X-Rite Webinar Q + A

Thanks to X-Rite and Sony for hosting my “Create the Look’ webinar yesterday to preview my new book Secrets of Great Portrait Photography and thanks to everyone who tuned in to join me.

We had a few questions left over that I didn’t get a chance to answer before they turned out the lights, so here they are now:

Q: Do you crop in camera or in post?

Both. As an editorial photographer you don’t have a choice. If you shoot 35mm, the 2×3 format is perfect for horizontal double page photos but horrible for covers and single pages unless you leave room to crop top & bottom. If you shoot 4×3 medium format digital, you’re set for covers but screwed on a double-page bleed unless you leave space to crop top & bottom. So the key is visualizing the photo as it will appear in print. No one has ever been more associated with cropping “in-camera” than Henri Cartier-Bresson. But his recent show at MoMA revealed that in the early days when he printed his own photos, he cropped the hell out of them. It was only when he became too successful to print his own work that his Paris LAB started printing them with “his” signature black border.

Q: Do you build time to do scouting into your estimate for shooting a job?

If it’s a local job, I try to add in a half day for scouting. If it’s out of town, best case you get in the day before as a Travel/Scout which you charge as a full day, but the reality if that a LOT of the people I shoot, won’t let me show up the day before. You have to get every minute of prep you can whether it’s 30 minutes, 60 minutes or if you hit the lottery and get 2 hours. Whatever time you get – you just have to make the most of it.

Q: Do you rent locations to keep people out of your shot?

I mostly shoot editorial, so I couldn’t afford to. You just do your best to block off the location to give your subject privacy. Every now an then someone slips through, like the hotel guest who heard we were shooting Shaquille O’Neal in the lobby of the Delano Hotel.

Q: How do you get contracts to shoot celebrity portraits for magazines?

Contracts or contacts? Contracts are very hard. Only had 2 contracts in 30 years an both went bankrupt owing me about $10K, so that may not be what you’re after. Contacts are easier. Go to the local bookstore…while they still exist. Buy a BIG latte, grab a handful of your favorite magazines and start writing down the names over everyone in the photo and art department – ten start sending then m your best work.
Q: How do you handle property releases for recognizable places?

For editorial you don’t need ’em. If you’re shooting for advertising and paying a location fee, that should be a part of the deal. On the other hand if you just walk into a hotel and ask the front desk manager to sign a release granting all right throughout the universe, well good luck with that let me know hoe tit works out.

Q: Do you find it difficult to shoot people that you dislike?

Look at it this way, if you really dislike someone, there is no where to go but up…I’ve been pleasantly surprised by people who annoyed me before I shot them like an annoying infomercial fitness king I shot for GQ who could not possibly have been less annoying in real life. Turns out it was all an act for camera.

Q: How much crew do you typically use on travel locations?

The short answer is less than five years ago. Clients that used to pay for travel with a dozen, you now take an handful and hire the rest locally. Small shoots are even tighter. Often it boils down to +1, which to most photographers means taking an assistant to lug the gear. I’ve never worried that I’d break a nail schlepping gear, so I rather bring a stylist/make-up artist as my +1 which works out nicely since that means I can work with my lovely wife and save the client a hotel room.

Q: Are the editorial deals generally fee plus license?

A: Editorial is generally Day rate AGAINST Space rate. Which means the bigger of the two not the combination. In other words if the photo runs half page, you don’t get any additional money – you did what was expected. But if you land the cover or a double page from a one day shoot, you should be due extra dollars.

Q: Do you use a tripod or shoot handheld?

Handheld most of the time. Probably a stupid idea when I have to grab something from another frame, but sometimes the upside in spontaneity outweighs ease in post.

Q: Do you use an handheld meter?

They are an invaluable tool. A histogram can tell you the quantity of light – but nothing about the quality of light. If you want to know how light is falling – use a handheld meter – preferably a flashmeter that can read the combination of flash an ambient. My fave is the Sekonic L-358 Flashmeter.

Q: Do you ever use portable flash and umbrella?

Absolutely, though it’s splitting hairs, one of my two favorite lighting modifiers is an Elinchrom Octabank which is essentially  an 8-sided silver umbrella with optional front diffuser.

Q: What reflector was showing up in Branson’s visor?

That would be the Elinchrom Octabank mentioned above without the front diffuser. I considered getting rid of the reflection, but the magazine thought it looked cool and that was good enough for me/

Q: Why was Richard Branson on the right of the frame facing out of the frame.

Richard Branson was shot as a potential TIME cover so all that dead space was where the magazine puts their logo and cover lines. Ultimately it got beat out at the last minute but all is good because that actually would cost me mid-five-figures if an TIME magazine’s cover exclusivity clause kicked in…whew!

Q: How do you get started shooting portraits for magazines?

Show the photo editors you can deliver what they need…

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