24 Portraits, 6 Hours, 1 Location

This was the goal that I set for myself for a recent portrait project.  To provide two different portraits for twelve different people, with only 30 minutes to photograph each person, and do it all within the confines of one location. Like that isn’t difficult enough, this was to happen during the course of a recent technology conference where both the portrait subjects and myself were running between educational sessions, meetings, and networking events.  I think it is safe to say that this would be a challenge for any portrait photographer…but even a bigger challenge for a photographer like myself who is focusing on improving my latent portrait skills.

Even though I have primarily focused on landscape, cityscape, and nature photography–subjects that lend themselves nicely to my current day job schedule and demands–I have always been drawn to portrait photography.  During the handful of weddings that I have had the pleasure of photographing I have have always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt to capture the in the moment portrait of the couple and guests.  And since I noticed that outside of weddings I tended to shy away from portraits, I knew this was an area I needed to focus on practicing and improving my skill.  After taking Joe McNally’s Location Lighting Techniques course a month ago, I felt the knowledge from the class slipping away and knew I needed to force myself to practice what I had learned.  And after a cross country flight and a sleepless night, this particular portrait project was born.

My original goal was to provide 15 portrait sessions.  In retrospect, considering the short amount of advertising time prior to the trade show, this might have been a bit too aggressive of a goal. Luckily with some helpful social networking, I was able to fill 13 session slots prior to the show and only had two that had to cancel due to scheduling conflicts with one on the fly addition.  I am very grateful to the twelve willing volunteers and for the portrait results.

I will be sharing the best of these portraits here over the coming weeks as part of a portrait portfolio.  This was part of the project T&C’s; in exchange for the portrait session and the resulting digital negatives, I am granted use the portraits as part of my portfolio.   I’m looking forward to constructive criticism that you all will provide!

A project like this always provides a number of photographic  lessons learned:

  • Talk to your clients; say something, say anything – It’s hard enough for a person to act natural or even smile when this huge piece of glass is being stuck in their face. It’s even harder when you and the subject don’t know each other and literally just met.  Chatting with them about anything helps to relax the situation and put them at ease.
  • Work hard to not get stuck in a background rut – When taking so many portraits in the same location, you have to work hard at focusing on not using the same background and setting for each portrait.  Even in a location that has as many varied settings as Moscone Center in San Francisco, this needs to be kept in the front of your mind.
  • On location, time bound portraits means light and nimble gear choices – For the first day of portraits, I brought along multiple strobes and gels in case I wanted to get extra creative and use everything I learned in the location lighting class.  While this might be warranted for a bigger paying portrait shoot with an assistant, but when you are moving so quickly between sessions and doing it solo keep it simple with gear so you can be quick and nimble on location.
  • Learn to shoot from around the camera, not just through the view finder – Sometimes you have to talk to the client while you are photographing.  This means learning how to shoot around the camera; framing and focusing and then peeking your head out to talk/joke with the the client in order to get them to smile.  Non an easy skill to master, especially when shooting hand held at f2.8, but one that will give you better results in the end.

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