Monday, November 14, 2011

Headshots and Thunderstorms

Deborah Robertson

Grahamstown weather is completely atrocious. One minute it will be boiling, the next it will be thundering, pouring and freezing. This is why you need to take the good weather when it comes and roll with it.

Unfortunately, you cannot always control what weather you are going to get and when you have a chance to take advantage of it. Take yesterday for example. I knew that I had a photo shoot to do. I knew that I was going to want to get the best light possible, and I knew that it was going to be just before sunset, so I arranged the shoot for 4pm. When I looked out the window at 12, it was a perfect, beautiful, blue-skied day. When I looked again at 3, it was cloudy and drizzling. By 4 it was storming.

So what was I supposed to do? Postponing was out of the question. My month is looking disastrously busy with a move around the corner, and it wasn’t just me with a busy schedule. Debbie might be leaving town as early as next week or as late as the first week of December. I work during the week and get back too late to arrange an evening shoot. It was going to be now or never. I packed up my camera gear and drove to pick her up.

We needed to find somewhere undercover with enough light to allow for a great portrait session. The point of the shoot was for Debbie to get some head and full body shots to send out for potential acting gigs, and that meant that the photos needed to be clear and bright, preferably on a plain background. Of course, if I had a studio this would not be a problem at all. But, alas, I do not (right now…) Instead, I had to make do with what I could find.

Our first attempt was the Drama department. It was a Sunday, so I figured that it would not be too busy and where better to take headshots of an actress than on her stage. Only, the stages, to our dismay, were all locked. We did manage to find an open rehearsal space, but it was not ideal. So much for the blank background – instead there were wooden beams, practice bars and mirrors, mirrors, mirrors. Which were great for some shots, but not quite the kind that we were looking for.

Next we decided to try the Monument, but alack, it too was closed. We considered the Botanical Gardens, but with the rain coming down, it certainly wasn’t my first choice. And so we drove around town looking for something, anything that would work. And then, while we were driving, we saw a white wall. It was plain, it was slightly undercover and it belonged to a shop that was closed, meaning that we wouldn’t get into too much trouble for using it. We jumped at the opportunity. I parked my car and we ran through the rain, up some stairs to the covered area. And, it turned out to be kind of perfect. The floor was not ideal for the full-length shots, what with it being bright purple and all, but the headshots and the upper-body shots worked out better than I could have asked for, and the full-length shots, even with the bright floor, were not bad at all.

We didn’t want to give up, however. The rain was relenting ever so slightly, and Debbie convinced me that she knew of a place in the Botanical gardens that was slightly undercover. We made our way there, and it was great! There wasn’t quite enough cover for the two of us to be under it, but I could keep my camera dry while Debbie got wet (which she was happy to do) and pose for some shots with a background of bushes and trees. These ended up being the fun shots, as she let down her hair (so to speak) and starting playing around, laughing, jumping and generally having fun in the rain until she was soaked and I had a good number of photos to work with.

It usually takes me awhile to get through editing my photos, even when it is just quick touch-ups. There are usually other things to do, and Sunday was no exception. I had 5500 words to write to catch up with my Nanowrimo aims, I had sleep to catch up on and, I won’t lie, I was still not feeling 100% after drinks from the night before. But I was also excited about the shoot that I had come from. I wanted to see what I had to work with, and it turned out that there wasn’t too much work to be done. An hour and a half later, editing was finished and I was mailing the client a link to get her photographs downloaded. 

So what is the moral of this story? Where there is a will, there is a way. Or something like that. Even when circumstances aren’t quite right, don’t give up. You can always find a way to get the shots that you need, even if it isn’t a way that you would normally have thought of. Get inventive and get shooting!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Flickr: Pros and Cons for Photographers

In my last post, I wrote about the pros and cons of using Facebook for photo sharing. Today, I am going to look at the pros and cons of another very popular photo sharing site – Flickr.

Flickr is aimed specifically at photographers, which means that the sole purpose of the site is for photo sharing. What is awesome about this is that it provides you with a network of photographers, all sharing their own work. This means that you have a website filled with photographers of varying levels with different amounts of experience and worldly knowledge. You will find beginners, amateurs, pros and everything in between. You will have the opportunity to have your work perused by the best and receive compliments and constructive criticism on your work. What an awesome opportunity as a photographer! In addition, Flickr tends to maintain the quality of photographs better than Facebook does. With Flickr, you have always been able to choose what quality you want to upload your photographs with, even if it means that it will take longer and use more bandwidth.

Though Flickr does not provide pages as Facebook does, it provides other benefits that Facebook doesn’t offer. One can create sets, galleries and can share their photos in other groups’ sets and galleries. You can also choose to add more information about the photograph than Facebook offers. If you keep your EXIF data intact, you can choose to share it, which will share information about how and where the photograph was taken – which camera, shutter speed, aperture and ISO were used for example.

But now to the negatives, and there are always one or two of those. A big reason why Facebook is so popular is because it is a social networking site – you connect with friends, friends of friends, friends who used to be friends, people who like to think of themselves as friends, etc. With Flickr, it is difficult to find those friends. Because it is a photo sharing site, those joining in tend to be limited to photographers, and if you do not have a wide net of photographer friends already, it makes finding friends and people to comment and critique a little more difficult. You can, of course, still add photographs to groups and get critiques in that way, but it certainly leads to less exposure than you would have available to you with Facebook and some other social media sites.

The quality of the photographs may be better than Facebook, but the layout of the page is still very much social media-like, which tends to turn away a number of the professionals and also makes it a very informal setting for photographs. While this can benefit a photographer, particularly when starting out and looking for advice, it can also deter people from adding their photographs because the quality of the site seems to bring down the quality of your own photographs.

Another aspect that makes Flickr not so great are the pure number of photographs that come up. Every photographer must have their photographs up for the world to see, every photographer thinks they are the best, and a lot of photographers may try to put other people down to prove this. This has a number of repercussions. First of all, it can lead to your photographs being lost in the stream of things. Your photographs may be amazing, but they will be lost in amidst the okay, mediocre and downright bad. In addition, you may find that the criticism that your photographs receive amount to no more than trolling on the part of a photographer who thinks they are better than everyone else. You may find that the comments lack the constructive and just focus on the negative. You should be prepared for brutality. You are likely to find it at some point.

There are benefits of course to using a photo sharing site like Flickr, which is aimed at a specific photographic audience. But you should expect there to be downfalls too. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it. It just means that you should be prepared.