Real Life Photoshoot
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Have you ever looked at the weather and thought. “Can’t do anything in this!”? Well what if you had a PR (public relations) photoshoot booked in which cannot be repeated? You have to suck it up, tighten your belt and step out of the comfort zone.
Greg and Jude’s father Pete died of skin cancer 2 years ago and they decided to row unsupported across the Atlantic Ocean in memory of him and to raise money for the British Skin Cancer Foundation. Wow, talk about getting out of your comfort zone!
The guys asked me to shoot PR photos of their homecoming welcome which they can release to national and local press who didn’t send their own photographer. “Yeah no worries.” I said. And as the day got closer and the weather forecast worse, worries indeed began to surface. I’ve been shooting for many years and must have clocked up many thousands of quality hours of photography practise, but I still get butterflies. My mentor Billy used to say the day they aren’t there is the day to stop shooting professionally because they keep us awake. Photographers have to be awake, know what they’re doing and be able to work seamlessly whenever someone commissions them. It’s just plain bad practice not to be.
So what were the main challenges?
Pre Visualising the shots needed: The most important thing to get across is that two heroes are returning home after a massive achievement and the local people are super proud of them. So how are we going to demonstrate that?
The images need to show the guys as the primary subject, but the welcoming excitement of the people is an important secondary element which has to be shown.
Top Tip: Think about the story, previsualise the images needed and research what’s planned, what’s likely and what may be possible. Then you know where you need to position yourself, when to be there - and what length lens you need to use and the depth of field make a primary and secondary part of the image.
Thinking on the move: As you saw in the video, we discussed shooting from our boat to get an impression of other boats behind them who’d met them in the mouth of the river, people waving from the slipway and possibly a couple shot through the press of people to get an impression of business into a shot. I wanted to capture the excitement of the people who’d come to welcome them.
I thought we had exclusive access to the harbour master’s pontoon, but that was my mistake because I didn’t check. As you saw, it was packed so that plan wouldn’t work so we stayed on the boat and kept the people in shot that way.
Bad weather: It may surprise you, but this was the least challenge photographically. In fact it made the images more powerful.
Firstly the number of umbrellas showed how deeply proud the local people are of Jude and Greg’s achievement. They wouldn’t have made the effort to stand in the cold and wet if they weren’t. (Lymington’s a small place and I think the turnout was excellent. Imagine what it might have been if the sun was shining!)
Secondly, the rain gave a hint of what it might be like to be soaking wet on a rowing boat for six weeks.
Top Tip: I don’t use a waterproof camera jacket because I find they get in the way and make the camera awkward to use when you need to work fast. My D600 Nikon is ‘weatherproof’ (not waterproof) so the main challenge was keeping rain spots off the front element. Using a lens hood and being careful not to point the camera up kept almost all the rain off the glass.
[It was more of a challenge for the video camera which is not in any way weatherproof. We just decided to risk it…]
Working fast in a confined space: As you saw, this entire shoot was only a few minutes long and we were hemmed in by other boats. There’s no time for wondering what settings to use because opportunities are missed. You have to know both your camera and what its controls do so you can make the shot in your head a reality.
Top Tip: Learn how to control your camera with one or more of my courses and keep practising until you no longer need to think about it. The Ultimate Beginners course will put you in control. The 7 Building Blocks will have you thinking and previsualising fast and 7 Steps To Perfect Pictures will get your raw developing planned and executed so you can deliver what you want to your viewers.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
Jude Massey told us how a life threatening situation changed from terrifying to being not only normal, but fun. If you stay within your comfort you’ll never grow as a photographer or in any other chosen field. We need constant challenge to stretch our abilities.
Improving your photography is like getting and staying fit. If you only go for a quiet stroll once a week then wonder why you are out of breath climbing stairs it's because you’re staying inside your comfort zone. You need to go to the gym, take up an active sport and then push hard and make it hurt a bit before you see an improvement.
This shoot would have scared me silly when I started shooting professionally because back then I hadn’t pushed myself as hard or for as long as I have now. If your photos are disappointing, all you have to do is regular photography workouts that challenge your abilities. And I don’t mean chatting about lenses down the camera club, in a forum or wandering aimlessly round the local park for the 1000th time taking the same old stuff you always take. I mean real challenges that make your pulse race.
Embarrassed to shoot in public? Make yourself shoot in public.
Landscapes not your thing? Hike up some mountains somewhere inspiring and practise.
Uncomfortable photographing people? Get out onto the streets and go for it.
Kit and cameras don’t take photos. You take photos. All the time you’re reading / watching kit reviews you’re not thinking about how to control the camera you have already, composition, light, where to stand and when to click. That’s what photography is.
If you’re up for stepping out of your comfort zone but would like to have someone experienced to help, come on one of my workshops and feel the buzz of achievement for yourself.
Till next time…
7 Blocks of Photography was an ideal blend of the technical and creative aspects of photography. The notion that the picture begins with the photographer and not the camera is a powerful one.
The course, like the best educational tools, was particularly valuable because it allowed me to think not only about my pictures before I took them, but more importantly it enabled me to better assess why the photos that didn't work failed.