Here’s the scenario; You have a portrait shoot booked for the front cover of a widely-read and high profile magazine. The publication has briefed you on the look they want and the story behind the photo. It’s of a leading business CEO but then you find out the CEO is only in his office on one day next week and only has a 10 minute slot available!
This is the type of work we do all the time – it’s a really high profile shot to get right and the circumstances can be challenging, to say the least. But it can be done, and you can make it work. Sometimes taking the actual photograph is the quickest part of the job, the rest of it can be done without your subject actually being present.
As a former photographer for a national newspaper, I was often tasked with getting shots of people who may not want to be photographed, or for a media opportunity, jostling with 10 – 20 other photographers. These situations are not ideal – they are hard to control, they’re not in a studio and you have to work incredibly quickly. Often I would be dispatched to shoot a portrait with a few minutes notice, so I would have to always be prepared and ready to think on my feet.
This style of working meant that I had to develop my own techniques to get a really good photograph without much time to plan ahead.
Now I work as an advertising & portrait photographer, which are both very different types of photography. With an advertising campaign we can spend hours prepping and recceing locations – everything is planned and considered. I also do a lot of portrait shoots of athletes, celebrities, and business owners. These are such busy people that I sometimes have to work around their schedules and their location. We might have to bring our team to wherever they are working that week, as they may only have a really short slot in their calendar and more often than not there are other pressures on their time. Quite often I’m tasked with capturing moving images as well as stills.
So with all of this in mind, these are the best tips that I’ve learned during my career as a professional photographer for getting the best portrait shots when your client’s time is extremely limited.
Do Your Prep Work
Make sure the studio or location set-up is ready to walk into. Meaning, all equipment must be set up and tested already. Find someone to do test shots with and make sure you’re happy with the lighting situation before your subject even arrives. I tend to get there as early as I can before the subject arrives. Often hours ahead of them. When this isn’t possible, do your research – it’s amazing what you can find out online.
I tend to Google the whole surrounding area so I know what locations we have to work with. With a high profile business owner, it won’t be the first time they have been photographed so I always research what’s already been shot of them and where it’s been shot. It will help you know what to expect and most importantly what you don’t want.
Bring back ups of everything that you might need – spare camera bodies, spare batteries, spare lights – the works! It’s not just a case of having spare kit, however, you need to have a mental plan of what to do if something doesn’t go to plan. I always have a plan B and plan C and a plan D up my sleeve.
Get Your Subject to Move Around
Some people automatically tense up when faced with a camera pointing at them and don’t look natural. People will also have their ‘go to’ pose or look but more often than not, it’s dreadful. However, if you ask your subject to move around, it means that they have something to focus on and it’s in the off-beats that you often get the really good stuff. I will often get them to move between options quickly ie. stood up facing to the right, sat, stood up facing the left – again and again.
Don’t Spend Ages Making Them Feel Comfortable
Leading on from the last point, I don’t find the need to spend a long time trying to help people feel relaxed or talking to them the whole time. Neymar really doesn’t care where I have been on holiday, for example. Apart from anything, there just isn’t the time available to get to know them or build up a rapport with them as much as people might think. Sure I’m friendly but by adopting a professional approach you send out the signal that you know what you are doing and gain the trust of the subject just as effectively.
Sometimes it’s good to use the slight awkwardness to create a really good image. I’m not in the business of taking images for newly engaged couples. Not all portraits require the subject to look happy, especially a CEO or athletes portrait.
Don’t Stress – Ever!
Things do go wrong on photography shoots all the time – or certainly not to plan, however much you prepare. However, nothing was ever resolved by getting stressed in fact, it usually makes it worse. So basically, I find it absolutely essential to always stay calm and just figure out how to fix a problem. If you remain calm, then you’ll find that everyone else does too – keep your sense of humour! There is a performance element to a shoot – don’t break the spell by flapping.
So in conclusion, you just need to get in there and make sure everything is set up in advance and every eventuality is catered for. It’s not always easy to work as fast as this, but with practice it becomes easier and easier. Know in advance exactly what you want from that end portrait and then work backwards until you’ve figured out how to get it. By having a plan and shooting the plan – you free up time to then go off plan – to go wherever the subject takes you.
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