel it creeping up on you (you will know when it’s happening if you follow your instincts).


Switch Up Your Routine


At work, if I do the same thing over and over day in and day out, I get bored. This boredom leads to restlessness, and the restlessness leads to a feeling of claustrophobia. That causes me to panic, and any stress in my life is multiplied tenfold. I get to a point where I just don’t want to do anything anymore, and would rather give up. Call it burning out.


Don’t go down that road. Switch up your daily routine. For a while, I was opening my laptop and checking email the second after opening my eyes in the morning. I made the small change of waking up and getting ready for the day right away, not checking email until I get into the studio. This made a huge impact on my daily routine. I found that I wasn’t getting as stressed out at the beginning of my day.


Take a Step Back


Many entrepreneurs believe they have to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day to be successful. Sal will probably kill me for saying this, but sometimes, you just need to take a step back and reevaluate where you want to target your efforts.


The work will always be there, I promise. Your health and peace of mind will not, however. So if taking off a day, a week or even a month is what you need to get yourself back on track, make sure all your ducks are in a row and tap out.


Once you’ve reached the point where you still feel like giving up and none of these tips seems to be working, take a day off and take a deep breath. Everything will be okay once you get your mind right.


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Redefining the Client Experience

January 1st, 2017


Redefining the Client Experience with Michael Anthony


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The quality of images you provide your clients is paramount to your long-term success in the industry. Throughout all stages of my career, I have strived to perfect my craft by attending workshops, seminars and trade shows. I have purchased books, online courses and every little gadget you can imagine.

While all this helped, it wasn’t until I recognized that our clientele was coming to us for more than just incredible imagery that I fully understood what we have created in our business. Our brand has become synonymous in our local market of Southern California with luxury photography.

In the beginning, we tried to be everything to everybody. If the Knot was publishing articles showing rustic wedding images, we were out there shooting rustic wedding images, which is clearly not the type of photography we do today. It’s scary ignoring the trends, but in an industry as crowded as ours, staying true to you will help you to stand out from the herd.

In addition to the photography you offer clients, the experience you give them is just as important to your success.

But what exactly defines the client experience? According to Wikipedia, the customer experience is “the product of an interaction between an organization and a customer over the duration of their relationship.”

That means the client experience is dependent on every single interaction your client has with your entire brand. Every interaction your client has with your business influences their experience with you. I want you to understand what that means for a second. If you list your hours on Google Places as 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a client calls your studio at 10:10 a.m. and doesn’t get an answer, that has a negative effect on your client experience. If you promise a two-week turnaround time but you don’t get them an open appointment until week three or four, you have negatively affected your client experience. On the flip side, if you are delivering images earlier than expected, you are positively influencing the customer experience.

In redefining the client experience, the one thing I have noticed after photographing hundreds of weddings is that there is a direct correlation between the experience your brand lends a client, and their satisfaction with the actual imagery produced. It may be subconscious, but there is rarely an occasion where we have left a client completely happy without making any mistakes along the way, later to find that they have complaints about the actual imagery produced.

Here are some steps you can take to ensure a perfect client experience from start to finish.


Step 1 // Get organized.

This step is the most crucial in developing your client experience. Nothing will cause you more problems than lack of organization. It’s no secret that our studio consulted with Sal and Alissa midway through last year. While the common perception is that we did the consulting to better our marketing or photography, our biggest pain point had to do with organization and internal tracking. This one area of our business was running into problems and causing a terrible client experience. Had we failed to get this under control as our business grew last year, we may very well be out of business today.

Here are some of the things we have learned through our time running a higher-volume studio.

-Get a dedicated client relationship management (CRM) system

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Great client tracking is crucial to your success in hitting deadlines and keeping your calendar organized. Most CRM systems allow you to automate much of your work, so those time-sensitive emails get sent out immediately. We have used all the studio management software. The easiest one is 17hats. It’s extremely easy to set up and use. It features workflows, which offer an intuitive way to automate tasks like sending emails and setting reminders. In addition, 17hats offers accounting and lead management. More importantly, the customer service at 17hats is incredible.

-Outsource your editing

You cannot take care of your clients if you are sitting behind a computer fiddling with white balance and tint sliders all day long. Our studio has been outsourcing editing from day one. Pick a company like Evolve Edits to outsource to, or hire an in-house editor. The latter is more expensive by far, but may be necessary for some types of studios. Just make sure you are free to do the things that make you money and allow you to focus more on your clients.

-Take control of your shoots

Clients lose trust in your ability to document their day if they are doing most of the planning. Our clients should never have to ask us what happens next. On a portrait shoot, a client should never be asking me, “What do you want me to do?” As the creative director, those decisions should fall on you. If you can handle that type of pressure, your clients will feel more confident in your ability to handle the day.

We created a timeline worksheet that we use for every wedding. Our photo timeline is much more detailed than the timelines our planners give us. They allow us to map out each aspect of the day, down to five-minute increments. This keeps us on track (and our clients at ease) so we don’t miss anything. Make your wedding timeline six months before the wedding. A good time to do this is right after the client’s engagement sales session.


Step 2 // Refine your details.

Remember, the client experience comes down to every interaction they have with your business. Look at every point of interaction your clients have with you, from the moment they inquire to the moment you deliver their final product. Make sure your website loads quickly and that all your contact information is on your contact page. If you think that is basic information, visit the websites of competitors in your area—I bet many of them have a form on their contact page, but no email address or phone number.

Make sure you are accessible. If it is not feasible for you to answer the phone during all hours your business is open, hire a studio manager or VA, and if you are a 17hats user, I highly recommend their studio management service, Ally, which provides live human beings who answer your phone for you.

Having a dedicated meeting space at your studio gives you the homecourt advantage. Don’t squander it. You are your brand. Dress for success. Keep your studio or meeting space clean. Make sure it smells good. Have relaxing music playing. Sensory perceptions influence impression, and you want to give yourself every advantage you can. Remember, part of providing a good experience is giving clients confidence that you can handle their expectations and needs. When clients walk into your meeting space, they should be overwhelmed by your imagery on the walls.


Step 3 // Perfect your pitch.

The type of pitch I’m talking about here is the verbiage you use on your shoots to put your clients at ease and get the reactions you want out of them. Repetition is key because, once you develop your pitch, you will sound more confident. Your clients will feel awkward and stiff in front of the camera for the first time, so it is imperative that the direction you give puts them at ease. Encourage them. Show the client the back of the camera if you nail a shot to put them at ease.

You are a professional photographer, but clients and all their friends and family are amateur photographers (everyone is these days). Your ability to control a scene and art-direct is vital to the client’s perception of your professionalism, and ultimately the perception they form of your brand.


Step 4 // Overdeliver on their expectations.

This step is the icing on the cake that can turn clients into long-time referrers. Whenever your client is expecting something from you, deliver it better and faster than expected. You will constantly analyze your target clientele and adjust accordingly.

A great example of how we have made changes to our process has to do with delivery. Many of you know we started our business using Sal’s model exclusively. Over the years, we have had to make many adjustments, but one that was particularly hard for me to make was the delivery of prints. Clients would spend up to $2,000 on a product collection, and when it arrived, we would inspect and package it for pickup like many photographers do. The argument is that if you package a client’s order in your branded packaging, you are delivering a gift rather than a commodity. But now we drop-ship directly from our lab.

Our target clientele is millennials. In every study done on consumer behavior of millennials, the need for convenience outweighs the desire for human interaction. Our clients’ prints would sit on a rack at our studio and collect dust until our clients finally got around to driving over to get them. In Los Angeles, if you live outside our suburb, “driving to get them” means a two-hour round trip or a weekend, which is hard to schedule because we are always out of the office.

We decided to satisfy our clients’ need for immediacy and drop-ship prints directly to their door within five days of their order being placed. Sure, it is not wrapped in fancy packaging, but the product they paid a lot of money for is being delivered right to their door. We calibrate our monitors to the lab directly, and rarely run into problems with prints. It’s better for us to send our clients their images much earlier than they expect them. In this way, we overdeliver on their expectations. It cuts down on time spent packaging, along with the money we spend on materials. It improves the client experience because we are meeting the needs of our target client.

Now, if you live in a town with no traffic and short commute times, hand delivery might be feasible. If not, find ways to adjust.

Another way to ensure you overdeliver on your client’s expectations is to give longer lead times. We tell our clients album designs are done in four to six weeks, but we deliver them in fewer than two. We use that extra buffer time to account for any mishaps in the design process; when there are none, it’s a nice surprise when clients get their designs early.

Give your clients a gift when they are not expecting it. A month before the wedding, our clients receive a $25 Starbucks gift card in the mail along with a handwritten thank-you card telling them how excited we are to work with them. The day after the wedding, they receive another thank-you card. Our system then sends them automated emails outlining the next steps in the process.

The client experience doesn’t have to be complicated. You’ll get a handle on it through shear repetition. Focus on making the client experience perfect from start to finish. If you don’t perfect it before your business grows, any problems you have will be exacerbated, which is what happened to us. Define your own studio’s client experience, and you won’t need expensive advertising because your clients will be your mobile sales force.


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Creating the Boudoir Experience

January 1st, 2017


Creating the Boudoir Experience with Amber Jones


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I remember my first boudoir client. I had previously photographed her wedding, and she wanted to do a shoot for her husband as an anniversary gift. My studio was awkwardly laid out, and it had almost no natural window light, but I did my best to create beautiful images.


From that session on, I wanted to continue with boudoir photography. I knew I needed to make some big changes to create the experience I wanted for my clients, an experience that starts before I ever take a picture.


The Preshoot Consultation


I ask all potential clients to come into my studio for a meeting. It lasts about 30 minutes, and sets the tone and expectation for the rest of our time together.


When someone inquires about a boudoir session, I send a template email message that includes the session fee along with product starting prices.


This first contact does a couple of things. It helps weed out those people who aren’t really interested, and also lets a potential client decide if we’re compatible on price. I mention in my message that I have more examples to show in my studio, as most of my clients don’t want their images online. It’s extra encouragement to set up an in-person meeting, which then becomes the preshoot consultation.


We talk about why they want to do the session—is this a gift for a fiancé or husband, a personal project or a celebration of reaching a fitness goal? My clients come to their boudoir sessions from many different places in life, and the more I learn about them, the better I can tailor the experience to them.


One of the most striking differences from client to client is the woman’s comfort and confidence about her body. Each woman comes to this process with her own insecurities, related to age, a specific body part or simply the fact that she doesn’t stand in front of a camera every day.


With every consultation, I learn more about identifying and minimizing those anxieties, while also discovering what she considers her best asset.


Women come to my studio with the goal of giving a beautiful gift at the end of the process, but they leave saying they have renewed self-confidence and appreciation for their body.


Creating that experience begins with this conversation.


She’s a Teacher, Not a Model


What I didn’t fully appreciate about my first boudoir client is how foreign this process is to the normal person. Imagining yourself during a glamorous photo shoot is a lot different than getting in front of a camera in your lingerie.


Putting them at ease starts at the preshoot consultation, where we talk about the items they already own and any non-lingerie pieces their significant other might enjoy (button-down shirt, tie, sports jersey).


There is no model release clause in my contract, since 80 percent of my clients are teachers, lawyers and other professionals who don’t want their images shared. Building that trust is a lot more important than building a large online gallery.


Once the contract is signed, they register for a series of automated emails with more information to help them prepare. The emails cover topics like the different types of stockings to buy, how to purchase the right size and “Don’t forget to shave!”


Women arrive with all sorts of preconceptions. Put those aside to make them feel more comfortable. This isn’t the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. There’s no right or wrong here; it’s about finding clothing and poses that make them feel beautiful and confident.


Those automated emails save me time, both before the session and during editing. They also give the client confidence. Having their questions answered before they ask (or knowing that someone else had the same question) allows them to relax and enjoy the experience.


In the Studio: Hair & Makeup


Once my client steps into my studio, it’s all about her. It’s about creating the experience she’s always imagined, and that means focusing on her without distractions from email or phone calls.


Even the most outgoing client can get nervous on the day of her session. As much as we’ve done to prepare, she’s still likely on unfamiliar ground, and I want to make sure she doesn’t feel that it’s her responsibility to make this session successful.


We start with hair and makeup on site. I offer her champagne, which can help ease nerves, and it’s also a fancy touch that adds to the “supermodel” experience.


I take photos and video of the hair and makeup process while we talk to diffuse any stress and warm her up. When we get to the post-session viewing, these are wonderful images to include in the slideshow along with those from the shoot itself.


Once hair and makeup is finished, I ask my client to look at her transformation in a full-length mirror. I’m fortunate to work with some talented hair and makeup artists, and clients are consistently blown away by what they see.


The confidence and joy this moment creates is one of the biggest discoveries I’ve made working with a wide range of women. The right hair and makeup artists have just as much impact on your clients’ experience as you do, but it’s critical that they’re working to create the same atmosphere of comfort and confidence that I am. (Ever since I had a makeup artist explain to a client the best way to ensure getting pregnant, I’ve had a conversation with every hair and makeup artist about my expectations of professionalism and appropriate conversation.)


In the Studio: Creating Images


Everything up to this point, from consultation to email to makeup, has been done to prepare my client to enjoy her hour and a half in front of the camera. I’m amazed by how many women arrive for their consultation unsure whether they can do this, only to end up loving the process from start to finish.


Walk them through the poses, keep the conversation going and maintain a positive atmosphere. If she’s having a hard time with a pose, move on to a new one or get into the pose yourself.


With every session, I appreciate the risk I’m asking my clients to take. It’s the risk that comes with doing something for the first time and having someone capture it on camera. I reward that bravery throughout the session, both with verbal encouragement and by showing them photos from the back of the camera. There’s no substitute for their seeing how wonderful they look with their own eyes.


The In-Person Viewing


It took me a couple of sessions to realize that an in-person viewing was a critical final piece of my boudoir product.


I spend weeks shaping a specific experience for my clients. If I sent them a link to an online gallery, I would lose the chance to create the best possible sales environment.


I love the connection I have with each client, and my enthusiasm about their images plays a big role in the way they see themselves. By the time we reach the viewing, I’ve sung the praises of an album at both the consultation and the photo session—“This white-sheet series will be amazing as a full-page spread in your album!”—so concluding their boudoir experience with an album seems only natural.


Since that first boudoir session, I’ve learned that I’m selling an experience—an experience that I continue to refine with every client.


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Tips for Skin Tones – Do’s and Don’ts for Pre and Post

January 1st, 2017


Tips for Skin Tones – Do’s and Don’ts for Pre and Post


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Getting the correct skin tones can be one of the toughest things for a wedding photographer. It’s a huge issue when comparing cameras and camera brands. One photographer likes the skin tones that come out of a Nikon, while another prefers Canon. Here in New Jersey, I deal with a wide variety of skin tones—everything from super-pale to African American, and everything in between, including the all-too-famous Jersey fake bake.


To be frank, I don’t think I’ve perfected the art of getting the exact same skin tone in every shot, or at least the tone I want. My goal is to achieve a tone that accurately represents my client in the most flattering way in every shot. But at a wedding, I don’t have as much control over the light as I would like. Ceremonies are often in dark churches with red carpets, stained glass and no flash allowed.


But there are some things we can do pre and post to make sure we are getting the best possible light and skin tones.


If you’re photographing your clients outside in a grassy field, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume the natural light provides a good color. The light that’s reflecting off the ground and hitting the client’s face is absorbing the color from the surrounding area. If you’re just allowing the reflective light to hit your client, then you’re allowing green light from the grass to hit them, which is bad. The same thing goes for pretty much any other place you photograph. Whatever surface the light is reflecting off, that color will reflect back on your client’s face and skin tones, altering them in a way neither of you will like.


The solution is either a reflector or a light source. I prefer reflectors because they’re easy. Using the white side or silver side of the reflector ensures I am bouncing light back onto my client that is colorless rather than tinted green. It’s the easiest and fastest method as long as you have an assistant. You can see what you’re doing because you can see the light on the client’s face. Alternatively, you can place the reflector, black side up, on the ground in front of the subject to help block some of the green reflection on the face.


When I use my own light source, such as off-camera flash, I go for the Profoto B1 or B2 because of their power and portability. I bring one of each to every wedding. I use the B1 if I’m in a place where I can position it on a light stand without fear of it falling over or being carried away by the wind. I use a B2 for a more run-and-gun scenario, where I’m short on time, have to move quickly or can’t trust that the wind won’t pull a Mary Poppins on my umbrella.


I always recommend using a light shaper of some kind. My go-to is the umbrella, preferably deep white, depending on the situation, with a baffle over it that softens light and makes it look a little more natural. Ideally, I want a softbox or beauty dish, but the umbrella is much faster to set up in a pinch. I lean toward that unless I have time to set up my portable beauty dish.


Even when you do your best to get it right in camera, sometimes you just don’t capture the exact skin tone you want. That’s where post-production comes into play. You’ll see later in the video in this article exactly how I treat skin tones in post-production. Lightroom is where I do most of the work, because I can quickly control the saturation and luminance of specific colors. I look to control red, orange for darker skin tones or tanned skin, and orange and yellow for more fair skin. Depending on the client’s actual skin tone, you can also brighten mid-tones and whites to brighten the skin a little.


Skin tones are subjective, especially in the mind of your clients. Many of my clients spend a lot of time and money tanning, whether it’s spray tanning, bed tanning or real tanning. If I make their skin too pale and completely absent of that tan, they’re going to be upset. At the same time, if I let them see what their tan looks like straight out of camera, they might be concerned that they would give Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas a run for their money.


It is a fine line. Keep in mind exactly how much saturation to leave in their skin color. I edit this in only my favorite photos from a wedding day because those are the photos that end up in my online portfolio. We don’t edit our proofs in house because it would be too costly to have my editors do skin tone corrections to each image. I send those out for processing.


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Portrait Meets Pageant: Breaking Into Pageant Photography

January 1st, 2017


Portrait Meets Pageant: Breaking Into Pageant Photography with Blair Phillips


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Love them or not, most pageants stand for a good purpose. They are intended to instill self-confidence, beauty, assertiveness. There are thousands of pageants held annually all over the world. The money that parents invest in pageants can be staggering. Statistics prove just how serious parents are about pageants, with 72 percent hiring a pageant coach. There are custom designers contestants rely on for the latest and greatest gowns. The amount of detail spent on hair and makeup is jaw-dropping. Some contestants sleep in uncomfortable hot rollers the night before a pageant. The great thing about pageants is that contestants can begin as early as just months of age. With the amount of money invested in how contestants look, photography is important. When they find a great photographer, everyone in the area will help make that photographer a household name. This was my thought several months back. It has proved to be a big moneymaker.


We surveyed a few pageant mothers and coaches in our area. We asked them to share some of their favorite images that stand out from the crowd. Most of the images were evenly lit and pretty boring. I realized then that this market was wide open for a good photographer. One of my favorite types of business is when you market for something only one time and it continues to create income for you. That is my idea of a successful marketing venture.


We reached out to a few pageant contestants we got to know during our research. We asked them to come into the studio for some test shooting that we would use for a campaign. We took that time to ask key questions to help create a great experience for future clients. We learned that we were right on the mark with our offerings.


Having a decent-sized area for them to get ready is important in setting the tone. They come with a lot of items and require a good amount of space. With hair and makeup, heat can overpower a dressing area. We have a small but powerful fan in the room that is a saving grace. Nothing makes a pageant girl more moody than sweating while she is getting ready.


Another important tip is to have everything set up and ready when they are camera ready. They feel fresh and at their best at this point, so do not make them stand around and wait for you to set up your equipment.


Lighting is what will ultimately make your work desirable in your pageant community. The eyes in the photograph have to be the main focus. I prefer large light sources. The larger and closer the light can get to my subject, the softer I can make it appear. I use three to four lights. Shooting into reflectors to create a bunch of light coming from different directions is key for me. I like to bring light from overhead and reflect that light back into my subject’s eyes. This creates a look that you do not see every day, striking and desirable.


People like what they do not see every day. They want to look glamorous. When I work with these clients, I talk through the lighting as I am changing it. I want them to feel like I am putting a lot of thought into what they are paying for. Doing this helps add a huge amount of value to what I am creating for them. I explain that anyone can take a picture, but it takes true talent and experience to produce spectacular lighting.


We explain that what they are paying for is for someone to take their beauty to a higher level. People undervalue their work and price themselves too low because they are uncomfortable talking about pricing. What makes this easier is to educate your clients on all it takes to create their images. Without doing so, clients think all you do is turn on a light and push a button. The more comfortable and educational you make their experience, the more they will spend and share their experience with others. That’s the ultimate payoff.


The pageant community can be very “click-ish.” Your goal is to appeal and be inviting to the masses of people. You need not get caught up in that world by showing any favoritism toward anyone at all. Do not post only the most beautiful and photogenic clients on social media. Make everyone feel just as important and appreciated. If you hear a conversation that knocks someone else in the pageant community, make it known that you appreciate everyone the same.


You will learn that hair and makeup are an integral part of the pageant world. Contestants often bring someone to do their hair and makeup before the session. It is a great idea to partner with a stylist in your area who can come to your studio should clients not have a person of their own. This person should have some experience with pageant hair and makeup. I never ask anyone for a price break on the services they provide here at the studio. Some people ask for volume discounts. That is basically asking your stylist to take money out of his pocket.


Once you get your feet wet in this market, word can spread like wildfire. We’ve learned that people from our area were traveling from up to four hours away for these types of images. No one else was doing them.


We now have stylists, coaches and pageant organizers sending clients our way. They often want to set up marathon days where we book and shoot clients all day. They bring a ton of qualified clients to the front of my camera. This is advantageous for the stylists as well, since they are making money also. They become a referral powerhouse.


We even think there could be a market to travel to other areas and set up for a day or two. Listen to and trust the input of the stylists. They know exactly what people are accustomed to receiving.


You can have some creative freedom, but you can’t treat these types of sessions like a high school senior session. You need to stay within the parameters of what they are used to receiving. During each session, though, I step outside the boundaries just a little.


This way, I begin to break down the boundaries of conformity. This has opened up a whole new avenue that I can count on for a great income for me and my family.


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Glamour Photography 101

January 1st, 2017


Glamour Photography 101 with Nino Batista


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There has always been disagreement on the definition of glamour photography. While art is subjective, the modern-day definition that’s most embraced goes something like this: The focus of glamour is on the model, the subject, with a strong sensual tone and aesthetic.


Basically, glamour is about beauty, style, strength, sex, allure and energy. Glamour images are designed to elicit a response, whether positive or critical. They create a sense of unfiltered fantasy. As I try to remind everyone I teach, glamour is not necessary, as it were, but then most art never is.


So how do you go about creating glamour images? It would seem simple enough. Find a beautiful subject, have her look all sexy into the lens, and snap away…right?


If only. In fact, there are few genres of portraiture with worse amateur images than glamour. Nothing in portrait photography is more cringeworthy than a tasteless, poorly executed (and often crass) glamour photo. Sadly, you see it all the time. The appeal for (mostly male) photographers to photograph beautiful models in various states of undress is strong, which sustains the ever-present inundation of wannabes and GWCs (“guys with cameras”) in the genre. So while the genre is filled with plenty of click-happy shooters, the vast majority do more to hurt the reputation of glamour than help it. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to suffer the stigma while trying to make a legitimate go at a career in it.


Creating glamour images requires, first and foremost, one’s tongue planted firmly in cheek. Do not take yourself so seriously that you forget glamour is supposed to be exciting, fun and arousing (I’m generalizing, but stay with me here). You’re trying to create scintillating, sexualized images, and you need to be honest with yourself about that right up front.


Next, realize that the vast majority of your subjects are going to be female (there are exceptions to this, of course).


Finally, understand and defend the idea that glamour is not pornography. Alluring, yes. Arousing perhaps, yes. NSFW, often. But definitely not porn. It may not be for everyone, but it is not simply wanton pornography.


Pure, unadulterated glamour depicts exactly what people love (or hate) about the genre: beauty and sexuality. (Note I didn’t say “skin” or “nudity,” as those are styles and aesthetics that, while common in glamour, aren’t required.)


And before you or anyone else protests, it’s fair to say that glamour has a certain amount of redundancy from shot to shot, artist to artist, theme to theme, ad infinitum. The same can be said of pretty much any genre. The stigma that comes with being a glamour photographer (“You just like to see pretty girls half naked!”) is unique as genre or art criticism goes. A landscape photographer never hears, “You just like to see beautiful outdoor scenes.”


The assumption of negative intent is ever present—and the endless backlog of history depicting men’s incessant obsession, deprecation and debasement of women doesn’t help. Critics of glamour assume the photographer is strictly focused on his own depraved intentions and is using the art form as a thin disguise. Sadly, far too many men in the genre are doing exactly that. The few of us fellas who deal with that industry stain just by association work daily to ensure what we do eclipses that stigma.


So where do female glamour photographers belong? A woman who wants to shoot glamour faces fewer barriers of entry. That’s not an issue of fairness, it’s just fact. Just like male models are often regarded as unicorns in the fashion industry, women who shoot glamour have unparalleled access. Their potential storehouse of opportunities is bonkers, especially when they first enter the industry. So, ladies, play that gender card if you go into glamour, and play it loud.


Crafting Glamour Images


I begin with the same questions every time: “What is my specific vision for the look and vibe of the set? Do I want a softer look, with perhaps natural light and windows, delicate posing and gentle emotional aesthetics? Or am I after intense sexuality and vibrant styling, and maybe some harsh light?” An answer is never, “Just get naked and let’s see what happens.” If you want to produce professional results that, you have to transcend stereotypes and stigmas.


Keep in mind as you’re planning your shoot that you’re not shooting fashion, necessarily. Fashion photography is about the wardrobe, accessories and jewelry, hair and makeup. What the model is wearing is equally or more important than who the model is in fashion, and on most commercial fashion shoots, you are never told who the model is to begin with. Glamour is quite the opposite. The priority isn’t fancy labels and the latest signature pieces from XYZ designer.


Because the focus is the model, the ideal glamour image should be engaging and have plenty of personality, ranging from candid and cute to intense and aggressive. It should make viewers want to know who the model is, and not challenge the viewer to figure out your intent. A strong glamour image should be immediately striking, evocative, and at times have just enough shock value to cause people to do a double take (but not so much that you lose commercial value).


The tease is important. In many ways, the tease is everything. In glamour, you are creating fantasy. It’s delightfully unnecessary and beautiful sexual fantasy, to varying degrees of intensity, of course. Accepting that is vitally important to producing the best glam you can. And let’s be clear here: While full nudity is fairly common in glamour, implied nudity is not only a better tease but also far more commercially viable (and more common). That’s the tease. You want to evoke a fantastical situation, scene or mood that is playfully shocking but also sellable. Pornography is easily sellable, but it also compromises your dignity and industry potential.




But what about wardrobe? Are glamour photos resigned to the convention of skin alone, with no regard to sartorial matters? Absolutely not. The right outfit, with the right location, theme and styling, make all the difference. The nude form is fine, and tons can be done with it (and should!), but don’t discount the importance of styling your glamour shoots. Brand names are not that important; be concerned only with how garments look on your sets, even if they were $4.99 at Target.


The Face


The face is the most underrated and underutilized part of a glamour model. You either get the connection from the model to camera, or you utterly avoid it.


In an ideal glamour image, there is instant connection to the subject. The best way to produce that connection is with the face, and specifically the eyes. When dealing with sexuality, this can be your most difficult obstacle. Why? Because sexy is one of the most divisive looks in portraiture. Overly pouty looks can work, but can also be a train wreck.


If her body looks amazing but her face is nowhere land, your shot falls short—way short. I have shot lots of flat, unemotional expressions in my day. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and other times it’s simply the way the day went on set, and you have to accept it. But in a perfect world, even one where perfectly sculpted bikini models on tropical beaches exist in front of your camera, you still manage to produce that connection, that emotional intent. Whatever that may mean for your project depends, of course, on your vision for it.


As for the technical aspects of glamour photography—well, that’s a subject for another article.



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Conquering Obstacles on Location with Craig LaMere

December 1st, 2016


Conquering Obstacles on Location with Craig LaMere


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This month I show you how I choose lenses, light and modifiers in a challenging real-world shoot to overcome obstacles and create the images I want for my clients.


The Consult


I have a supercool client whose sons are boxers. I’d shot the older son a few years before, and it was time to schedule the shoot for Austin, the other son. A lot had changed with my studio and how sessions are planned since the shoot with her first son, so we met at the studio to talk.


The best business on earth is repeat business. You are familiar with your clients, and they are familiar with you. One thing that’s really important when dealing with repeat clients is the amount of time between shoots and the changes in your business since the last shoot.


If there has been a large gap in time since the last shoot, it is vital to bring your client up to speed on any changes. The most important is any change in your pricing model. Your repeat clients do not take into account your growth, and remember only what they paid the last time. Your repeat clients want a similar experience, and when you drop the new bill on them, it can be a not so fun experience if you have not prepared them. This is one of the many reasons it is so important to have a presession consult.


We covered the changes, and my client was cool with it, so we planned the shoot.


Getting the Lay of the Land


I’m a firm believer in preplanning shoots and scouting locations so you have a game plan. Sometimes in the real world, though, you do not get that opportunity. This was the case with this shoot. My client wanted to do the shoot in a boxing gym her son worked out at. I asked to get into it before the shoot, but I couldn’t.


I arrived at the gym and started assessing what I could do and what I could not do in the space. The images that popped in my head when thinking about a boxing gym included high ceilings with a few rings scattered around, heavy bags hanging in open areas and speed bags in the corners. I was thinking of the scenes in Rocky. That’s not quite what I found.


The gym was not open at all; everything was in very tight quarters. The ceilings were low, with florescent banks of lights. They had used the space the best they could by cramming in as much equipment as they could, which is great for a gym but not so great to shoot in. There were some challenges and decisions to be made.




I brought what I thought would be good modifiers to give me the looks I wanted. I brought 7-inch sliver pan reflectors with grids, two strips lights with grids, my 22-inch beauty dish and my 16-inch beauty dish. The commonality among all the modifiers is that they are made to control light precisely and produce a more specular light. With the environment and the subject, I knew I was not going to shoot any soft diffused images. I don’t shoot speedlights, so I brought mono heads, power packs and extension cords. For lenses, I had my Nikon 14-24 2.8 G ED, Nikon 24-70 2.8 G, Nikon 85 1.4 G and Nikon 58 1.4 G.


Ring Shoot


The room the ring was in was small. It was about the same size as the room, and there was access to the ring only from the right side and the front. That limited the angles I could shoot. The back wall and the side wall were close to the ring, so I knew I would not be able to get any real depth of field if I wanted to shoot Austin in the back of the ring with an inside-the-ring perspective. If I wanted any kind of depth of field, I had to stay to the front of the ring and shoot from the outside looking in. There were two ring shots I wanted. The first was to have him in the corner of the ring, surrounded by the ropes, which I would use as leading lines. The second was him at the front and inside the ring, leaning on the ropes.


The first shot I set up was the corner shot. Because the walls were so close and they were pretty rough, I thought it would be cool to pull them in and make more of an environmental portrait where the background told part of the story rather than a regular portrait focused just on Austin.


Because I was in such tight space and I wanted to see as much of the room as I could, I shot my 24-70 at 24mm. At first, I wanted to shoot the image with one light and use my 22-inch beauty dish. But it was just too big a light source for the area, and kept making hot spots on the walls.


I moved to my 16-inch dish and put the grid on it to contain the light. It worked great for Austin, lit him up just the way I wanted, but it was not enough light spill for the rest of the image. The dish was just too small to make up for the lack of ambient in the room. The solution was to bring in another light to add fill. The ring was brighter on one side than the other because of the front door. I had to pick a modifier that let me pinpoint the light better. I used a strip light with a grid. It worked well. I was able to mix the light enough to get it to fill in what I needed, but it wasn’t too specular on the background.


The front of the ring shoot was pretty straightforward. I still wanted directional light with a lot of contrast, but because I didn’t want to use two lights, I used a strip light with grid. The strip light gave me the latitude to shoot whatever pattern I wanted. I shot some images with the strip, but in the end, I liked the ones shot Rembrandt the most. The front of the ring was close enough to the windows that there was plenty of ambient light, so all I had to do was move my shutter down to whatever speed I wanted to give me the amount of fill I wanted.


Heavy Bag Portrait


The heavy bag area was the hardest area in the gym to deal with because of the height of the ceilings, the height of the lights and the gaps between the bags. When I first looked at the room, two types of images came to mind. One was a pretty standard portrait and the other was more of an action shot.


I wanted to shoot some wide shots to take in all the cool equipment and showcase the environment, and I wanted to shoot closer to be more traditional portrait style. I tried my 14-24 lens first to take in most of the area, but it was just too wide below 24mm and started to distort the edges and bend them too much. I went to my 24-70 and stayed around 24-30mm. Because the room was so dark at the wide angle, I needed to have more separation between Austin and the background.


In most cases, if I want separation, I throw a kick on the background, but because I wanted the image to be badass, I decided to rim-light him and slow the shutter down to pull more light in to bring the background out. When I rim-light in my studio, I use a strip, but in this situation, with the gaps between the bags and how I had to place the light in the tight area, when I was at 24mm, I could see the strip in the shot and I was getting spill from the light in the lens.


My next choice was to use my 7-inch silver pan reflector and put a grid on it. I used a 20-degree grid, which is tight but still open enough to cover your subject almost full length. The other good thing with this setup is you don’t get the flare like you do from strips. Once I had the accent light worked out, it was easy to pick the main. I used a 22-inch beauty dish.


I used the same setup for the closer portrait images, and just shot at 70mm.


Speed Bag and Heavy Bag Action


I wanted to capture Austin laying into the heavy bag. I wanted to rim-light him for drama, even more than for separation. There was enough ambient for the background to be seen. I used the 7-inch pan reflector and grid again for the same reason I used that combo in the last shot. For the main, I used a gridded strip light; instead of keeping it vertical, I turned it horizontal so I could get the most coverage width-wise. I wanted the most width so the light would spill the least on the ceiling.


I told Austin to go crazy on the bag, and I would freeze the movement. When you are freezing movement with strobes, you have a couple of limitations. The first is sync speed. Sync speed is how fast your camera and flash work together. With most bodies, max sync is somewhere between 1/200th and 1/250th of a second.


The second and maybe the more cumbersome limitation is the recycle time of the flash you are using. The more power you have to use to get proper exposure, the slower the power source will be in regenerating to the correct power level. When I’m freezing movement, I know I will be making some adjustments in how I shoot to give my strobe and power source the best opportunity to keep up with the speed I am shooting at. I adjust the power and the ISO of my camera until I get the perfect marriage of speed and power.


I start by moving the power down to about quarter power. At quarter power, your battery pack should be able to recycle almost instantaneously. The trick is to move the ISO up until you get the f-stop you want. Once I meter to about f4 to f5.6, I’m golden. Most of the time, I am somewhere between ISO 320 and ISO 500 to get the right combination. With today’s bodies, shooting at ISO 500 to ISO 2000 is no biggie for noise and image breakdown.


The last shot I wanted was Austin hitting the speed bag. We shot some images the same way we shot the heavy bag. That was cool, but I wanted something different that conveyed movement. I slowed the shutter way down. I still shot the strobe, which would freeze an instance in time, but by keeping the shutter open, the camera would record what was moving. The reason the camera would record the movement of the speed bag beyond the duration of the flash is because there was enough ambient light in the room to fully see the bag without introducing artificial light. The effect was a cool blur that gave the image a feeling of movement.


In the end, I was happy with the shoot and the challenges I had to overcome. Every shoot is a learning experience.


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A Step Back in Time with Melanie Anderson

December 1st, 2016


A Step Back in Time with Melanie Anderson


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On a recent trip to Italy with my daughter Sarah, we were walking the streets of Venice when I was reminded of honeymoon photos I had seen of my parents that they shot more than 45 years ago. I contacted my parents and asked if they knew where those pictures were and if they could send me a few. I was thinking how neat it would be to visit some of the same places they did on their honeymoon.


My dad sent me several images, two specifically that I decided would be fun to reenact. It was quite an emotional experience, knowing I was in the exact spot my parents were at almost half a century before, and here I was now, enjoying the city with my eldest daughter.


It took only moments to figure out the first location, the corner of the Piazza San Marco, in front of Saint Mark’s Basilica. I positioned myself in the far left corner with the building visible from behind. We found this challenging since the buildings had been painted and updated, but we were sure this was the location.


The pose was another story: ensuring the shoulders and chin were angled the same, trying to duplicate the expression, etc. It took us 40 images and 30 minutes to get just the right look. You will notice the original pic of my dad has a sepia tone. I had a difficult time finding just the right tonality. After many attempts, I decided to just convert the image to black and white, and found just the right look for the feeling I was attempting.


Heading into Florence, we encountered the same challenges. This picture was captured at the Piazzale Michelangelo, overlooking the beautiful landscape, views of the Cathedral, the Bell Tower, and more. You will notice that the background in my dad’s picture looks closer to him. I had a terrible time with that. In the end, we decided it must have been due to the lens he used at the time, as the iPhone was unable to achieve the exact same look and feel and the distance to the buildings in the background.




My dad used a 35mm Nikon Reflex with Kodachrome 35mm film. I used my iPhone 6. Yes, I know, Melanie, how could you? You used your cell phone to recreate an image from over 45 years ago? Why, yes, I did. When traveling, I find that my phone captures incredible images, many of which have been published in this magazine and won several print competitions. Today’s technology allows me to create on the fly. I like to travel light and use apps to edit my artistic vision quickly. The editing apps I used for this project were Snapseed, Picfx and Mextures.


The photos here of my dad in Italy were taken with his iPhone. He opened up the album and captured them and texted them to me. It’s ironic that he took a printed picture from an album that is over 45 years old, captured the moment with his iPhone and sent it to me from Maryland to Italy. Digital technology has come a long way. I didn’t even think about attempting this project until I was already in Venice and felt nostalgic knowing I had seen an album 20 years before, and felt compelled to recreate a moment in time.


Importance of Printing


Imagine if my parents hadn’t printed these pictures. When I asked Dad for copies, he said he didn’t have many, that it was expensive to print and they didn’t have the money at the time, so they did not capture and print as often as they would have liked. I’m so grateful for the ones they did print. I would not have had the emotional connection I have now to Italy. Having seen these images when I was a child, and then being there, was a flashback moment for me. It wasn’t until we were in Venice that I remembered seeing images of them from Italy from so many years ago. The impact of them actually being printed and placed in an album affected me some 45 years later. This makes me want to go back through old albums and see what else I can recreate.


How different our process is now: We capture everything, everywhere, anytime via our phones, and upload immediately to social media. We have thousands of images in digital albums online. So many memories captured, yet none printed. This experience has changed me. This was a reminder to capture and actually print images from my travels. I want my children and grandchildren to know me through photos, by having them actually printed and in an album. It’s an opportunity to share an experience that I doubt would happen if all these images and experiences were shared only online.


When people ask how my trip was, these are some of the first images I show them. I am so glad I took the time away from site-seeing to take a step back in time and relive a moment and location that my parents enjoyed so many years ago.


Action Plans:

  • Find old photos of your family, and recreate them.
  • Print and create an album of your travels.

Share these experiences with loved ones.


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Lighting in Tight Spaces with Michael Corsentino

December 1st, 2016


Lighting in Tight Spaces with Michael Corsentino


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Whether you’re in a studio, office or on location, space is always an issue. A large studio with plenty of room is wonderful, but space is at a severe premium. What do you do? This month, I walk you through the considerations, tools, techniques and ways to get the job done when space is super tight. We also go behind the scenes for a fashion portrait shoot produced in a 10x10x10-foot space so you can see what’s possible with a limited footprint.


Let’s start with gear.


Equipment is a major consideration when you’re planning a shoot in a confined space. Things like large boom arms, lots of heavy-duty grip equipment, gargantuan octabanks and a ton of lights aren’t normally feasible; even when they are, they end up being more of a burden than an advantage. Your best bet is to work light on your feet. For the most part, that means one or two lights. I like moonlights due to their compact, lightweight form factor. Add small modifiers, grids to keep the light from your strobes exactly where you want it, and a backdrop that fits your concept, the space and the method you’ll be using to transport it. For this shoot, I used a 10-foot painted canvas backdrop that rolls up for transport. For something more compact, try Lastolite’s variety of high-quality collapsible backgrounds that fold down to a very manageable size.


My modifiers of choice for lighting in confined spaces, and often on location, are small octabanks, strip boxes, beauty dishes and ring flash. Each of these is easy to transport, quick and easy to set up, and they can be supported on a compact, foldable C-stand that’s ideal for transport. I typically rely on grids for all but the ring flash in order to keep the light from my strobes from spilling everywhere.


The value of grids quickly becomes evident in tight spaces where light can end up bouncing all over the place, creating a very flat, boring look. For the shoot featured in this article, I used two Elinchrom 500ws ELC monolights, an Elinchrom Deep Octa and an Elinchrom 14×35 Strip Box, both fitted with Lighttools soft egg crate grids. When you’re working in confined spaces, 500ws heads provide more than enough power in most cases. You don’t need as much power as you would in situations that call for more distance between your lights, subject and background.


With limited space, typically one of your biggest challenges is controlling the amount of light falling on the background. In a studio with ample space, it’s easy to move your subject away from the background and control the amount of illumination using either distance, separate lighting zones or both. In a confined space with little to no space between your subject and the background, this isn’t possible—you’ll need other tools and techniques to shape and control the light falling on your subject and background.


To do that, you’ll need to rely on the angle of incidence, which is the direction of your lights in relationship to the model and backdrop, as well as the tools you use to modify and shape those lights. For this purpose, honeycomb grids, both soft egg crates and hard grid spots, are indispensable tools. This is because grids take the light coming out of a softbox, beauty dish or reflector and channel it into a much more narrowly confined beam, allowing you to place light precisely where you want it and keep it away from areas you don’t—in this case, the backdrop.


The other essential component in controlling the light falling on the backdrop is the direction and placement of your lights. Even with a grid in place, if your lights are pointed directly toward the backdrop, you’ll have a very limited amount of control over its illumination. You’ll be lighting your subject and the model without a mechanism to help separate them. This is where light direction and placement are key. By simply moving your lights to the side of the backdrop, you’ll not only help avoid putting too much on it, but you’ll also avoid boring flat lighting; you’ll add shadow, volume and drama to the lighting on your subject.


I’ve included example images to illustrate this point. With the light positioned over the camera and pointed directly toward the backdrop and subject, you light both pretty equally and flatly. By moving the keylight (an Elinchrom 500ws ELC monolight with an Elinchrom Deep Octa) camera left and channeling its light with a Lighttools soft egg crate grid, I was able to more precisely control the light falling on the subject and the background as individual elements. The bonus, I think you’ll agree, is that the light is considerably more interesting and dramatic.


I’m an advocate of working one light at a time, so I always start with the keylight and progress from there, seasoning to taste with additional lights as needed. Once I’ve nailed a few winners using only the keylight, I add a second light, third light, etc. That’s exactly what I did here. I added a second Elinchrom 500ws ELC monolight fitted with an Elinchrom 14×35 strip box and a Lighttools soft egg crate grid. Arranged in a cross light pattern, behind the subject and opposite the keylight, this strobe served as a kicker light and alternative keylight. Cross lighting is great because it gives the model the flexibility to turn freely from left to right, with each light alternating as key and kicker.


Lens choice and aperture also play a pivotal role when you’re working in close proximity to your subject and background. For this shoot, I chose an 80mm and 150mm lens and set the aperture to f/11, with medium format that’s like f/5.6 when using a DSLR. This kept the front of the model’s face shape but allowed me to create the falloff I needed between the model and backdrop. If the backdrop is too sharp, it can easily become a distracting rather than enhancing element. We chose a retro-inspired fleur-de-lis-patterned red and black painted backdrop consistent with the gothic fashion direction of the shoot.


You can see that with a few simple tools, the right techniques and a creative vision, it’s easy to achieve great results even in the tightest spaces.


Check out this month’s companion video, and let’s keep the dialog going. Hit me up on the ShutterFest Facebook page with your lighting questions.


Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the December 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.