Forgive this small rant here but I think social media is the right platform for this essay. Lately, there seem to be a lot of “photography experts” and “makeup experts” in the world embellishing their skill sets on social media. I get it. Nowadays, “you are what you pretend to be.” My career success is absolutely a result of becoming what I was pretending to be – a photographer. Nowadays the demand for photography is everywhere. What disturbs me is that many clients often can’t tell the difference between an amateur and a true professional.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of photographing my friend, Jariko who, after serving as an Army Ranger and transforming into an amazing producer for several network television shows in LA is suddenly in need of headshots for his developing career in Hollywood. As he scoured the Internet for advice on how to “take headshots” he ultimately decided to invest in his friend; someone he deemed a true professional. I am so glad he didn’t “wing it” and trusted me with the task of directing and photographing him.
Why should you shoot with an experienced photographer? Well, do you remember that quote about 10,000 hours? There really is so much truth there. As I have grown as an artist, I can’t tell you how many times I have thought to myself “Wow, I’m really glad I didn’t have this happen to me a couple years ago when I was less experienced….” Quickly recovering from a technical problem or challenge on set during a high-pressure shoot is a must for this career as well has having established a super professional team around you to support you during these challenging times. Disappointing a client is a terrible feeling that all photographers want to avoid. Really, all we can do here is try our best and try to communicate as effectively with our client as possible to groom them for the experience ahead and temper unrealistic expectations.
Ok, so what should you look for when analyzing a photographer’s portfolio? Here’s what I do:
1) Is the photographer an expert in lighting?
Namely, does this person have an in depth understanding of ambient light, studio lighting, on camera flash, reflectors and how these tools impact a person’s face?
Lighting is almost everything in creating drama in a shot. The camera is a light machine. It will add or extract light from a subject thus altering our subjective perception of them.
Here is an example of Jariko shot yesterday in ambient natural light. Although I didn’t use a strobe here, I used my knowledge of fashion photography lighting to harness the light around him to give him a beauty dish effect:
Here is another shot of Jarkio in the same location with the same available ambient light without this effect:
This is the same location but as you can see this light is not right for him. There is no drama in his face due to the flat lighting and whatever edge we’re trying to show in personality is lost. This lighting set up is extremely flattering to a female model or bride, but not to a rock n roll guy. As we position him strategically in the abyss that is the talent pool in LA we want to emphasize his military background and general badassery. A Casting Director reviewing images would see this second shot and be like … YAAAWWWN … NEXT.
Do you see how important understanding lighting is now?
Here is an example in the inverse using my friend Rachel:
Here, I subtracted the strobe light and relied on ambient light only:
See how light is falling off her frame in the second shot? The second image is a shallower focus as I opened up my lens to accommodate for low lighting. The result is slimming. She actually looks slimmer in shot #2. We really see the shadows of her midsection and can appreciate how lean her torso is.
Rachel and I talk about lighting ALL THE TIME because we have become really sensitive to how light can make a semi nude image look trashy not classy.
Check out one of my favorite photographers Kat Irlin who is a master of ambient low lighting and nudes. She actually creates drama by underlighitng her subjects and imprints a sense of mystery in each shot.
Lets go a step further and show you that even minimal adjustments in ISO can transform a shot:
By dropping the ISO, I was able to meter specifically to light coming in from from the window. The light paints her back making this second shot sexier and more elusive. We’re showing the same amount of skin, but somehow Rachel is more mysterious/intriguing to us in the second shot. It’s all lighting!
If your photographer doesn’t understand strobe lighting or doesn’t hire people around her who do, DO NOT WASTE YOUR MONEY and ask an enthusiastic friend with a fancy camera to shoot you in portrait mode on a digital DSLR FOR FREE. Without an understanding of lighting, you simply are fraudulent in charging clients as a photography professional.
HARSH. Why you gotta throw shade Fay Fox? Because everyone wants to be a photographer. Some amateur enthusiast who is already in your social network will likely jump at the opportunity to take your pics and get credit for shooting someone marginally “famous.” Do not waste your money on a fake photographer!
Be smart. Be like every fashion blogger on earth. Do not waste your money on fakers.
2) Has the photographer been published before?
Ok, this one can seem elitist but hear me out. Do you want to get that Opera News cover and find out that the photo editor hates all the shots from your latest photo shoot? Worse, what about negotiating the copyright release with the magazine. Does your photographer even know what a copyright is? Copyright law is super important when it comes to images.
FACT: the photographer owns the copyright to your images FOR ALL TIME.
That means, every time you use that picture, the photographer is leasing it to you for a period of time. If that shot shows up in a magazine without permission from the photographer, you can be in serious trouble for violating copyright law. What did you work out with her? Two years? Five years? Try to educate yourself as a business owner and professional who will be using imagery to sell your product. Anything that can be considered advertising can make you liable for copyright violation if you haven’t clearly delineated this with your photographer.
3) Who hires the photographer?
Like attracts like. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
The more diverse and impressive the clientele, the better the photographer. It’s kind of industry karma. Architects, actors, celebs, fashion models, fashion designers, galleries, lighting companies, producers, publicists, etc. really understand what goes into making a great photo and wont be investing in a fake photographer. They need a world class image to sell their brand to critical eyes.
Nowadays, everyone is a photographer so make an informed investment, do your homework and find yourself the best photographer you can for your budget. Stop contributing in a race to the bottom.
For more info and tips on shooting, follow my friend David Bergman’s Two Minute Tips series on Adorama TV. I want to take this moment to publicly thank Bashkim Hasani and Steven Gerlich for being the shining sun in my darkness and teaching me about fashion photography lighting. I can’t ever repay you for your belief in me, your patience and kindness.