Penny's Pastries. Looking for connection.

I think we all love to photograph people on location but how do we decide where to pose them, how to pose them, what to say to get just the right expression and how to go about lighting it all?  When I photographed Penny she let me know right up front that she was pressed for time, didn't like to be photographed and expected to stand next to a wall and have a mug shot done in about five minutes.

My first mission was managing expectations.  I started with mine first.  I knew right away that I wasn't going to get an hour for pre-lighting and then a big chunk of Penny's time to play with while we performed some leisure dance of mutual exploration aimed at carefully extracting the "real" Penny for a portrait.  It was going to be a quick process.

But I needed to manage her expectations as well.  I quickly told her what the intentions of the magazine were.  How they were likely to use the image.  What the advertising rates in the magazine were like, and how great it was that she would get this editorial coverage for her business.  Then I told her how much time I'd need and what I was trying to get from the shot.  I have a good friend who also owns a bakery so I was able to ask her some questions without coming off like a complete idiot.  When she got that I really was interested in her and her business she settled into the shoot just fine.

My biggest challenge was finding the right spot to set up and shoot in.  We were in the middle of a working commercial bakery!  I wanted to show the ovens and some product so I started to narrow down the real estate.  I found the right spot but I needed to have Penny leaning on the table to make the whole frame work and to show the ovens in the background.

I lit her with a 4 foot by 6 foot softbox over to the right of the camera.  I used a much smaller box with home made, black foamcore barndoors to keep the ovens from going too dark.  Once I showed Penny a preview she was excited and ready to work the shot.

Our total set up time was 20 minutes.  Shooting time, 10 minutes.  Tear down and packing 20 minutes.  She was cautious about her time when we came in but by the time we finished she was smiling and handing us bags of cookies.  Really good cookies.   We both managed each other's expectations and we both won.

When on location it's best to walk in looking for what you know you need.  I always look for the right background first.  Then I look for the right middle distance setting and then I figure out the position I want my subject in.  To a large extent the pose is based on how the subject fits into the constraints of the space.  The pose (for my work) has to be comfortable, realistic and calm.  Once we have lighting that brings the space together instead of accentuating three different planes we're ready to shoot.

How do you make them smile?  You can't make them smile.  You earn the smile.  You do it by making them comfortable and collaborating with them.  You earn the subject's smile and good wishes by making sure that you are sharing your "A" game with them and not just knocking out another job.


Ezequiel Mesquita said...

A lovely portrait that tells an interesting (and tasty, mmm) story. Great insight and info too. Thanks Kirk!

Gingerbaker said...

Great article, Kirk! :)