Sunday, August 30, 2009

How to Take Great Portrait Photographs

Wonderful Weekend Workshop

My "How to Take Great Portrait Photographs" workshop ran as scheduled, yesterday. We had 6 enthusiastic photographers participating (4 men and 2 women) and a beautiful model on which they could practice their new-found skills of portraiture.

It was a long and intensive day - peppered with plenty of coffee breaks and a lunch of sandwiches and cakes that I lovingly prepared myself early in the morning (actually, I bought the cakes - but I did butter all the bread and carefully craft all of the ham and cheese sandwiches!) but also very relaxed and greatly enjoyed by all.

I gave an hour's refresher course on the theory of portraiture photography - lenses; aperture; compositional rules - all that good stuff, which doesn't have to be boring or as much fun as root canal work - using examples of my own work. I followed this with an explanation of basic lighting theory - basically the differences between direct light, bounced light, reflected light and diffused light - using my assistant as the victim (sorry Sarah, I mean...model ) to show the affects of all those lighting techniques on the model's features.

After a quick lunch (with everyone now starting to get the buzz and chatting animatedly amongst each other) our beautiful model Allise had arrived, and I arranged a low key-lighting setup, with two lights and a black background, and recreated a "Rembrandt Lighting effect", which stunned a lot of people with how simple and beautiful it can be - and the shutters were clicking while everyone took turns to shoot Allise - using a remote transmitter to fire my lights while they roamed around the large studio.

After that, I took everyone outside to a yard next to my studio, where I demonstrated the use of apertures and fill-in flash with outdoor portraiture. You can see part of the unusual set that we used in one of the shots here! Many people thought that this was the best part of the day.

But the best was yet to come, as I arranged a high-key setup back in the studio, using a large Octagonal softbox, another large rectangular soft-box, two background lights and a hair light with a white background. I added a wind machine for good measure - you can see the result of one of my shots from that setup, above.

Seven hours after we started many of the group were still sitting and chatting about the day. And, I was very happy that everyone got what they came for - and more besides, from what I was told!

This workshop will run again Next Month. See here for details.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Practical Photo Walks

Thinking Outside the Boxed-In

A friend came over to the house yesterday evening, to show me his new camera. He nearly didn't get there at all, because I put him off so vehemently when he first tried, in the morning.

It was very odd. I had woken up remembering something I'd said to a group when I was teaching Lightroom 2, a few days earlier: "When your Hard Drive crashes, you'll regret not using Lightroom's back-up on import option. It may not crash today, or even next year - but, trust me, it will crash eventually." I probably remembered it because it was, for me, such a bold (and not entirely factual) statement.

No sooner had I brushed my teeth, I began to wonder about my powers of clairvoyance. My hard drive had crashed!! Well, actually, the local profile directory had become corrupted, and I was left with a cleaned-out desktop: no emails, or addresses, no web browser bookmarks and dozens of files vanished into thin air! I was in the middle of a blue fit when my friend called and asked if I'd like to see his new G10 and some other amazing gizmos with which he was down-laden - they don't call him "Gadget Mike" for nothing!! I put him off and set about following the instructions I'd somehow managed to find and copy from the Microsoft website on how to fix my ailing computer. Two and a half long hours later - they worked and I sent Mike a text to tell him I was genius - and several years older than when he last called.

So, he brought the G10 over at the end of the day. When I say Mike is a friend - he is most definitely that - but he's also a photography student of mine, and my accountant. That makes our conversations interesting, if not a little complex: "You get manual focus by pressing, am I on the 21% VAT rate or 13.5%...did I tell you about my new teaching idea...I've always wanted that spirit level thing that sits on the hot-shoe - no Mike, I can't take it...oh, thanks very much...etc."

I got to telling Mike that I was going to run some "Photo Walks", where I would teach a small group of photographers as we walked around a local Irish location (to start with Adare Village in County Limerick) but, I was stuck as to how to make them interesting.

In some ways, I was stuck inside my own "box" - thinking that nothing I did would be appealing, or have good value for money.

Mike, in his usual helpful and considerate manner was telling me that I'd already said a few things to him about the G10 (which I'd never held in my hand before today) that were worth a few of anybody's hard earned - and increasingly scarce - Euros. "What you need to do" he offered "is to tell them what it really is - not just a Photo Walk, but a Practical Photo Walk".

In that one sentence was all I needed to know about marketing and thinking outside the box. Tell it like it is. Give the customers what they want - or what they would buy.

See the right-hand column for the fruits of Mike's lateral thinking.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Reflecting on my Photography Business

Happy Birthday To Me!

It's my birthday today (all say "ahhh") and It's almost exactly a year since I made my first blog post. So, I thought it was an opportune moment to reflect briefly on where I was going with the blog, my photography business - and indeed my life (but I won't bore you by dwelling too much on that aspect here).

There's a been a bit of a hiatus (of nearly 2 months) since my last blog post and there's a reason for that - well several really. I wasn't sure of what else to say here - too many blogs are nothing more than free advertising space for a photographer's latest wedding shots (I don't do weddings, or else I might have joined in) - or just a place to deposit pointless, badly-written ramblings and not-so-great images. I set out to write something of interest and useful, in a lively and informative style - but I think I lost my way in that endeavour, so I gave up for a while.

I lost the muse really. Or perhaps I started to wonder if anyone was even reading my recalcitrant rantings. I don't suppose I'm alone with those thoughts either - there must be hundreds of thousands of bloggers out there putting font to screen in the vain hope that at least one person will see it and perhaps leave a comment.

So, I suppose blogging is about laying it down without worrying too much about whether your audience is there or not. Just doing it because you want to do it. I might try that!

Which brings me to my business. I opened a brand new photography studio and teaching facility in the middle of May 2009 and in the middle of a world recession. This is a bit different from doing something for the sake of it, and not worrying if the general public like or care about what you're doing. There was a large capital outlay - on the refurbishment and the equipment for the studio; there is monthly rent to find; advertising bills to pay; and food to put on the table.

So this is not "if you build it - who cares if they come" - it's "When you build it you'd better make damn sure that they come!"

The teaching work is picking up - and have a very enthusiastic core band of students who take every opportunity they can to pass their kind thoughts about my teaching skills - word-of-mouth is by far the best marketing tool, and it works very here in Ireland (just be sure it's good things they are saying!) I've even been doing other kinds of marketing: like sending out posters and brochures to advertising agencies; businesses, magazines and PR companies, and also running some events without payment. I was heavily involved in Scott Kelby's World Wide PhotoWalk which took up at least 2 weeks of my time, with one thing and another, for no payment but the feedback from the participants and the interest in my own work and photography teaching was payment enough. Self promotion is one of the keys to success.

What I'm learning, though, is that I can't be a Jack-of-all-trades and there's not enough time in my day to be a photographer, a teacher, a marketing manager, an accountant, a chef (I have to eat) and a blogger. Something has to go!

But, I have to find the work before I can do it. Catch 22. (I think it's Catch 22 - I definitely have no time to READ BOOKS).

Yesterday, a young woman who was looking to do a photography course with me (she was highly recommended to me by word of mouth) came to the studio. She has a background in marketing. She is currently unemployed and doesn't have enough money to pay for the course. I need a marketing manager and don;t have enough money to pay for one. A business arrangement made in heaven - or sent by the Gods. Anyway it wasn't long before I found her a place on my next course - on Saturday - and she agreed to work one day a week for free for a while.

I'll keep you posted - the urge to blog again has suddenly resurfaced!

(Thanks to G. for the wonderful Birthday cake!)