Photographers Tips - Notes to Self

Photographers Tips - Notes to Self

Peter Berg: US Army Commercial

I recently had the opportunity to work on several major ad campaigns and other photography related events.

At most of these events, we were challenged with the task of producing a wide variety of content for example poster campaign social media campaign video commercials for TV.

During the photo shoots and the filming events, there were thousands of production details that needed to be handled.

For example, providing food for the crew transportation for the crew as well as creating content for the end product.

As a process of constantly learning the craft of photography and video production. 

I have created a “Note to Self” checklist to help improve my photography and video capabilities.

I would like give a special thank you to Director Peter Berg and the Pony Show Entertainment for expanding my opportunities and seeing a major production run smooth and professional.

Pony Show Entertainment - - Pony Show is a production company producing commercials and brand content with directors including Peter Berg, Spike Lee & other Hollywood storytellers.

“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” WINSTON S. CHURCHILL

Ensure individuals aren't grinning and smiling in all your photos. Else you wind up with a lot of photos that look very amateurish and snapshot like. 
Capture a wide variety of emotions for your portfolio

Move in nearer when you are taking individuals shots. Be close will help you communicate with your subject better. 

Locate the correct condition - by which I mean the correct condition for that individual. Make sure your location matches the mood and theme for the individual you are working with and their wardrobe for your photoshoot.

For real to life photo shots,  take your time. Your fortunes will come at last.

“He that can have patience can have what he will.” - Benjamin Franklin

Use the camera as a tool. Stay with the camera that feels right to you.
The camera is the most important thing.  Left you creative drive the photo.

Experiment and take risks. Take risks with your photo and lighting. 

Study at good work being done by another artist, but do not copy.

Think about lighting all the time. Photography and video are about lighting the and it can come from anything - the sun, a candle, a computer. The light helps with telling your story. 

Always engage the subject. You have to like people to be a good photographer. Look outside of the lens, have a relationship going, and only then take a photograph. Get your head out of the back of the camera.  

Watch your subject for a long time to help you to understand its behavior.

Know when it is the perfect time to take the photo. 

Learn how to work flash and natural light and avoid massive digital enhancement.

Visualise how you are going to take the shot before you take the photo.

Never disturb the animal or its habitat to take a photo. 

Be very considerate and respectful of your guest, team, and subject.

Compose the photo with the context of where you are working and taking the picture.  The two need to tell the same story. 

Use natural light to make the photo more natural.

Ask permission to get in close to the subject.

Use Photoshop very sparingly. 

"Nature is so powerful, so strong. Capturing its essence is not easy - your work becomes a dance with light and the weather. It takes you to a place within yourself."  -  Annie Leibovitz - American Portrait Photographer

Shoot ahead of the action and through the movement to get the shot. 

Background of the photo is crucial. Know and understand the message you are telling with the photo and let the background help.

Let the subject be the star of the photo make sure the subject is big enough in the frame be the star.

You must have the right lens on a camera. There is no time to change lenses.

Shoot in RAW to get most from your photography.

Always shoot another frame or two if you think you have it.

Make people feel like it their photo, not yours the photographer.

If you can see something off in camera, adjust it at the time of taking the shot it is better than fixing things Photoshop later.

Have a camera with you all the time. You never know when something is going to happen.

Wear comfortable shoes. If you're walking around for a long time, you need something comfortable.

Keep your elbows in when you are handling the camera.  when you lift the camera up to take a photo having your in elbows in will help balance the camera and it will also make you less noticeable to the people around you and you will take up less footprint so you're not bumping into people when you are taking the photo.

Have a positive attitude on a photo shoot. Even when things are not going good stay on the positive mindset. Give things time to get the right photo.
Smile at people when you are photographing them. It makes you less threatening.

Study great images and know how they were made. 

Visit museums and learn who made them, and which ones you like and why.

Learn how to use strobes to manipulate lights

Use digital photography to your advantage. Experiment with your shots and learn your camera settings.  With digital cameras, you can always delete the bad files.  But in the beginning, you need to overshoot an experiment this is very easy to do with digital cameras.  In the film days, you only had 36 shots at the most roll.

Be prepared with your camera settings know what mode you aren't operating in and check your settings from time to time to make everything is locked in the way you want it. You may even want to tape some of the settings down so when you're bumping into the camera buttons the camera settings are not changing.  Use gaffers tape to tape buttons down so they're not moving into a mode that would not work for the photos you are doing.

Be sure to take your camera out of formatting the card mode. You do not want to click on floor mat card at the wrong time and mistakenly format the camera card before you have backed up your photos.

Make sure you are in raw camera setting.  Doing photos in a raw camera setting will give you the most amount of information to work on when you are editing in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do not use any in-camera art settings if you are planning on editing the photos later.

“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” - Dorothea Lange Photographer

When doing concert photography and fashion show photography makes sure that you are in the right stage position when your subject starts performing and the fashion show starts. If possible use something like a small step stool wooden box or even a strong, durable gear bag stand on to change your position.

Have conversation starters when you are working with your subject. Get to know them a little bit but do not take up their time or waste their time with endless rambling.

Try a new lighting set-up during the shoot. Be sure to get your safety shots and assigned shots at the top of the photo shoot.  Towards the end of the photo shoot, you can experiment with your lighting and get extra shots.

Always start with one lighting setup then add lights to the photoshoot build on each light setup to create the mood you are looking for.

Wide-angle lenses can provide some creative portraits you can push in tight and create a dynamic angle that may emphasize your story.

Tripods are a great way to help you focus on your subject. Using a tripod allows you to keep the camera in one place so when you are not shooting you can focus your attention on communicating with the subject. You can also be talking to the subject and taking photos but making eye contact with the subject while you are firing the camera taking photos. This can help relax the subject and get more of a natural look. 

Take time to develop and practice a type of Photography that you would like to Market and sell.  That way when you are hired to do that particular type of Photography you will have a Stressless shoot and very professional.

Understand that paid assignment photography gigs are very demanding. If you are hired by a creative agency to fulfill their vision for the project you will have a lot of demands put on you. 

Know that your skill and your art will not be enough to create a sustainable amount of photography business.   Learn to market your business like any other business and know that it is an investment and has an ROI. If you are not able to market your company then hire someone that can.

Know your limitations and be willing to bring on others to help you support where you are not able to perform at your best. 

“Anything that excites me for any reason, I will photograph; not searching for the unusual subject matter, but making the commonplace unusual.”  - Edward Weston Photographer

Use Virtual assistants and Outsourcing methods to fill in the gaps to grow your photography business.

Find subjects that you are passionate about doing photography for and let their story be a part of your story. 

Experiment with your style and techniques to develop something that will stand out.

Learn to look at your photos as your potential customer would look at your photos.
If you are doing fashion photos for example...  
What is it that you are selling?
What is your target market? 
What is the demographics?  
What is the income level of your target market?

To learn the style that you are gravitating to.  Take magazines in the genre you are interested in pursuing and tear out 200 photos and divide them into categories.  This will help train your eye and also show what type of photos you naturally gravitate to.

Know that yesterday's portfolio is the beginning of tomorrow's portfolio.
Learn from your mistakes. 

“By seeking and blundering we learn.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If a photograph shot is not working, analyze it and change it, and move on.

Celebrate what you know about photography and use it to its fullest advantage but have the willingness to learn all the time.

Stop following the trends learn to create the trend.

Focus on the overall emotion that you are trying to convey with the photo worry less about digital effects.

When you are doing your pre-planning for the photo shoot and at the photoshoot think about how you can create amazing photos in the camera.

Have a branding guideline for your photography business.

A tripod is a great way to help put you in the right frame of mind to be more intentional with your photography shots.

In photography, you hear a lot about tightly framing the subject, but when working on an ad campaign and working with graphic designers, you may need to you provide extra space for the graphics that will be applied for the campaign.

Understand how a Color Wheel Works and how the colors are tied together to tell a story.

Allow time for the subjects to relax in your presence and react with their surroundings.

Mistakes are a key part of learning so don't be discouraged when things do not work. But do not be the photographer who tries to turn all mistakes into a creative black and white piece of art. 

Always do a gear check and Equipment test 3 days before the photo shoot and have your gear ready to go. That gives you a few days to fix and find something if you discover missing gear or broken gear. If you pack the night before you are risking your reputation and the client's investment.

Know how to make use of downtime on a photoshoot. Downtime and a photoshoot can be used to build rapport with others on the photoshoot and you can use that downtime on the photo shoot to create extra content for the ad campaign.

Always take more gear than you need and have backup systems for everything. But be willing to use only what you need to create the required photo.

When editing your photos be sure to do this in stages it is not a good idea 2 go through and do everything in one pass. Have several steps in your workflow and be sure to take brakes. Take a logical approach to your workflow process when editing photos.

"Follow your heart, listen to your inner voice, stop caring about what others think." - Roy T. Bennett 

When you are working on a photography advertising campaign be sure to reflect your passion for the subject content And be able to relate that to the client.

Embrace changing trends, so you stay relevant and in the game. Do not be a Kodak.

Learn what settings you need to use on your camera for the situation you are in.  Most of the time manual on the camera is best, but there are times that you need to be in aperture priority or shutter priority.  I even use some automatic settings sometimes. The bottom line is knowing what the settings do and be able to switch to them to create the shot you need.

Be sure to notice the details take a variety of photos. Do not make the same photo over and over but give the graphic artist something to work with do a photo clothes do a photo wide provide them with something with space on the right give them something with space on the left maybe even space on top and bottom of the subject. The graphic artists and advertising team will need space to add content to your photographs for the advertising campaign.

Be sure to pack items that are not directly related to your photography gear.  for example, you may want to pack a small toolbox and first aid kit. I have even started carrying my own small table so I can set my photography gear on my table and organize it the way I want it at the photoshoot.  I've created a packing list that I referred to when packing for photo shoots.

When you're doing a photoshoot you will have your major areas that you are using four locations for the photos.  use your major locations for the photo first but you be sure to look around you and find other locations that may work.  For example you may be doing a photo shoot at  the Flatiron Building 175 5th Ave, New York, NY - And realize you have an opportunity and I need to add more content to your photo shoot for the client and right across the street from the Flatiron Building is Madison Square Park 11 Madison Ave, New York, NY. Bottom line is to have a plan A, B and C. 

To help create drama and your photography and video learn to shoot into the light and use it as a backlight to create a dramatic look. For example have your subject backlit by the Sun and have strobes or reflectors to light the subject from the front so the shadows are not overwhelming. Also, a major source like the sun can be used as a rim light.

“People think I’m a pro and that I’ve got it all figured out. But what makes me a pro is that I don’t feel like I have anything figured out and I’m always still learning and pushing myself. A new software, new technology, more experimenting, more tricks. I never stay still, in terms of learning. So there, ya go. Go learn something today.” - Jeremy Cowart Photographer Nashville, TN

Jeremy is a photographer from Nashville, Tennessee. He started out as a painter and even went on to study graphic design. That time, photography was just a hobby to create a canvas for his design work, but he realized that photography is his real passion.

Use backgrounds to tell a story or to convey message backgrounds should compliment your subject and story.

There are no shortcuts in pro photography. Most people doing photography that dream about being a pro photographer will never even come close it's not their knowledge are there skill it's their work ethic most people are not willing to work to make it as a pro photographer and build the connections and say no to other things that are continually being put in front of them. Looks like there are three types of photographers that I can see. Amateurs that are happy amateurs that are unhappy and professionals. 

Be aware of how you can improve your work. 

Learn the 10 Commandments of Landscape Photography and how to break them -

Know that after any proper photoshoot you are going to be very sore plan accordingly.  have aspirin and ibuprofen have your favorite foot care items.

Crop until you have stuff you need for the photo. 

Practice over theory is best.  

Do your homework - the more you know about your subject, the better you'll be able to photograph. 

Know the Types of Conflicts Include:
Human vs. self
Human vs. human
Human vs. nature
Human vs. environment
Human vs. technology (machine)
Human vs. supernatural
Human vs. god

Know The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, the 7 plots are:
Overcoming the monster
Rags to Riches
The Quest
Voyage and Return

Don't sell yourself short - don't put yourself out there diminishing your capabilities. If you're good at photography, it's fine if you say you're good. 

Get up early to catch the best light.

Never delete cards untell the project is 100% done. Backup files three times. Have one back in the cloud.

Making photos black and white will not make the photos art. 

Say no to camera neck straps.  A study by Unity Pharmacy researching injuries encountered by many photographers found the most common were: Back/ Neck injuries, Shoulder pain and Sore elbows and wrists. 

Do several photos of the same scene at different exposures, angles, and apertures. This will give your customers choices to work with.

Very diligent with your workflow and post-production. Have it mapped out.

Keep a sense of humor.  Remember how lucky you are. 

I thought I would conclude with a few things that you may not normally need a from time to time on a photoshoot these tools will come in handy.

Gear Van
Something that always comes in handy when the budget allows for it is a gear van.

The gear van for a photographer can be luxury but on some  Photo shoots a gear van is a necessity. A deer van can act as an on-site office for you to process photography throughout the day and keep your laptop and batteries cool while they are charging in the gear van.  Can also be a nice Retreat for the photographer in the photographer's assistant to cool down and plan the next series of photo shoots.  Also can be an area that keeps your walkie-talkies recharged and cell phones.

A substitute for a gear van might be a canopy are some type of tent to work out a while you were on your location shoot.  A canopy or tent can act as a sunshade and block dust from covering the gear as you're working on the photoshoot at the location. It's always nice to have several tables and chairs in this area for your field office.

Location Generator
If you're going to be there several days on site doing photography, you may need a generator to recharge your camera batteries drone batteries and cell phone batteries.

Say a special thank you to Michael Gomez at West Light Studios in Franklin Tennessee for helping with the process of becoming a professional full-time photographer and a location scout for the TV and movie industry.

WESTLIGHT STUDIOS - Westlight Studios is a rental photography studio for photographers and videographers. Westlight is serving the Nashville, Franklin area. Westlight Studios.

And most importantly I would like to give appreciation to all of the soldiers at Fort Campbell who helped with the project.

Kenneth Purdom Professional Photography