Location, Location, Location!

The other day on Facebook, I asked the question, if you could only create portraits in one place, the studio or on location which would you choose.  Almost everyone responded in that they prefer shooting on location, over the studio. This doesn’t surprise me, shooting on location is something I have always loved and excelled at, which is why a good portion of my books are about outdoor portraiture.

While we all love working on location, portraits outside of the studio do pose some problems from a business perspective. You price an outdoor session too high and no one will do outdoor, price the session to low and you are not compensated for your time traveling to and from the location. This is really a problem right now, where we have so many young photographers without  studio locations, working at outdoor areas exclusively and not charging a sitting fee, as well as giving the client a CD of all the high-res. images for $40 to $60. In many cases, that is a fraction of the cost of just the sitting fee that many studios charge.  This is killing the studio photographers that have always charged $100 to $300 for an outdoor sitting fee.

Years ago, I saw there was a business flaw in the way I and all other photographers were taught outdoor lighting.  You get up before sunrise or stay out until almost sunset and use the sweet-light that exist at these times.  The business flaw of this plan, is that you can only do one session while this “sweet light” exists.  Second business flaw; this led all of us trying to convince our clients to get up at 4:30 in the morning and pay ridiculously high sitting fees and neither was ever well received.  Clients wanted to be photographed at normal times of the day and they really didn’t understand why they must pay so much more for the sitting fee outdoors, as opposed to a session in the studio.

Year ago, this led me into a new direction which was to learn how to work with the light as it changes throughout the day and setting up blocks of appointments outdoors, so we charge the same sitting fees for portraits on location, as sessions done in the studio.  By setting up blocks of appointments, the cost of travel is divided between many clients, rather than just one and with the increased sales that portraits on location have, it made it a very lucrative choice.  The only problem was to learn how to work with the natural light, generate effective modified light, while creating portraits that are beautifully portraits during the mid-day hours.

From a business perspective, this idea was great, but I had to re-learn how to create outdoor portrait that had beautiful light and beautiful scenes throughout an entire day.  The first thing I had to do was to standardize where I offered outdoor sessions at.  The chosen locations had to have massive trees to give me enough usable backgrounds to work in.  The second idea I had to get my mind around was to manufacture natural looking light to bring up the intensity of light on the subject to make the brighter mid-day background usable.  I became very accustom to using reflectors to provide a main light source that is as beautiful and sometimes even more beautiful than the natural light I was used to.

While I am not going to write a book here the problems that I had to deal with when using a reflector are the same as the all the questions that photographers email me.  First you have to control the light from the reflector.  While the main beam of light can make a linebacker cry, using the softer edge of the light (feathering the main beam of light off the subject) I could control the intensity and the softness of the light.  The second problem I had, is when I saw reflectors being used by speakers and photographers at programs, the reflector rested on the ground. This works when using natural light and adding a little light from a lower angle, but it doesn’t work when reflecting sunlight.  If you do this with direct sunlight you end with a freakish looking horror style lighting.

To effectively create a main light source, which is what you are doing when working in the middle of the day, you have to place the reflector in the same basic position as the main light when you would when working in the studio at the same approx height.  With the reflector on the ground the lighting is coming from too low of an angle and you can see this by the catch-lights being too low in the eyes of the subject.  The final tidbit of information that will ease your use of reflectors.  When your assistant adjusts the light from the reflector, look into the eyes of your subject.  Start with all the light from the reflector above the subject’s head, then have them slowly start lowering the beam of light, once you can see two distinct catch-lights in the subject’s eyes, stop!  At this point you have created a main-light source, which is your goal.  Beyond this, you have to train your eyes to see when the light on the face is right for the look you are going for.

My New Outdoor Portrait Photography DVD is now Available.  5 locations, that you can easily find in your area, 75 minutes long and pack full of information, (if I do say so myself).  I created this video to stand alone and not be marketed as a set of outdoor videos, you get it all!  The DVD is going to be sold for $99.95, but you can order it Now for only $79.95  For more information go to:  http://www.jeffsmithphoto.com/dvd   You can watch a segment of the video at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KhvVhDLnMEo

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on August 9, 2010.

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