Setting Up A Shot…Learning What To Look For!

Setting up a shot in a studio situation is very different from setting up a shot on location.  In the studio, you create the surroundings or scene with the basic set-up in mind.  You angle the chair, select the placement of each element and then finally determine the angle and elevation of your lighting to achieve the look you have in mind.  You are in control of the angles and placement of each item so setting up the shot is relatively easy, but the thought process for the entire scene set-up is quite in-depth for many younger photographers.  When learning to build a scene in the studio, you obviously start off with a background, which can be anything from a painted wall, to gathered material, to an actual painted background.  Then you place your main element in the scene, lets say a large chair or chase.  After you have an interesting angle and one that will work with the pose, then you place each less important element into the scene.

The key to setting up a shot in the studio is placing each element in scene at different depths of focus.  While you don’t always what to create a scene or use a set in the studio (sometimes a simple white or black background can be the most effective background for a particular shot) it is important to use varying points of focus to add more depth and realism to the final portrait. Whether it is a simple chair with a plant or flowers behind it or a large manufactured set, you want to use angles that give you depth.  A good example is the brick arch.  It is relatively flat in most of the portraits I see photographers take with it.  The background behind the arch is perpendicular with the camera.  The arch is also perpendicular with the camera.  The photographers put the person in the archway and they have achieved two points of focus, the arch/subject and the background behind.  This is only slightly more depth than using a painted background.  However when you angle the arch, placing one end close to the camera position and the other end closer to the background you create much more depth and realism because of the multiple points of focus.  If I am going to use a set or scene I want at least 4 to 6 points of focus (foreground and background elements included).

Working outdoors is the opposite of working in the studio.  On locations, whether inside or outdoors, the elements of the scene are typically fixed and you must select the most interesting and usable angle to shoot them from.  Often the angle you shoot from is selected, at least in part by the direction of the natural light source.  I say at least in part because I use a reflector outdoors to redirect light for my main light source so I have more flexibility with the angle of my shot because I can move the angle of my main light source, where if I were to use completely natural light, the angle would be mostly determined by the light direction.

Even though working on location typically gives you more depth or elements at various points of focus, the angle you chose to shoot a scene from still makes the difference between boring and interesting.  So many photographers take things so literally.  They walk up to a set of stairs, they photograph it from the same angle as the walked up to it…basically the same angle that everyone in the world see’s these stairs at!  That doesn’t cry out “creativity” my self-proclaimed artist friend.  By moving around the stairs you achieve a more interesting and unique view, as well a create more interesting lines than the basic horizontal stairs taken as you normally see them.

Outdoors or in the studio, I am a huge fan of what I call skimming.  A set of columns, a row of trees,  a fence or walk way can all be taken in the literal position, which is the position you normally see them as you walk up to them.  This typically provides the least amount of depth in the final portrait.  By positioning yourself against the row of trees or columns, (in essence like skimming a stone over water) the row of background/foreground elements leads the eye into the subject and then recedes far and far into the background, creating a huge amount of depth from a simple row of background elements.

The single biggest obstacles in setting up a shot is the young photographers tendency to pick up a camera and start shooting.  If you shoot before you think, you are creating crap!  Hence the saying “throw crap against the wall and see what sticks!”  If this is the way you shoot, congratulations, this is the same way every new camera owner and hobbyist shoots.  This is the “screw-up when behind the camera and fix it in Photoshop” way of photography and one that is not sustainable in a business, because it takes much longer to fix mistakes than learning and creating what you should when you capture the image.


~ by jeffsmithbooks on February 25, 2011.

One Response to “Setting Up A Shot…Learning What To Look For!”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Smith , Jeff Smith . Jeff Smith said: Setting Up A Shot…Learning What To Look For! […]

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