Some may remember my (long lost) “battle reports” about my shootings. I used to do them ages ago, and since the shooting I did last week was an uncommon one, I decided to add one for it. Don’t expect them to happen often. As I did previously, I’ll only mention what I find noteworthy and not a step by step report of things. I will also come back to this post during the next months and weave more impressions or comments into it, should the need arise. Don’t expect anything fancy.
Okay, I talked myself into this one: A local rugby club wants to make a calendar as a fund raiser and I was asked to take the pictures. Things like this sometimes don’t work out, so I was pretty much easy on things for the start. After some weeks the thing got more realistic, and that’s when I started some planing and work with them. Some short meet ups to get a general idea what they are heading for and some research, roadblocks were out of the way and stuff for the actual event had to be planed.
With these shootings, you’re basically flying blind, this was what I was facing:
- An unknown amount of girls I basically know nothing about.
- Shooting in an open area, all open out.
- A very unconvincing weather report and temperatures that are on the brink.
- A calendar that should not only sell, but also fit them and be natural. (After all, if you want a pinup, hire some models).
Looking at that, I decided on taking the monster in free flight:
- Pack equipment lightly, and take “the cheap and light stuff” (E.g. rescue blankets instead of reflectors, and anything else that can be thrown away).
- Scrap the primes. Conditions are unpredictable, so better a bit blurrier pictures than missing the good ones.
- Pack lots and lots of batteries. And then some extras.
- Pack every single Memory card I have. And buy an extra one for insurance.
- Reserve a *lot* of free time for this, be prepared to do a rerun.
- Bring light, try not to rely on it.
While the equipment wasn’t that much of a problem to tackle (pun intended), the psychology of the thing created a bit of a headache. There’s only so many tricks you have up your sleeve and if one of the group doesn’t ease into things: You’re basically screwed. Having no idea how this group handles pressure, stress and the sometimes longer waiting stretches didn’t really help, too. Since my plan (at least I think) worked out, I’ll just skip this and forward to the actual happening. The backup plan was quite clear: If things go wrong fall back and stick to my premade plan, which would produce pictures for the calendar but be “stock”, and ease the girls to try again another day.
Time to lock ‘n load.
When I arrived things were basically pretty slow to start (a good thing). I took my time and slowed things down a bit more so everyone could get to know me (Not me as a person, but me with the big black glass eye constantly looking at them). They were all there: The skeptic, the shy one, the bolt&retreater, the ones having fun and the runner ups that got pulled in. Oh boy, this is going to be work. Slow down things a bit more, and let’s start with breaking them in. The skeptics, they are easy, so after having them settle into the situation, it’s contract time. I chose to just throw them out and see what happens, and as expected some comments came from the direction I was hoping for. At the same time I had to check for personal distances, 3 of them needed a lot of distance in general, the others were ok, so I set up the camera to roundabout 2.5m front focus. The shy ones (Not really shy per se, but reserved as to what is happening) needed some attention, so I just threw out some equipment and told some stories around things, with the obvious “it’s amazing how photography equipment can be rip offs”, handing around a flash and doing some tech talk. Around that time the group settled in and the “bolters” got a little bit eager to start up, so I threw out some final rules and standard phrases… and time to check the weather.
Weather was holding, with an overcast sky… camera settings were pretty much set to stone, tons of ambient light. The decision to pack lightly paid off, and I had the chance to skip a lot of the technical stuff and didn’t need a lot except for some casual backup flashing. I had to switch to flash later through the day, but from this perspective I was fine. This really played out well because I could keep tech at a minimum, and scrap a lot of the equipment that might irritate people. Light meter showed up fine in all directions.
From my perspective, that’s a good point to actually start. Being a free shot, it’s time to “herd the flock” just enough to get them into things and get them integrated as good as possible until their brains make “click”. So I slowly took some first pictures and the magic started to happen. IF you’ve ever been to a group shooting, you know what I mean. First some small, shy comments came in, and I fired off a series of shots, adapted some stuff, and the circle started.
We shot through some scenes and personal distances decreased very quickly up to the sweet spot I had thought out. Btw. it’s damn hard to keep distance when everyone is just wanting to take a look at the pics on camera (A move I pulled off to settle them down a bit. It’s risky because the pictures will not look very good, but I thought I was able to compensate for them by tech talking a bit). Most often I hoped to get the camera off into one hand for them to flock together and step into the background, but with this group that was near impossible. That’s also where I dropped some comments about the girls taking pictures by themselves.
After some more scene shots and putting some pressure on a couple of girls (hold position, hold position) they basically snapped into photography mode. Ideas came in, some personal requests came in (e.g. take one for my boyfriend, etc.) and I only had to keep them busy and try to streamline things happening. Basically I just had to follow along and get the shots done, some of the girls had very good eyes for details and naturally took up those roles in composing some shots. (Strike!)
By this time walking the line gets a bit tricky, but for most stuff things worked out. I lost track of one or the other girl for a bit, but they pretty much self organized around that. Things circled around for a while and I mostly had to look at the tension, and before you know it, the shots are done and they snap back.
I took the time to pack up and have one or the other talk for reassurance and just to chit chat a bit, and then take off. In retrospect I think I pulled it off quite okay-ish. We had quite a couple of shots for shits & giggles between scenes and from my view the picture mood doesn’t show a lot of difference, so it can be assumed they had fun and eased into things.
To summarize: Although risky at times, taking a free fight approach to an outdoor shooting works in general, and can be considered. But: HAVE A BACKUP PLAN! If the group works out together and you can fix the notches sticking out you can have a very natural looking and especially sound result. I’d wouldn’t recommend to solo projects like this without experience and planning. If you feel uneasy, spread something like this over multiple day.
Some more notes in general:
-It’s always amazingly stupid people walking by can be. This event had two: One guy “taking pictures to show what is happening to his wife” and another guy actually setting up camp in the middle (!) of two football fields and “reading a book”.
- Try to use names in group shootings sparingly. This helps to keep distance, and also changes roles for some people: “I know your name, you don’t know mine”. It also keeps the “group” together in a sense that people are not considered individuals. This can prevent people from feeling out of focus if you for some reason need to focus on individuals instead. Heavily dependent on the group.
- If you find that there are people in your group that have a hand for something: Use them.
- Personal Distance: Make sure you enforce personal space for both sides. Personally, I don’t have a problem with personal space, and can work fine even in close distances, but it can become an issue. So make sure your group also knows about your personal space, and to keep this professionally.
- Feed in some fun, do some jokes, and screw up a few pictures. Show your group you are a human being, but draw a line of professionalism and stick to it.
- Try to keep a hidden eye on everyone if you’re flying solo. Alternatively find a “herder” personality in the group or bring your own if you have the chance.
- Less equipment used -> easier on newbies. Keep it as simple as possible.