The trick to doing this job well is to make it look like anyone can do it when really only you can do it.
I would say that the biggest challenge any professional photographer faces today is the thought that anyone with a camera, hell a cell phone camera even, can do our job just as well as those that have been doing it for many years. So many people look at our work, think it’s easy to get the same results, and don’t hire a pro.
Now, this is not an entry where I bash those with cell phone cameras or do it for fun on the weekends. Not at all. Heck, I even offer photo classes where people can learn how to get better images from the cell phones or point and shoots.
This is, however, an entry to show that there is a lot more that goes into a “simple” photo session. Let me take you on a rare, behind the scenes, look into my world behind the camera.
I like being challenged. A lot. Doing photo sessions at a location I’ve never been to before is a challenge. When that location is in a small space indoors, then the level of difficulty goes up. When the session requires mixing available light with strobe….well, that is the ultimate trial of my skills.
When Kristin reached out to me with the idea of doing a fitness session at her place to generate images for her new Health Coaching business, I immediately jumped at the chance. Not only is she just awesome to be around but her ideas for the session seriously piqued my interests.
Her first idea she wanted to try was to do a series of images of her prepping a healthy smoothie in her kitchen.
Photographing anything in a kitchen is a task not to be taken lightly. Right off the bat there is the fact that most kitchens aren’t very big. There isn’t a lot of room to move around in. This limits potential areas to put the subject in, what to put her in front of, where I can put lights, where I can photograph from, et cetera.
Then there are all those metal, highly reflective, surfaces that throw unwanted flares and hotspots everywhere. Refrigerators, stoves, glass tile backsplashes, kettles, knives, et al. It goes without saying that there’s the chance that a reflective surface could capture unwanted reflections of gear or the photographer. Who would want to see that?
Even the basic white appliances create a challenge as the human eye wants to go to the brightest part of the image. If there’s a bright, white fridge in the background the subject, no matter how stunning they are, will play second fiddle to all that bright white space elsewhere in the image.
Then there is wall colors. In this case they were a deep red. A semi-gloss red. Light bouncing off those walls would reflect a deep red color cast onto everything it touches – including Kristin’s food and herself.
Next, there’s the lighting. This is not the time to pull out the super contrasty, dark, moody art light. That would not fit the theme of this session. Here we needed bright, friendly light with a little emphasis on Kristin and her immediate workspace. We wanted to invite people in with a warm, soft, light to make them feel welcomed and at home. Like two friends chatting in the kitchen one day.
The catch is was that Kristin’s kitchen had no windows to let in natural light. There were windows but they were on the opposite side of the space, a good 15 feet away. We used them in the images with her sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee. What little light that made it all the way back to the kitchen area simply didn’t have enough “umph” to light the scene. To supplement the available light I broke out the speedlights.
There simply isn’t enough space here to type out what it takes to set up, modify and control speedlights in this entry. That’s not bragging. I teach a 12 week course on this subject alone and even then it’s not enough. Suffice to say it takes a lot of dancing and testing before we got it right.
So I have included an image here that I shot with my cellphone to show you what the final set up of the first scene looked like. Keep this image in mind when looking at the images of Kristin doing her thing in her kitchen. See any unwanted reflections? Red color casts? Harsh, unfriendly lighting?
What about the composition of the images themselves? The posing? Expressions? Layout of the food and equipment? Paying attention to every single detail is what defines a professional. Nothing is left to chance. There are no random things here.
All that work was done for one series of images. This is just one set up. I think we did five or six totally different set ups during our time together. Some inside, some outside, some where she was inside but I was outside, et cetera. Each scene had it’s own special set of challenges to overcome.
We went to town for five hours. When it was over we were both ready for a nap. It was an amazing time together but it is hard work. Don’t let anyone try to tell you otherwise.
So, in conclusion, this is why you should consider a professional when it comes to your images. Yes, it looks easy. Yes, anyone can get images of something with anything. But, in the end, is “good enough” really ever good enough? Or do you want images that would blow “good enough” out of the water?
Mark Knopp is a Virginia Beach-based portrait photographer that covers the Hampton Roads community and beyond. Contact him today at firstname.lastname@example.org for you portrait needs or to learn more about photography.
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