As a people photographer
, one of the questions you learn to ask is "what will this photograph be used for?". Sometimes a client is puzzled by this question. I'll ask this question of newer photographers and generally the response is "I don't know, I just want a cool photo". Understanding the usage of an image is critical to planning a shoot. Here's an example.
Recently I was contacted by Cassandra who wanted to refresh her model portfolio
. Cassandra was friends with some other model I'd shot so I agreed. We talked on the phone and I suggested she refresh her headshot
. Many models do portfolio shoots but fail to get a good headshot instead favoring editorial images. Models tend to want edgy, editorial or high fashion looks because these shots seems impressive at the time. However, when a paying gig presents itself, the model finds she doesn't have a professional headshot for submission. When I suggested a headshot to Cassandra, she agreed immediately and gave me more information. Cassandra had previously gone through the audition process for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and been eliminated in the final rounds. She wanted to try out again and we agreed that we should create a headshot specifically intended to get her the audition.
To prepare, I visited the website for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders to see how the organization does its headshots. My goal was to create a headshot as close to their look as possible to give the audition judges the impression that Cassandra was a good fit for their organization. The images were shot on a white background with the subject wearing the signature blue and white Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders uniform. Lighting varied from flat to short lit with the subject's face presented straight on to camera. A fan windswept the subject's hair and the shooting position was at the subject's eye level. Retouching was done in a way to appear minimal. I corresponded with Cassandra so she would bring a top that was the proper blue to wear for this shot.
To set up for this shot, I prepared an evenly lit white background and ensured Cassandra would be far enough away from the background to prevent flaring. To do this, I metered the background first to ensure it was lit at my shooting aperture or higher - this was metered at the background pointing the lumisphere back toward the shooting position. Then, I stood at the subject's position and metered with the lumisphere pointed back toward the backdrop. I needed a reading that was at least one stop below the shooting aperture to avoid light wrap around. This isn't tough for a tighter shot like this.
For a key light, I place my beauty dish above and in front of her aimed down toward her chest to feather the light. I skipped a grid for this shot. I felt a grid may make the light more harsh - something I definitely did NOT want for this shot - plus, light spill on the background would only render it more "white". For fill, I used a tri-flector beneath her using the silver sides - you can see this in her catchlights.
When Cassandra arrived, she had the blue top but not a white top to wear beneath. I figured I would have to use the black top she brought as a layer and make it work. Cassandra spent two hours in hair and makeup with Zoraima
then sat down on the set. I moved the triflector in close to her - almost touching her shirt - then took a few final meter reading to ensure proper exposure. I took a few shots and things looked good then moved the fan into place. Blowing a fan in this type of shot is tricky because it can blow over the triflector. I positioned the fan to the side that Cassandra parts her hair and aimed it so it would blow down into the reflector and into her chest to lightly lift her hair with the fan on its lowest setting.
With everything set, it was purely a matter of taking enough shots to get one we liked. Cassandra has a great smile but I knew I wanted a smile that presented with tons of energy. We shot some images with Cassandra holding her smile but I wanted more dynamic. Images that are shot with the subject holding their pose/look waiting for the camera to click turn out looking just like that - the image looking posed and static. The trick is to get a shot that looks like you captured a moment that was somewhere between "here and there" so, even in a simple headshot, you need to create a "here" and a "there". To do this, I asked Cassandra to close her eyes and stop smiling. I told her to open and smile whenever she was ready. I pre-focused and sat ready with my camera to my eye. We shot a number of frames this way and I shot a number of clunkers where I released the shutter to early while her eyes were still closed.
The image below is the keeper I decided on. I did some light retouching and adjusted the shirt color to get as close as possible to the color used by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Both Cassandra and I posted the same image on our Facebook pages with mixed reactions. The image on my Facebook page only received one comment from one of Cassandra's friends. The same image on Cassandra's Facebook page elicited numerous comments - including comments that she looked like a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader and that she should audition again.
This reaction goes back to my initial comments on this post - you need to know how the image in intended to be used. For the casual passerby on my Facebook page the image had little relevance - it was just another pretty face. To people who could foresee the context, they could see Cassandra as a member of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. This was my goal when I planned the shot.